Premier League

Pep’s Predicament: Why There are No Winners in the FA’s Yellow Ribbon Saga

Pep Guardiola’s season-long work on an all-conquering Manchester City football juggernaut risks being tied down by a yellow ribbon. How apt that it sprung into prevalence during a night when his team’s pursuit of a historic quadruple came to an end.

Guardiola’s Flawed Political Compass

Football’s global popularity often makes it susceptible to demonstrations of political activism. Sometimes this can be a positive show of unity, such as the tricolour illuminated Wembley Stadium arch for France’s friendly against England in the wake of the Paris terror attacks. However, it is unfortunately more often the case that football and politics do not present such a united front. The FA’s charge against Guardiola for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of Catalan political prisoners (during his side’s FA Cup exit to Wigan Athletic) is the latest example of politics overshadowing the football that frequently gives it a stage.

Whilst Guardiola should be acknowledged for his pragmatism yesterday in choosing to accept the charge and avoid further acrimony with the FA, his own political compass can hardly be seen as perfectly aligned. The slick public relations front presented by City owner Sheikh Mansour does not hide the brutal reality that his half-brother, Sheikh Khalifa, presides over a state that is virtually devoid of basic human rights. Pep is able look the other way, particularly in the directions of his bank balance and latest transfer market targets. His recent attempt to take the political high ground over events in Catalonia is flawed by association to the identity and ideology of his employers.

Glenn’s Ignorance on Full Display

Fortunately for Guardiola, the brunt of this particular political storm has been borne by FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn. Not only has Glenn been apparently ignorant towards sensitive issues, he has also misunderstood the actual meaning behind the yellow ribbon itself.  References to the Swastika, Star of David and “anything like Robert Mugabe” were baffling statements on their own, but Glenn dug an even deeper political hole for himself by attempting to differentiate Guardiola’s yellow ribbon from the Remembrance Day poppy.

His comment that it was a symbol of Catalan independence was rejected by the City manager on Tuesday, who drew a clear line by saying “it is about people being in jail when they did nothing to deserve it.” Players and managers might be forgiven for misinterpreting delicate situations – their job is focussed with events on the pitch – but in this instance, it was one of football’s politicians who showed an embarrassing lack of judgement.

Political Statements Supercede the Sport Itself

It is the sad truth that political statements in football, no matter how well-intentioned they might seem, tend to supersede the sport itself. This particular juncture between the two may have been brief but Guardiola has continued to field questions on the yellow ribbon saga, instead of Manchester City’s upcoming Champions League second leg tie against FC Basel.

A comfortable home victory on Sunday against the reigning champions was another inevitable step towards Manchester City’s coronation for their own Premier League crown. The frantically intense press defence, athletic movement, and lethally quick passing instilled by Guardiola, whilst not evident or indeed necessary against an absent-minded Chelsea, has produced dominant and delightful football over the past 7 months. The attention being paid to political symbols is as much as a reflection of Manchester City’s consistent superiority on the pitch itself – there are precious few superlatives that have not already been drawn. Nevertheless, the double or treble that will have been won by Pep Guardiola’s side by mid-May must not be defined by such simple political symbolism.

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