Still the ‘enemy of football’

IN boxing, you can be disqualified for "not fighting". Mixed Martial Arts has a similar rule where such pacifism is called "timidity". In both sports, it is defined as "a fighter purposely avoiding contact with his opponent, or running away from the action of the fight".

In football, we call it parking the bus. Disqualification does not exist and what might be called a non-combatant can go the distance and even steal victory.

And so we come to Jose Mourinho's laying down of arms on Saturday. The arch bus-parker, the man who can wedge the vehicle between the goalposts, put the handbrake on and let the tyres down, did his worst at Anfield and stole a point.

Mercifully, he did not pilfer all three but for him it was still 'mission accomplished'. For the vast majority of the hundreds of millions watching around the globe, it was a waste of an evening.

All the hype and hope of a classic encounter dashed by 10 men behind the ball. Romelu Lukaku was so lonely he almost called the Befrienders.

By any stretch, with just six touches in the Liverpool penalty area they were guilty of "purposely avoiding contact"; with barely 30% possession, they stood accused of "running away from the action of the fight".

In short, they played like Champions League minnows from Cyprus or Malta, who, feeling they don't belong on such a lofty stage, settle for damage limitation in the away leg.

This, the self-acclaimed most popular club in the world with a diaspora that makes it behind only China and India in sheer numbers! The swaggering "not arrogant - just better" merchants of a zillion screen savers.

This was enough to switch off, disown the club and cancel your satellite subscription. And it was both the things Mourinho has been accused of over the years: playing "anti-football" and being the "enemy of football".

It was the reason many United fans didn't want him in the first place. The reason Bobby Charlton, in particular, harboured such grave doubts. But now all their worst fears have been realised.

There had been hopes he'd change. He had promised to and United have scored plenty of goals this season, battering the small fry.

But this was the first big test against a Big Six club and he reverted to his true colours – pale grey as insipid as their shirts.

You can stake your mortgage on him doing the same at the Etihad, the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and Wembley. Looking forward to the big games? When United are away from home, better go to that friend's wedding after all.

Post-match was also entirely in keeping with Mourinho's shameless modus operandi: stink the place out and then have the audacity to blame Liverpool for not attacking! Just as it was to plead poverty of resources. "I had no one on the bench," he cried.

No one on the bench? This, the billion pound club and buyers of the world's most expensive player until recently! And how would that have gone down with £43 million (RM240.91 million) Juan Mata, £32 million Victor Lindelof and England strikers, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingaard?

But aside from the pitiful untruths and doublespeak that might have come out of North Korea, he missed a golden opportunity. Liverpool were as vulnerable as they ever have been.

Deprived of their main attacker, with only one win in eight, a back four held together by sticking plaster and criticism of Jurgen Klopp simmering, they were there for the taking.

Imagine what a humiliation at Anfield would have done to their season! It would have been a put-down from which they may not have recovered. Critics of Klopp would have had a field day.

Title-wise, it would have been a knockout blow. Very few Kopites were confident, going into the game. Many feared a beating. Liverpool dangled their glass chin but United refused to throw the punch.

Imagine what it would have done for United's season! What a statement it would have made. Remove one erstwhile rival from the race and put the fear of God into the rest.

Instead, the team to be feared is his cross-town rivals. While Mourinho was mouthing his false claims, Pep Guardiola's team were at their eloquent best. By racking up seven goals against Stoke they have now scored more in the first eight games of the top flight than any club since 1894.

And, boy, do they entertain! Comparisons with Barcelona are no longer wishful thinking and in Gabriel Jesus, David Silva and Kevin de Bruyne they have players fit to grace the Nou Camp.

In an age of declining attendances, short attention spans and alternative entertainment, football can no longer depend on broadcasting rights continuing to defy gravity. And as sure as subscriptions are not renewed, there will be a spike in ABU's – Anybody But United.

Liverpool did their bit, played pretty well but lacked luck and finishing. And they were also up against the world's best goalkeeper. They can take heart from a solid performance but shouldn't assume their defensive woes are over – they just weren't tested. The Devils, without a bit of devil, are just not United.

Yes, Mourinho will win trophies but even United fans are voicing their disgust. Not poked anyone in the eye yet? Most of those watching would beg to differ.


GOOD: Man City
No wonder Pep was purring. "The best in my time," he said of the 7-2 demolition of Stoke. It was glorious stuff and could not have contrasted more starkly with the anti-football of his neighbours.

BAD: Jose Mourinho
A point gained but two surrendered. Could it be that he doesn't have the confidence in his team to go for broke? Did he fear Liverpool more than he let on? It could be that the wrong message has been sent. Parking the bus may have back-fired...

UGLY : Richarlison dive
For once an Arsene Wenger whinge looked justified. "Scandalous" is what he called the resultant pen that turned the game. Watford's Richarlison couldn't resist the temptation to hit the ground when challenged by Hector Bellerin and may face a retrospective ban. Don't hold your breath that it will have the desired effect.

STUPID: Andy Carroll
The West Ham striker's size and awkwardness can bring more cards than he sometimes deserves. But not on Saturday. To get a yellow for charging at an opponent like a raging bull and then repeat the offence minutes later in front of the ref was just begging for an early bath.