Never mind the handshakes, how about some football?
Manchester United's Patrice Evra (right) celebrates in front of Liverpool's Luis Suarez (AP Image)
Move over, John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. The guys who started this whole handshake thing are back in the spotlight this weekend.
At the Antipodean-friendly timeslot of 10.30pm AEST Sunday night, Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra will meet for the first time since… well, the last time they met. Remember that?
Not that anyone really cares anymore, but there’s a chance that it’s all going to boil over once again if Suarez shuns Evra – or vice versa – just before kick-off.
Assuming they both play, that is.
If you were under a rock in February and missed what went down at Old Trafford, Suarez ignored the outstretched hand of Evra, the man he was found guilty of racially vilifiying – repeatedly – at a fixture four months prior.
The two hotheads tangled a few times during the match, and at half time, and they both pretty much made fools of themselves for their antics – Suarez for his childishness, and Evra for effectively shouting from the top of his self-righteous pedestal following the final whistle.
This time it is Suarez’s turn to stick his palm out, and you’d think the Liverpool brains trust would have scared him straight into doing it this week, no matter how much he doesn’t want to.
He deserves to be run out of town if he resists again, given the sensitivity that surrounds Merseyside at the minute following the Hillsborough cover-up exposé. It’s important this game is played in the right spirit.
But the will-he, won’t-he stories have been excruciating.
The handshake (or not) will be the sideshow to the main event, which is Liverpool taking on Manchester United in another edition of one of sport’s greatest, most bitter rivalries.
After their worst start to a season in 101 years, another loss here for Liverpool will see them further submerged in strife.
They are stranded in the proverbial creek, minus one paddle. That paddle was Andy Carroll, and they didn’t get to the shops in time to buy a new one – although Brendan Rogers is said to be a carpenter of some repute, and could well fashion one out of possession football if he’s given enough time.
Meanwhile, a rampant United, sitting in second place with nine points, will be keen to push them a little further downstream.
It’s going to be a great game, with plenty of fireworks. So we don’t need a great, big obnoxious firecracker beforehand.
The football is where the focus should be. Not on handshakes – and definitely not for the second straight week, after Ferdinand and Terry’s weak spin-off before the QPR-Chelsea game last round.
Sequels are never as good as the original. However, in this case, the original is Weekend at Bernie’s, a movie that should never have even been made once, let alone twice.
In fact, the filmmakers should arguably never have even given the opportunity to turn their perverse ideas into a reality in the first place.
If we can extend this admittedly flimsy metaphor just a little further, I’m trying to say that forcing players to shake hands before matches shouldn’t happen, and is ridiculous.
It’s a nice gesture, but that’s all it is.
The players file past one another, trying to avoid making eye contact with their soon-to-be-enemies at all costs, begrudgingly rub their hands for the cameras that need the footage as part of their pre-match package, and then quickly forget about the whole experience three seconds later.
Aside from the fact that it looks good on television, the only real purpose it serves is giving the opportunity for petulance to be broadcast live to millions of viewers across the world.
It doesn’t guarantee fair play in the match, clearly. The players have been told to do it, so it’s not real – it’s for show.
No kid is ever going to watch this so obviously phony ritual and think ‘You know what? I’m going to be a top bloke from now on because of that’.
It’s part of the whole cultish window-dressing that precedes every Premier League game, and it is now much more trouble than its worth, given how the quarrels of some highly-paid footballers have become international incidents because of it.
The only handshaking that needs to go down is between the two captains and the referees, before the toss of the coin.
After the match, the players can have a massive group hug and then go out for a few pints and a parmigiana, if they’re that way inclined.
But alas, for now at least, it is happening. And as long as it is happening, there should be a strict edict that everyone shakes everyone else’s hand – doesn’t matter who allegedly called who what. No exceptions.
That goes for Suarez and Evra. They might not like it, and there might be close to zero value in it, but there are bigger concerns in the world than the ones they have with each other. Hillsborough, for one.
Let’s hope for the sake of the 96, they can step out of the way this weekend and let the beautiful game take centre stage.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.
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