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Ibra's Ban Being Lemons, Manchester United Must Make Lemonade

Wednesday 8th March 2017
Manchester United and Bournemouth didn't exactly enjoy a pleasant walk in the park last Saturday, although you wouldn't be able to tell from key players' comments afterward or the three-match ban assessed its star striker which finds United needing to make lemonade from lemons. Tyrone Mings stamped on Zlatan Ibrahimović's skull. Zlatan elbowed Mings in the face, soon after. Andrew Surman then shoved Ibra to the ground. Surman was the only one to be sent off by referee Kevin Friend, whose view for the first two offences was obstructed. Afterwards, Zlatan chose to adopt the Las Vegas code, telling an interviewer, "What happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch."
The Swede also claimed no retaliatory intent for the stamp, rather that Mings "jumped into my elbow." (Sad face emoji)

For his part, Mings said his stamp was accidental and he couldn't speak to Ibra's honesty, not having seen the elbow, though he did confess to feeling it. By the way, did you know farmers in Nebraska are taking both John Deere, the tractor manufacturer, and Apple Computers to court for the right to repair their own equipment? I only mention it because I was just afflicted by a mental image of manure being spread everywhere.

To be fair, I'm inclined to give Mings the benefit of the doubt regarding intent. Although my IRAIW colleague, Jordan Street, disagrees, replays I viewed show the Cherries defender first glancing at a falling Ibra as he jumps over an already prostrate Wayne Rooney, then looking to his left to track the ball. One can either conclude he was taking aim or trying to avoid contact. Preferring to think the best about people until they prove me wrong, I'm assuming the latter. Then again, I can see Jordan's perspective. Defenders are not strikers because they're much worse at hitting their targets.

That said, Mings knows lack of intent doesn't excuse his action. If you're driving through an intersection while looking in one direction for oncoming traffic, are you absolved from responsibility for striking a pedestrian directly in your path? Not hardly. Negligence is a damning factor, as well as intent, and one should always be watching where they are going. Mings' post-match remarks proved he understands this truth.

Now, however, comes news Bournemouth is challenging violent conduct charge against him. The FA believes, intent or not, he deserves a longer ban than Ibra, who has accepted the standard three-match punishment. Mings' club does not. Perhaps the Cherries are correct. Maybe Mings only deserves a three-match ban because contact was accidental. Yet, concussion is a serious issue in sport at the moment. His advocates will have to do an excellent job to convince the FA he does not deserve to be made a deterrent for the rest of the Football League.

In 2016, Calgary Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman crosschecked a referee from behind shortly, though not immediately, after taking a head shot. He was given a twenty-game suspension. He appealed, claiming he was concussed and therefore not in control. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman rejected the appeal but the punishment was later reduced to ten games by an independent arbitrator. While said arbitrator didn't deliver his ruling until Wideman had served nineteen games of his suspension, the point here is Mings will have no such recourse.

I suppose it's possible he could take his case to the Court of Appeal for Sport, although I have never heard it being done. Both parties must agree to settle any dispute through the CAS. As the FA typically follows a legal protocol in charging and adjudicating offenders, and its position on stamping is well documented, with precedents for a longer ban in place, there would seem little point for the FA to seek an outside opinion and less ground for the CAS to accept the case.

Meanwhile, United face the immediate reality of three matches without the striker upon whom everyone and their mother has accused the club of being overly reliant. Three matches are indeed sizable lemons from which José Mourinho must make lemonade, especially when one of those matches is an FA Cup quarterfinal with former club, Chelsea.

Fortunately, Mou has plenty of sugar on hand to sweeten the sour taste news of Zlatan's absence evokes. Although he hasn't done so very often this season, Wayne Rooney can score goals. He can also distribute the ball, easily leading United with ten assists despite limited appearances. Marcus Rashford also deserves a run of games leading the line. Henrik Mkhitaryan is rumored to be ready for the match at Stamford Bridge. Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, and Jesse Lingard have also been known to bulge the twine now and then.

Zlatan's temper has put his clubs in this predicament before, most recently at Paris Saint-Germain, when he earned a four-match ban for berating a referee in the tunnel and calling France a "sh*t country" with cameras rolling. Yet, there is reason beyond his twenty-six goals for United to accept bad Zlatan along with the good. As well as overdependence, pundits have criticized the manager for not resting the thirty-five-year-old, which the boss has admitted his star will not condone. In that context, the ban is just more lemonade for United, who will have a fresher Ibra for the stretch run. As Mourinho well knows, it's within the club's power to fix this problem themselves. With a positive approach, United can emerge smelling like roses. Or Mourinho's squad can go into a sulk, spending the next week or so inhaling the distinct aroma of Grade-A Nebraska manure.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.

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