So, Dida’s antics at Celtic Park, then. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t express too much outrage over this, because I’d feel a little hypocritical if I did. At the Spurs-Chelsea FA Cup match earlier this year, a fan got on the pitch at full-time and went for Frank Lampard and, for all the hand-wringing and wailing at the time, it was quite funny (particularly when it looked as if the miscreant was going to get beaten to within an inch of his life my the rest of the Chelsea team, before they were calmed down by stewards). It is difficult, therefore, for me to sit here this morning and express any outrage at what happened last night.
You can see the incident in full here. To my eyes, there are two disciplinary issues to be dealt with – the lapse in security that lets someone run onto the pitch, and what looks to my eyes like a deliberate attempt by Dida to get the match abandoned through feigning an injury. The fact that they happened as a result of each other shouldn’t alter the fact that UEFA should be dealing with them quite separately. This is an important distinction to make, because neither Celtic nor Dida should be excessively punished or seek to mitigate their behaviour because of what else happened.
Let’s take the two issues one at a time, then. First up, Celtic. There’s no shying away from the fact that this was a serious lapse in security. You can see from the clip that the majority of the stewards behind the goal had moved to one corner of the stadium, to try and calm a group of Celtic supporters that may or may not have got onto the pitch. Considering that a last minute winner has just been scored in a hot-tempered European Cup match, there are obviously too few stewards behind the goal. It’s worth reminding readers in Britain that there are still plenty of stadia in Europe and beyond that have fences around them. We may have taken them down, but they’re not quite as much a relic of the past as we might think. There are also plenty of people that would quite like to put them back up. Lapses in security on makes this (albeit only slightly) more likely. Clubs have a responsibility to ensure the safety of players, and they failed to do so. Dida may only have been, in the words of Charlie Nicholas in the preceding clip, “tickled”, but that isn’t much of an excuse for what happened.
Now, onto Dida. Some of you will doubtlessly remember when he had a firework thrown at him during a European Cup Milan derby a couple of years ago, and there was some criticism levelled at him for clutching his head when the missile clearly hit him on the shoulder. His reaction last night looked like something like the same thing, but taken to the extreme. He could argue, I guess, that he is somewhat tetchy about unexpected crowd-related incidents following that, but I’m not convinced. He was doubtful prior to the match due to a shoulder injury but, on a balance of probabilities, it seems likely that he tried, in a magnificently ham-fisted way, to get the match abandoned. Pretty reprehensible behaviour, but not the worst thing in the world. Some of you will remember the antics of Roberto Rojas of Chile during a 1989 World Cup qualifier against Brazil, when Rojas went down after having been hit by a firework, only to be found to have concealed a small blade in his glove and cut himself. He received a life ban from football, and Chile were barred from the 1994 World Cup. Dida is skating on thin ice, and UEFA should look closely at whether he was seeking to get the match abandoned. It’s worth pointing out that he was struggling for fitness going into the match but his behaviour was brazen enough for this to be seriously considered by the authorities.
All of this has taken a considerable amount of the limelight away from, for once, a couple of quite interesting nights in the European Cup, with Shakhtar Donetsk winning at Benfica, Liverpool stumbling at home to Marseille (I didn’t see any of this match, and would be grateful for any explanation for how this happened – I mean, I know that Marseille have got a new coach in Eric Gerets, but still) and Olympiakos winning away to Werder Bremen, on top of Celtic and Rangers both beating top quality opposition. Enjoy weeks like this while they last, because the group format of this competition is deliberately designed to ensure that the biggest clubs don’t suffer as a result of losing to “inferior” teams. Don’t worry – you’ll still get to see all the familiar faces in the quarter-finals. Football is a business now, after all.