In the old days, it was enough to be big, imposing and difficult to handle. Today, playground pushing and shoving is what corner-kicks [and set-pieces] are all about. It’s bound to end in tears, if only because at some point, an over-enthusiastic centre-forward is bound to land tangled up in the back of the goal like a Dolphin caught in a tuna trawler’s net.
The behavior of Juventus at Celtic’s Parkhead in the Champions League was nothing short of disgraceful and went largely unpunished. Now, I am sure that Gary Hooper was whispering abuse into Stephan Lichtsteiner’s ears, but the Swiss defender’s strong-arm tugging and bullying, coupled with his play-acting after being caught-out, was reminiscent of the approach employed in the past when Italian teams came to Britain for European ties.
It really was the spirit of Catenaccio circa 1971 but also showed that Juventus had done their homework. Apparently, Celtic had scored around 40% of their goals in the UEFA Champions League from set-pieces. So what did Juve do? Rolled back the years to a time when crowds would chant, “animals, animals” when Italian sides, brought up on gamesmanship and cynicism, kicked lumps out of English sides.
Was it really necessary? Juventus are a very good side and will surely win Serie A this season. They are extremely talented and will go a long way in the tournament. They do not need to resort to this type of behavior.
Lichtsteiner even has the nerve to defend his actions: “It was my role to keep him [Hooper] away from Buffon.” And if that sounds like the sort of thing Forrest Gump would have said in that irritating movie, well, what do you know? That’s Lichtsteiner’s nickname!
As Celtic manager Neil Lennon said, however, the blatant fouling by Lichtsteiner would not have gone unpunished in British domestic football. “The game must be different in Spain and in Italy from what it is in Britain, because you cannot do that in the penalty box because it is a penalty.”
Lichtsteiner should have been sent off, pure and simple. It may not have affected the result as Juventus won well, but it would have made the Celtic faithful (who were very noisy) a shade happier.