FRIDAY'S BIG STORIES

Southgate speaks well (again) on another sad night for football

Anyone who’s been paying attention knew that England players would be racially abused against Hungary on Thursday evening.
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It was a topic repeatedly brought up to England boss Gareth Southgate prior to kick-off, partly due to Hungary’s ongoing ban in UEFA competition for racist abuse by fans during Euro 2020 (a ban that laughably doesn’t count in FIFA competition).
And when the sadly inevitable abuse was heard, the reaction was instant from within British football, and rightly so.
However, there is often an edge to coverage of nights like this. A sense of the UK press suggesting ‘yes we have problems at home, but look at how much worse it is in this [insert name] place’.
On the surface the coverage is supporting the players, but the feeling that it’s also a way of minimising racism in British life is never far away.
And Gareth Southgate, as ever, spoke well in Hungary on that very issue, refusing to let the conversation diminish the horrendous abuse that his own players suffered from English fans just two months ago.
"I think we have a long way to go ourselves before we start to comment or pre-empt what might happen in a game somewhere else,” Southgate told reporters before the game.
I never like it when we’re always jumping on to what happens abroad when we’ve still got so much ground and distance to make up ourselves.
"We've got our own problems. I think we sort ourselves out first."
And after the game (when abuse from Hungarian fans was no longer hypothetical) Southgate spoke well again.
“There’s no more this group of players or staff can do in the fight against racism. Other people have got to take the right action to try and make progress.
“Our players can’t do anything more than they have done in the past two or three years in trying to get the right messages out, take the right stands, and it’s for other people to protect them. It’s for me to protect them in the main, but for the authorities to protect them as well.
Although some people are stuck in their way of thinking and prejudices, they are going to be the dinosaurs in the end. The world is modernising.
"Hungary isn’t anywhere near as diverse as our population. It’s taken us a long time to get to where we need to get to. We’ll continue to try to set the right example for young people in our country.
“They shouldn’t have to be subjected to any form of racism. There’s a balance in the crowd. As we know at home not everybody causes problems.”
It’s quite something when a relatively uninspiring football manager who avoids positive substitutions whenever possible still manages to be the most impressive leadership figure in his country.

CR7 is officially back

You have to feel for Edinson Cavani a little. The Uruguayan was persuaded to stay for another year in Manchester by the promise of a season spearheading the attack at Old Trafford.
But just when it looked like he was going to put together a season worthy of rounding off his stellar career, in comes Cristiano Ronaldo to presumably displace him as that United front-man for much of the next nine months.
Just to make matters worse, Cavani has had to give up his shirt number so that Cristiano can keep the CR7 brand alive on his return.
It’s a great story for fans of Ronaldo, and Manchester United are framing it as a selfless act, with the Portuguese star quoted as saying: "I would like to say a huge thank you to Edi for this incredible gesture."
But it’s taken the best part of a week for this ‘gesture’ to be made.
You get the impression that it wasn’t exactly Cavani’s idea.
Putting Cavani’s bruised ego aside, this is a remarkable story, football fan fiction turned reality.
Ronaldo is undoubtedly one of the biggest legends in the history of a club not short of stars. And to return at the age of 36 to wear his famous number 7 shirt – it’s quite the story.

IN THE CHANNELS

Ian Wright was absolutely superb on ITV’s coverage of England’s win in Hungary last night.
The panel's discussion about the racist abuse directed at the England players was simultaneously fascinating and sad to watch – you can see the tiredness in Wright’s eyes about football’s inability to stand up for its black players yet again.
Should Raheem Sterling have reported the abuse he audibly received during the game? “What would be the point”, asks Wright, when FIFA have allowed Hungary to host a match in-front of a full crowd while the country's national team is simultaneously facing a fan-ban from UEFA for racist abuse in another competition.
It’s the perfect example of how organisations talk a good game, but do nothing when it really matters.
“What would be the point of Raheem saying anything when you’ve got the two organisations who are already together,” Wright says.
“It’s pointless. The banner, the videos, the armbands, the everything… they’re gestures. They don’t do anything, it’s all laughable, you’ve got to come down hard on people.”

RETRO CORNER

England’s manager will have plenty on his mind today, but hopefully will take a few minutes to celebrate his 51st birthday.
Happy Birthday Gareth!
And we can celebrate with him, by reminding ourselves that he was a bit more than just pizza adverts and cringey interviews as a player.
Although, on the subject of cringey interviews, there’s no need for an excuse to watch this gem again.

HAT-TIP

The Brazilian Shirt Name Podcast is always worth a listen, but rarely more so than this week’s episode, when Eurosport’s own Ibrahim Mustapha joined Dotun Adebayo and Tim Vickery.
In one of the many interesting segments, Ibrahim – who recently published “No Longer Naïve”, a fantastic book on African football’s growing impact at the World Cup – discussed why there isn’t a new Jay-Jay Okocha.
This is the fundamental idea of how football has changed since as recently as 1996, tactically how football has evolved and how there are fewer mavericks, fewer pure skill players who you want to light up a game … Basically, just tactically, Africa needs to find its own identity in that sense.

COMING UP

The FA WSL gets underway this evening as Manchester United host Reading. It’s the very first game in the new Sky Sports WSL TV deal, with Everton against Man City on Saturday at 13:30 being the first of many matches broadcast in the BBC’s free-to-air agreement.
Andi Thomas will be back with Monday’s Warm-Up with news of Patrick Bamford’s England debut against Andorra no doubt.
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