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Old 25-01-2012, 12:50
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Cool Mario Balotelli's right to appeal seriously hit by FA's frivolity rule | Paul Wilson

Mario Balotelli's FA charge for stamping on Scott Parker is not an open-and-shut case and Manchester City should have been able to appeal without fear of greater sanction

Poor old Manchester City. To lose one striker, to paraphrase Lady Bracknell, may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness.

The Premier League leaders have long been resigned to coping without Carlos Tevez, who would now be bothering some other club had City been able to move him out in summer, as was the original intention, but to lose Mario Balotelli for four games in addition at such an important stage of the season is a real blow. Particularly as there is at least a vestige of doubt over the Italian's intentions when appearing to stamp on Scott Parker, yet City appear to have voluntarily waived their right of appeal.

David Platt said it would be futile to appeal when there was so much video evidence against Balotelli and the Football Association have the option of increasing any ban from four to five games for any appeal they deem frivolous. One can readily understand the City assistant coach's point of view – most likely, given Balotelli's previous and his reputation for frivolity, an appeal would be considered provocative. But is that fair, and would such a punishment fit this particular crime?

Not all the video evidence supports the view that Balotelli stamped on Parker, after all. From some angles the incident looks fairly innocuous, just a clumsy attempt to regain balance, with Balotelli planting his foot in the turf near Parker's face but not appearing to maliciously aim a backheel in the Spurs player's direction. This appears to be the view that Howard Webb got too, for whatever the referee has subsequently stated he was standing close by the collision and keeping an eye on things, and in real time he evidently did not notice anything untoward. As Platt has noted, neither of the benches saw anything vicious either, for there was no immediate outcry or reaction, it was only the slow-mo replays after the event that alerted everyone to a potentially serious case of dangerous play.

This is not to argue that Balotelli is innocent, for some of those slow-mo camera views made his intentions look extremely dubious, just to point out that this is not an open-and-shut case. Lee Dixon said as much on MOTD2, arguing that Balotelli possibly deserved the benefit of the doubt. The former referee Dermot Gallagher went further still, suggesting that if the matter came to a court of law it would be impossible to establish that Balotelli deliberately set out to harm his opponent. Just as some camera angles made the contact look more slight than it may have been, other angles may have made the incident look worse than it actually was. So there is an area of doubt, and where there is an area of doubt there ought to be room for an appeal.

The FA's frivolity deterrent, surely, is for players who know they have erred and have no real case for the defence, just a desire to put off the inevitable for a little longer by appealing and putting back the suspension. The authorities rightly take a dim view of this time-wasting tactic and effectively say that to appeal with no grounds is to risk coming out with an even longer ban than the original one. Wigan's Antolín Alcaraz, for example, had no defence whatsoever against the charge of spitting at a Wolves player before Christmas, and so sensibly decided not to inflame the situation further by appealing. Similarly Wayne Rooney just took the rap when he was caught swearing into a TV microphone last season. The whole world saw him do it, even Sir Alex Ferguson's wife thought he shouldn't have, and though the United manager wasn't happy about it both he and the player accepted a two-match ban. The player eventually apologised and admitted he had been out of order.

All of which brings us to Rooney's offence when playing for England against Montenegro in Podgorica last year. The United striker was correctly sent off for a petulant kick against an opponent who was not even remotely provoking him and Rooney subsequently admitted he had been stupid, yet he successfully appealed against the standard three-match ban and had it reduced to two games, thus allowing him to appear in at least one match in Euro 2012 this summer. There is a difference to note here, in that Uefa is not the FA, and a three-match international ban can be much more draconian than missing the next three games of domestic football, but the point for City to note is that Rooney did not have a leg to stand on (a bit like Miodrag Dzudovic after the White Pelé had finished with him) yet saw his sentence reduced rather than increased.

So whatever City decide to do over the Balotelli situation, they should not be deterred by fears that an appeal may be considered frivolous and attract a stiffer punishment. If they are, the FA should look at themselves and consider whether their process is working properly. Even if Balotelli had lashed out at Parker as clearly and obviously as Rooney kicked Dzudovic, the FA would leave themselves open to a charge of double standards by effectively suppressing a City appeal after successfully mounting one of their own, but the fact is that he didn't.

The Balotelli foul on Parker is exactly the sort of disciplinary matter clubs should be able to appeal. Not everyone saw it the same way, and there is at least the possibility that the television cameras magnified the collision and presented it in the worst possible light. It is hard to see why an appeal should be judged frivolous in those circumstances, and based on the Rooney tariff City ought to be reasonably confident of getting a suspension talked down to a couple of matches. But they aren't and they won't. If they trust in Balotelli's innocence – and that may take a suspension of disbelief on a Peter Pan scale – they should back their player and stand right behind him. Meekly accepting an uncontested four-match ban suggests they do not have sufficient confidence in their own player's case.

It is another no-win situation, a bit like the Tevez farrago. City have the moral high ground over their stay-away player, no question about that, but it is hard to see them winning out financially when every fine they impose and detail they reveal makes it less likely that Tevez will be transferred to another club for anything like the full value sum they require. Tevez and full value are beginning to look like a contradiction in terms, and with only a week of the transfer window left the danger now is that City will have an unwanted player on their hands for a whole season, with no guarantee of shifting him out in summer.

Still, at least the revelation that they have docked his wages to the tune of £9m settled an argument down at the pub, where someone suggested that Tevez will not have been picking up any wages following the misunderstanding in Bavaria because he was on strike, and in this country strikers do not get paid. It turns out he was not on strike, not in the sense that dockers or teachers go on strike anyway. Nor was he quite on gardening leave. He had withdrawn his labour, but City kept paying him in accordance with his contract, until they could prove beyond doubt that he was in breach of his contract, and so claim their money back. It is now up to Tevez to consider his next move, though after all this time City must be fairly sure of their legal position. In his case, one feels, any appeal runs the risk of being both futile and frivolous.


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