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Feast Of Steven

The F.A. Cup Final proved that some footballers give value for their pay packets.

Tony Cascarino, 19 May 2006

Hopefully everybody who stereotypes footballers as being arrogant, lazy and overpaid was watching on Saturday as the Liverpool and West Ham lads worked their bollocks off for the cause. By the end of extra-time, they looked like heavyweight boxers who’d gone the distance!

With the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United fielding weakened teams in it, the FA Cup has become devalued in recent years, but this was a great advert for a competition that still has the ability to capture the public’s imagination.

It’s been overlooked amidst the heroics, but Reina and Alonso were both dreadful in the first-half and Steven Gerrard had a 20-minute period when he was incapable of picking out anyone in a red shirt with his passes.

I’ve seen him give the ball away cheaply in a few games this season, which doesn’t bode well for the World Cup where mistakes like that tend to be punished. He's a battler, though, and kept plugging away when a few of the other Liverpool heads had dropped.

My heart went out to West Ham and, in particular, Marlon Harewood who’ll be replaying that extra-time miss of his for months to come. 9 times out of 10 he'd have left the field with the injury he picked up, but he played on and couldn’t make the body do what the brain told it.

The guy started the season with people questioning whether or not he was Premiership quality, and ended it with 14 goals and a chance of sneaking into the England squad. The Cup didn’t pan out the way he’d have wanted it to, but otherwise he’s had a fantastic campaign.

There are two misses I had as a player that still haunt me – one at Gillingham when a simple tap-in got passed back to the teammate who’d squared it to me, and the second against Everton in the F.A. Cup when I was 30 yards out and just had Neville Southall to beat – or not beat as it turned out! The Mickey-taking from the terraces is nothing compared to the going over you give yourself.

The weekend’s other big story was the corruption scandal in Italy, which confirms what most people have thought about the game there for years.

The Italian F.A. set the benchmark when they relegated Fiorentina to Serie C for serious boardroom irregularities – e.g. going bankrupt – so the same should happen to Juventus who’ve more or less admitted the guilt of their former executive Luciano Moggi.

Even if they only get demoted to Serie B, a season without Champions’ League revenue will make them and other clubs think very, very seriously about their future conduct.

As for whether the bribery extends to players, I honestly don’t think so because to guarantee a particular result you’ve got to buy the whole team. A referee can do it on his own by giving or not giving a penalty.

There were a couple of times during my career when I heard of players being asked to throw games, but no one ever approached me or anybody I was close to.

Bernard Tapie did say to me once at Marseilles that he’d bought a particular opposition keeper, but the guy proceeded to have the game of his life. I said afterwards, “You didn’t pay him enough!” No one was more corrupt than Tapie was, but on that occasion he was just encouraging me to pepper the goal.

There have been calls for Juve’s keeper Gianluigi Buffon to be axed from Italy’s World Cup squad, but you can’t do that without irrefutable proof, which I doubt they’ll have before the finals. Hearsay isn’t sufficient grounds on which to deprive a player of going to a major tournament.

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