Don't put a gag on Wenger

Last updated at 11:29 05 March 2007

The thought police went home from

Anfield frustrated,

having failed to catch

any of the usual

suspects red-handed.

Sir Alex Ferguson offered his

frank admission that Liverpool

were unlucky to lose.

In the rational assessment of

Rafael Benitez, the free-kick from

which Manchester United snaffled

the late goal which may well have

won the Premiership probably was


No offences there against public

order or community sensitivity. Not

even from the fans.

Despite all the tribal animosity

and vociferous chanting which

attend this rivalry, there was little

or no crowd trouble and hardly a

four-letter word within earshot of

my seat in a Liverpool section of

the stands.

Not that the social watchdogs will

give up the chase. They will be out

in force again this week and if

either of these managers were

to go out of the Champions League

feeling he was the victim of

injustice, then no doubt they would

collar their man.

Yet if Benitez and Ferguson were

to end up ranting against being

robbed by the thoroughbreds of

Barcelona or the rapscallions from

Lille, the likelihood is that their

rage would be equally as honest as

Saturday’s considered judgments.

And for that, be sure Big Brother

would descend on them.

Because here, in the motherland

of democracy of all places, one of

the cardinal principles of human

liberty is under threat as never

before. Freedom of speech, our

most fundamental right, is being

suppressed on all fronts. We do not

have to agree with other people’s

views to defend the right of other

people to hold them.

As the BBC found out this weekend,

their institutionalised support

of New Labour could not spare

them from the injunction granted

by one of Tony’s Cronies which

prevents them broadcasting vital

evidence in the cash for peerages


Here, at the sweat and liniment

end of our business, a few of my

colleagues would do well to ponder

the iniquity of censorship before

continuing their clamour to be

handed Arsene Wenger’s head on a


The Arsenal manager’s heated

rhetoric is sometimes at odds with

his cool philosophy but that does

not mean he should be gagged,

pilloried and dragged through the

crowds to a place of punishment.

No, Wenger is not above the laws

of football or the land. But what

criminal offence is he supposed to

have committed during or since the

Carling Cup Final?

Yes, he is as entitled to express

his views as the rest of us whether

or not we sympathise with his

version of events.

The public debate is the very

lifeblood of football. To stifle even

the most heated exchanges is to

switch off much of the energy

which electrifies the people’s game.

What the principal characters

have to say is also meat and drink

to the media. Yet when it comes to

Wenger, a host of critics are biting

the hand that feeds them with

hypocritical gluttony.

Wenger is a highly intelligent man

and to silence him would be an

outrage. Like Ferguson, Benitez

and Mourinho, he will be strutting

and fretting his hour-and-a-half on

the Champions League touchline

over the next couple of days.

They all call it as they see it —

maybe in Wenger’s case sometimes

as he can’t quite see it — and quite

right, too. If Arsenal fail to recover

their one-goal deficit against PSV

Eindhoven and their manager is

upset by the manner of their elimination,

I for one would not only

expect but want to hear the

authentic Wenger voice.

For his part, all he is asking is

the right to speak his mind and

for his opinion to be respected.

This defence of Wenger is not

based on the ravishing football

played by the brilliant young

technocrats Wenger has shrewdly

recruited for Arsenal. It goes to the

core of our civil rights. The angriest

charge against Wenger is that he

accused a linesman of lying. This is

a misunderstanding.

In French, to call a decision a lie is

to describe it as a mistake, not to

accuse the person who made it of

deliberate deceit.

Here, in the Tower of Babel which

this country has become, democracy

is being lost in translation.

Olympic costs spiralling

Four months ago I warned here that the

price to us all of the 2012 London

Olympics would spiral from the original

budget of just over £3billion to £10bn — and it

has come to pass.

Now the Government and the IOC are

desperately trying to separate the cost of the

Games from that for the regeneration of the

Lea Valley. They would, wouldn’t they?

How they would like us to forget that London’s

pitch for the games relied heavily on the

legacy of redevelopment of the East End.

With five years still to go watch this space

and keep a blank cheque open. Next stop on

the Stratford line — £15bn.

Becks still man for the job

As Steve McClaren cancels plans to fly to

Munich on Wednesday

to watch Bayern’s

Champions League

match with Real Madrid,

we are entitled to

wonder whether he is

secretly relieved.

Another cracking

performance from David

Beckham would have

dragged McClaren

under the wheels of

what is being described

as the Bring Back

Beckham bandwagon.

A knee injury sustained

in Real’s game last night

lets McClaren off the

hook of a decision which

no national team

manager should make.

Never say never, Steve,

nor even imply as much

If this is a bandwagon

now, then it was no

more than a stationary

hand-cart which this

column set rolling five

months ago. If it should

yet gather irresistible

momentum, McClaren

would have only himself

to blame.

When he dropped the

past captain from his

first game as England

manager, McClaren was

making a statement, not

a judgment.

When, two weeks ago,

he failed to take in Real’s

first match against

Bayern in Madrid, he put

his personal prejudice

before England’s best

interests. When he

excused that omission

by claiming that he

needed an extra day in

Barcelona to inspect

facilities for the Euro

qualifier against

Andorra in neutral

Spain, he risked ridicule.

Now, having been called

to task, McClaren’s

every movement

regarding Beckham is

under media scrutiny

and his motives in


It should not have come

to this.

We need Beckham’s

tedious narcissism and

mountains of baggage

like a hole in the head.

His re-promotion of his

England claims over two

pages of a tabloid

newspaper last week

was as toe-curlingly

gauche as his tattoos,

haircuts and dress

sense. But if he is the

man for the awkward

match in Israel this

month, then he should

be on the plane to Tel


McClaren wrote him off

too soon. It does not

matter that he will be of

no use to England in the

Euro 2008 finals, which

he most certainly will

not be after his first

low-grade summer in

Los Angeles.

Qualify first, toss him

aside later.

It is the job of the

England manager to

select the best players

available to meet any

given challenge, not to

cut off his nose to spite

the face of his team.

Farewell to my friend Woolers

For thousands upon thousands of

dedicated readers, the news they had

been fearing over many months came last


Ian Wooldridge

Ian Wooldridge, the finest sports writer

of his generation, died after a long and

unbelievably cheerful battle against


Wooldridge, the one-name byline by

which he had been known and admired

for more than 30 years in the Daily Mail’s

sports pages, had kept writing as

regularly and as long as possible.

However, the words ‘Wooldridge is away’

had appeared too often instead of his

regular column for the public not to be

as concerned as his fellow journalists for

his well being.

Although ailing from cancer at the age of

75, he still managed to deliver a final

column in his uniquely entertaining style

as recently as the Saturday before last.

One of the most honoured sportswriters

in Fleet Street history, Wooldridge also

received the OBE for his services to


Perhaps most importantly for him, he

was revered for his beautiful prose and

withering insight by his peers and


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