Monday, September 17, 2012

Three things: Handshakes are still important

Three things we noticed from the Premier League this weekend:

Handshakes are still important

Queens Park Rangers fronted up against Chelsea – and John Terry – in the West London derby. In the pre-match handshake line, Anton Ferdinand, who accused Terry of racially abusing him on the pitch last season, refused the proffered hands of the former England captain and left-back Ashley Cole. Next week, Northwestern rivals Liverpool and Manchester United face off in the first match since Luis Suarez refused to shake Patrice Evra's hand.

Handshakes still matter. Just ask Mark Hughes, who's gotten into rumbles about the tradition with practically everyone.

PFA President and handshake advocate Clarke Carlisle says handshakes are “a statement of intent to play the game in a certain manner befitting a professional”. In a perfect world, this would be so – however, we live in a football society where tribalism runs rampant and songs about tragic events have become so commonplace that managers and administrators rightly condemn their own fans for singing them. The game has often become more important than basic civility. The game's landscape is now so merciless that the handshake feels meaningless, a relic from past times.

Ideally, handshakes – gesture that perhaps began when two parties used their weapon-hand to greet an opponent, rather than kill him – would actually mean something – that the game isn't worth some costs. Hopefully, some footballers still think that way. However, in today's dog-eat-dog football culture, expecting players to make a honourable motions before a game is sadly a stretch. The stakes – and competitive desire – are just too great.

Berbatov's wages are (probably) worth it

Dimitar Berbatov made his first start for new club Fulham on Saturday and led the Cottagers to a win, scoring twice against the previously undefeated West Bromwich Albion. Despite sharing the league's Golden Boot with Carlos Tevez in 2010, the Bulgarian never appeared totally settled at Manchester United; this was partly because Sir Alex Ferguson rarely trusted him leading the line in big games and because his style is far more suited to a two-man front.

Fulham entered the season in a state of flux. Forwards Andy Johnson, Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey departed during the summer, replaced by Berbatov and Hugo Rodallega. The highly-salaried Berbatov has immediately shown his class and efficacy in the 4-4-2; paired with Rodallega – the archetypal runner lacking end product (the Colombian averages a Premier League goal every 5½ games and takes 100 shots to register six goals), Berbatov and his understated ability to hold the ball up looks crucial to a re-built West London side.

The "new" Dembele - last year's Costa Rican big buy, Bryan Ruiz - should have ample forward options to pass to - Berbatov's silky scoring and Rodallega's natural athleticism should keep the Cottagers firmly in mid-table.

Southampton need to work it out at the back

They can put goals on the board against the best teams in the country. They've got pretty fair trust fund backing them in the transfer market. They raided Scotland for the best player in that country. Rickie Lambert celebrates a goal better than anyone in creation.

Still, Southampton sit winless at the bottom of the Premier League table. Part of this can be ascribed to their dauting fixture list: they opened the season against Manchester City, Wigan Athletic, Manchester United, Arsenal. Despite boasting more exciting talent than their promoted brethren – and, arguably, more total talent – the Saints have made a habit of conceding, shopping six to Arsenal over the weekend. To make things worse, the Gunners only scored four as Nathan Clyne and the calamitous Jos Hooiveld both put the ball into their own net.

Despite looking better than average in midfield and attack, the Saints will be relegated if they don't fix their defence. The talent simply hasn't stacked up yet. Maybe it never will.

Ian Holloway's Blackpool – and Steve Kean's Blackburn – proved conclusively that in the lower reaches of the Premiership, attack must always be balanced by defence. It's not that the Saints defenders don't try, but appear lacking in class and even perhaps Premier League ability.

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