A Case Study in Sportsmanship: Jens Lehmann and Raul Gonzales
For those of you who were fortunate enough to catch last week’s nil-nil Champions League encounter between home side Arsenal and the visiting Galacticos of Madrid, you saw a highly spirited AND sporting affair between two of the top club teams in the world. Nearly a week later all that most of us are likely to remember is that the Gunners managed to hang on for a scoreless draw, thus ensuring their passage into the quarterfinals of Europe’s premier club competition.
And although the match ended without any serious incidents (there were five yellow cards), there was one major flashpoint that had the potential to dramtically alter the complexion of the game. If I’m not mistaken, it occurred about two-thirds of the way through the first half.
With Madrid on the offensive, a long looping through-ball was sent into the penatly box in the direction of their prolific striker Raul. Checking once to see Arsenal’s goalie Jens Lehmann still several yards away, Raul raised a boot to try to redirect the ball past the keeper.
But from out of nowhere, the German who is fighting for the right to represent the home country at this year’s World Cup bravely smothered the shot. But he took a knock in the head from Raul’s foot in the process.
Here was the proverbial ‘moment of truth’ that has the potential to make or break a game. Any Arsenal fan will tell you that Lehmann is one who doesn’t appreciate ending up on the wrong side of a physical encounter. But like the communsate professional that he is, Raul showed genuine concern for his fallen opponent and went over to make sure he was o.k. when he (Lehmann) finally arrived back to his feet a few minutes later.
And for what it’s worth, the referee did his job by NOT cautioning Raul, thus sending the message that the Spaniard had not played recklessly or with any malicious intent. This is very important and needs to be recognized. For a yellow card to Raul might have only served to escalate things as perhaps some of Arsenal’s players might’ve chosen to seek retribution.
But instead, the match proceeded rather smoothly throughout and when it was over and Lehmann had managed to keep the Galacticos, including Raul, from crossing the goal line, the two men were seen walking off the pitch together – the big arm of the German draped across the shoulders of the Madrid forward.
It’s moments like those that make a referee smile at the end of ninety minutes – knowing that he’s helped the teams finish their battle with the positive spirit that our game is supposed to evoke.
Now, contrast that with the ongoing scourge of racism in football. Just this week, Manchester defender Rio Ferdinand blasted UEFA’s pathetic efforts to rectify this situation, arguing that the small fines imposed are doing nothing to combat the problem. He went on to applaud the European Parliament for its resolution proposing that referees be given special powers to abandon matches when home supporters make racist chants. (You can read more about this here)
I know that most everyone agrees on this point – that racism is an abomination and has no place in society. But somehow, it still persists in OUR game…and this must end. Unfortunately, it’s going to take much more than referees abandoning matches to change people’s xenophobic views on the world. But I applaud everyone who takes part in moving our world forward in this regard and think that we’re moving in the right direction as our governmental leaders and leading footballers continue to stand up and speak out against this affront to humankind.
Remember, if you’re not part of the solution then you’re part of the problem.
Until next time…
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