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Handshake Conspiracies, Downing Stats, and Other Wednesday Notes

stewart downing liverpool united

We promise, there's actually some news today that isn't about Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra, handshakes, racism, the London press, the English FA, or Manchester United. I think. Maybe…

* But first off, we've got one more thread to tie up when it comes to Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra, handshakes, the English FA, and Manchester United. This thread in particular involves the handshake itself, and specifically questions of why Luis Suarez and the Liverpool players moved past United when usually it would have been the Liverpool players standing in place while United walked past them.

That it happened the other way around on Saturday was exceptionally odd, as over the five seasons Premier League sides have shaken hands before games as a show of sportsmanship that might or might not—depending on the week and who's asking—put an end to racism, Saturday's match against United was only the second time the away side has done the walking. The first and only other occasion was when Wayne Bridge and Manchester City visited Chelsea and John Terry soon after news broke that the Chelsea and former England skipper had gotten his former teammate's girlfriend pregnant.

Though some Liverpool fans have since tried to find some kind of conspiracy in the alteration, it turns out it was a last minute decision by referee Phil Dowd, who as Mike Dean before him had felt it best to keep the centre of attention—in this case Saurez—from presenting a stationary target for anybody on United or in the crowd looking to make a statement.

* And meanwhile, while this time it's not specifically about the Suarez case or the handshake-that-wasn't, in recent weeks we've found ourselves pointing people towards John Barnes when all of the Suarezgate issues become impossible to avoid talking about. Mostly this is because in recent weeks Barnes has come across as the most intelligent former athlete we've ever heard talk about any issue ever. It's also a little because when discussing racism in English professional football, this is a man with first hand experience on the receiving end of the abuse.

In any case, Barnes recently penned a piece for the Times wherein he tried to shift the at times sensational story that has dominated discussion recently in a more positive and meaningful direction, and as with just about everything Barnes has said in recent weeks it's something that needs to be seen by everyone:

The Football Association ticks all the right boxes with its policies and campaigns, the Government passes legislation, the Prime Minister gets involved because someone didn’t shake someone’s hand, people queue up to say ignorance is no excuse. But they are wrong. Ignorance is the excuse. To stop it, we have to start talking seriously about race.

The idea that race is about colour is relatively modern. When Aristotle spoke about races he was differentiating between uncivilised barbarians and civilised Greeks. But it was introduced by governments, backed by the Church, to validate slavery and colonialism, to justify treating some people as less equal than others. Just as Linnaeus classified plants, so people were classified by the colour of their skin. Academics tried to prove differences in skull formation to give scientific support to the idea that black people were morally and intellectually inferior.

But race is not a scientific reality...

Now go read the rest.

* Moving away from Luis Suarez, Patrice Evra, handshakes, racism, the London press, the English FA, and Manchester United for a moment (finally) with the first news regarding former Liverpool assistant Sammy Lee since he left the club shortly (Note: As Alex Snow points out in the comments, "shortly" in this case was, like, four months) after the return of Kenny Dalglish last January. After nearly a year on the proverbial sidelines, Lee will be returning to the literal sidelines with Bolton, the club he both ended his playing career and started his coaching career at—including a brief spell in 2007 as manager. This time around it won't be a job as manager or assistant manager that he undertakes, but rather the role of head coach for the Wanderers academy. We wish him the best of luck.

* Lastly, following what for many was a crushingly disappointing performance by Stewart Downing against Manchester United on the weekend, EPL Index looks at his numbers throughout the season to try and determine whether Downing deserves the abuse he's received from a fanbase largely convinced he isn't good enough to take the club where it needs to go. And the numbers at least suggest that aside from interceptions being way down on a per minute basis and the player passing backwards more often—perhaps as a result of being i n a side the plays a more possession based game than his former club—his contributions for Liverpool are nearly identical in both attack and defence, including most importantly the chances created for both himself and others.

Some will recall that we undertook a similar investigation in October—and reached similar conclusions. But as much as we like statistics and try to use them to inform how we view players and performances, despite concluding in October that there was little wrong with Downing as far as the stats were concerned it's been impossible to ignore that his performances simply haven't been convincing. Saturday against United when he looked sheepish on the ball and left Enrique largely exposed against Valencia was simply the latest—and perhaps least excusable—example of a player who appears anything but effective even if his statistics suggest that, in general, he's at least close to the player he was last season.

Though perhaps that's the real problem. Perhaps, even ignoring the struggles with chance conversion, Downing not doing all that much worse a job for Liverpool than he was for Aston Villa last season simply means that the player he was for Aston Villa last season wasn't anywhere near good enough to justify a £20M price-tag and near lock on the starting eleven. At least not for a club that, based on last season's finishing standing and sumer expenditures, could have reasonably considered a top four finish to be the minimum league goal at the start of the season.

We'll be back with any breaking news as the day moves along, but in the meantime, remember, Suarezgate is never actually going to end…

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