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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
On the weekend that saw the UK release of the Brian Clough movie 'The Damned United', it was alarming to see Manchester United's discipline crumbling in a way that 'Old Big 'Ed' would never have tolerated. The legendary Nottingham Forest and Derby manager was rarely short of a quote and I can only imagine what he would have made of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo's antics at Craven Cottage.

Clough believed that match officials should be respected and allowed to carry out their duties unmolested, a concept that would probably startle Rooney and Ronaldo. He would fine his players if they protested decisions, insisting that any mistakes or misjudgements would be evened out by the end of the season. Clough was no angel. Directors, journalists, opposing managers, his own players and even the fans were the targets of his anger on occasion, but he knew that a team who could keep their heads would eventually benefit from simple human nature. In any walk of life, it's always easier to give a marginal decision to the party you like the most, and referees loved Nottingham Forest.

You'd be hard pushed to find a referee who loves Manchester United though. Phil Dowd looked like a stressed-out single mother on Saturday, struggling to keep control of a pack of misbehaving children. Amongst the incessant whingeing and whining, there was Ronaldo hitching up his shorts to show what the bigger boys had done to him and Rooney hurling the ball away like a frustrated five year old who hates this stupid game. Perhaps, rather than getting his cards out, Dowd should have just threatened to stop their pocket money.

Paul Scholes' dismissal was a moment of instinctive foolishness that could happen to anyone. Rooney's was entirely self-inflicted and fully deserved. There can be no sympathy for a footballer who behaves so petulantly while already on a yellow card. There would have been little compassion either, had Ronaldo followed him down the tunnel for anyone of his diva-like misdemeanours. When will he figure out that referees cottoned on to his injury-feigning nonsense ages ago? When will he finally stop trying to have his fellow professionals sent off?

Neither of them are young enough to be excused on the grounds of immaturity. Rooney has been playing Premier League football since 2002, Ronaldo since 2003. They've both experienced enough top level football to know how they should behave. While the rest of the world gloomily contemplates redundancy, they are paid obscene wages, enough surely to make them consider the responsibility that their position in the limelight demands. If Manchester United do contrive to lose this title race, their fans will accept the excuses of fatigue, they will accept bad luck and they will even grudgingly bear the pain of an astonishing Liverpool revival. They will not accept indiscipline and idiocy from two of their biggest stars.

If either of these highly-strung, hyper-sensitive man-children find themselves stuck for something to do this week, I suggest that a trip to the cinema might be in order. Clough may not have won as many trophies as Sir Alex Ferguson, but he knew how his players should behave when they took to the field. It's a lot harder for a team to win a title when their best players are sat in the stands contemplating their own stupidity.