It says a lot about the quality of a football match that the post-match analysis and media coverage of a League Cup semi-final are dominated by an incident surrounding a humble ball boy.
But, after a truly dour 90mins in which Swansea City remained entirely untroubled by Chelsea – apparently still clinging to the distant memories of being somehow crowned European Champions last season – and their half-assed efforts to claw back a 2-0 first-leg semi-final deficit, the issue on the lips of every commentator was a laughable altercation between Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and a lowly Swansea ball boy.
Entering the last 15mins of the dying embers of yet another forlorn trophy quest for the Blues – following the European Champions League, the European Super Cup, the World Club Championship and in all likelihood the English Premier League – £32M Belgian whizzkid Eden Hazard sought to bely the embarrassingly paltry efforts of his team up until that point by attempting to inject the myth of genuinely passionate desperation and eagerness into proceedings. Hazard, perhaps his personal frustration boiling over at yet another misplaced pass, yet another instance or poor control or another misdirected apparent shot on goal, sought to quickly retrieve the ball from beyond the touchline and back into play.
But he was thwarted by the quick-thinking anticipation of a 17yr old ball boy – yes, 17yrs old – who not at all saw the opportunity to waste some precious seconds of time for the home side. Having raced towards the ball, despite Hazard’s presence making his involvement totally unnecessary, he expertly flopped on top of it in a act of protective proficiency that would have Richie McCaw drooling in admiration, before rolling around in agony as Hazard attempted to free the ball.
Now I am no Chelsea fan and cannot help but feel this latest indiscretion heaps more unwanted scrutiny on the club, but this was hardly a violent attack in the mould of Eric Cantona’s infamous assault on a fan during his overrated time at Man Utd. But Hazard was incredibly naive and thoughtless to involve himself and, despite the ball boy’s impressive pole-axed Didier Drogba impersonation, he was, in my opinion, rightly dismissed from the field of play. The referee had little choice.
Now while Sir Alex Ferguson contemplates a £10M bid for the ball boy as a replacement for the hapless David de Gea – Sir Alex reported to have been hugely impressed by the lad’s handling skills under pressure – while Man Utd supporters breathe a collective sigh of relief that it wasn’t Robin van Persie in the role of ball boy – a trauma such as that inflicted on him by Hazard would’ve probably “killed the boy” in Sir Alex’s gospel assessment – and the ball boy said to be sifting through the offers to appear in Celebrity Big Brother, the other question is this….
Hopefully and, in all likelihood, Hazard will receive a standard three-match suspension for violent conduct and the issue will soon be forgotten, allowing Swansea City and Bradford City’s wonderful achievement in reaching a Cup Final to be rightly lauded. But, with an increasing band of the media, and amongst football followers in general, advocating a sympathetic view towards Hazard and suggesting the ball boy ought to accept responsibility for his questionable actions, I wonder whether the reaction would have been quite the same had the player been Luis Suarez rather than Eden Hazard?!?
Perish the thought that the English media have an agenda, but I suspect there would of been calls for a season-long ban, criminal prosecution and a return to capital punishment had the Uruguayan, rather than the Belgian, found himself in that very same situation….