While a pair of Dieder Drogba goals put a serious dent in Arsenal’s titles chances, Easter’s earlier clash of the titans, a 3-0 home victory for Manchester United over Liverpool, will make highlight-reels across the globe not so much for the heroics of Wes Brown, Cristiano Ronaldo or Nani, but rather for the ill-advised protest that led to the sending off of the visitors’ Javier Mascherano. “A dismissal which could be attributed not so much to arrogance,” insisted the Independent’s James Lawton, “as relentless stupidity.”
Javier Mascherano is rated as £17m worth of hard professional acumen. He is supposed to hold the keys of Liverpool’s defence. He persuaded his manager, Rafa Benitez, that his permanent signing was crucial enough to risk everything in its pursuit. Right now, though, you wouldn’t trust him to guide a pub team through a tumultuous Sunday morning. You wouldn’t back him to preserve peace at the Last Supper.
Mascherano took us to the heart of football’s latest public relations nightmare: how long can the authorities agonise over their free-falling reputation for maintaining even nominal respect for officials when players like Ashley Cole and now Mascherano make it so clear that they feel free to operate without a moment’s reflection on possible consequences?
From the moment Mascherano was booked for his 11th-minute foul on Paul Scholes, he conducted a non-stop attempt to influence Bennett whenever United committed a transgression. This was not infrequently, but the greatest certainty of all was that Mascherano was pushing ever closer to breaking point. This came, quite irrevocably, a minute before half-time when Liverpool’s Fernando Torres was booked for dissent.
Mascherano ran across the field to make his statement or, as Benitez would have it, ask his question. His eyes were wild. His face was filled with contempt. It was as though the Cole affair had never happened.
For the Football Association the point was being underlined in the most lurid colours. Anarchy was indeed marching through the first leg of what had been billed so extravagantly as Grand Slam Sunday “ and was doing rather more than represent the case for a serious review of existing disciplinary measures.