Salomon Kalou was clearly fouled just short of Inter-Milan’s goal last night, and should have been awarded a penalty. And of course, had the penalty been awarded, then Walter Samuel would also have been sent off. He wasn’t, and I suspect it was because after Kalou was genuinely fouled the player flung himself to the ground along with extravagant waving of the arms. The referee, Mejuto Gonzalez, had earlier booked a Milan player (Milito I think) for diving in the Chelsea penalty area, and Gonzalez was clearly signalling that he wasn’t going to tolerate any Oscar-worthy attempts to extract an unfair penalty. So it was ironic to say the least that it was probably Kalou’s unnecessary theatricality that denied Chelsea a much safer result than the 2-1 defeat, notwithstanding the away goal, may prove to be at Stamford Bridge on 16th March.
Whilst this may be merely symptomatic of a general tendency to over-egg puddings that are perfectly rich enough already, it’s fundamentally an attempt to cheat. As a Chelsea supporter I’m obviously disappointed by the outcome, but in truth it seems to me that it’s well-deserved. Cheating has become so endemic in sport that we hardly even notice it any more. In fact, cheating of the Kalou type is pretty much accepted as normal and to be expected. It’s only when more Gothic cheating, such as the infamous fake blood rugby episode, hits the headlines that we sit up and take notice. There seems to be no sport that is immune. Whether it’s drug abuse in cycling, deliberate crashing in motor-racing, or ball-tampering in cricket, everyone seems to be joining in. It’s easy to make the connection between money and this kind of behaviour. I don’t doubt that when more money’s at stake, the greater the temptation becomes. And yet I can’t help also wondering about the intrinsic tendency towards unfairness that comes simply from the nature of competition. I’ve witnessed enough underhand dealings in kids’ football teams to know that money doesn’t have to be in the equation when it comes to cheating.
One thing that certainly doesn’t help is the routine undermining of match officials or other kinds of referee. For professional sport, maybe this is one place where money does make a difference. When players earn more for their 3 minute runabout as a substitute than the referee does for a month of whole matches, it’s time to redress the balance. Whether we like it or not, authority is usually symbolised by money. There are few businesses in which managers earn less than those they manage, certainly not vastly less. Thus in football, perhaps referees should be paid £1 more than the most highly paid player on the pitch, the fee to be split between the clubs. Football managers might also be less inclined to undermine someone for whose services they’re having to shell out so much!