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Education in football

By Alec Shilton



Aston Villa's fans display a large banner in the stands during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Everton at Villa Park in Birmingham, West Midlands, England on August 25, 2012
Aston Villa's fans display a large banner in the stands during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Everton at Villa Park in Birmingham, West Midlands, England on August 25, 2012

The start to the English season has been dominated by unsavoury incidents and altercations. The seemingly never-ending racism saga revolving around John Terry has put an end to his England career and ensured that, for his part in the debacle, Ashley Cole will never be truly appreciated by English fans. The FA added to the farce by ensuring that the combined punishments of Terry and Luis Suarez – for his abuse of Patrice Evra last season - are equivalent to the 12-game ban that Joey Barton received for his actions of the final day of last season. Undoubtedly this sends out the wrong message. We have seen Gareth Bale and Suarez performing acts that might well have given Tom Daley a run for his money. And last week we witnessed the appalling treatment of Danny Rose by Serbian Neanderthals which has somehow put England’s under-21 players and Steve Wigley, the coach, under the spotlight from FIFA. And the weekend didn’t bring much relief; Chris Kirkland being shoved to the ground by a Leeds United supporter along with sick chanting from Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland fans.

It all leaves a bitter taste at a time when, domestically and internationally, England’s top teams are failing to hit their straps and take some of the spotlight away from the darker side to the game and a culture that cannot quite be shaken off.  The only long-term solution is education: attempting to instil the values and decency that are so often found wanting within football.

At the time Randy Lerner took ownership of Aston Villa, there was a sense that Lerner and his CEO, Paul Faulkner – brought to Villa from Lerner’s MBNA operation – were trying to restore links between the club and its fans.  ‘Proud history, bright future’ was the motto. Villa forfeited a sponsorship deal to allow Acorns, a local children’s hospice, to advertise on Villa’s kit. Free scarves were distributed to a packed Villa Park and when a disastrous result occurred at Stamford Bridge, all tickets and travel were refunded to supporters. General Charles Krulak, a decorated US war veteran and Villa board member, was regularly posting on Villa’s internet fans forums and fans felt as close to the their club as they had for some time. And this was despite Lerner shunning the public eye at every opportunity.

Villa are indeed a proud club but which club wouldn’t claim to be? Is being proud of history and heritage something to cling on to because no meaningful silverware has been added to the claret and blue cabinet since 1996? Are they still a ‘big club’ purely because they possess one of the largest grounds in England? One supposes they can lay claim to founding the football league courtesy of the endeavours of William McGregor in 1887. And they have won the European Cup, something fans are always quick to remind the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City.

Lerner’s latest move to reinforce Villa’s sense of pride has been to appoint somebody who has displayed the values that football so often lacks. And their new employee has done so in spades.

In November of 2011, the career of Simone Farina had peaked. In his footballing prime, at 29 years of age, he had reached what was, realistically, the apex of his career path having secured his second promotion with Gubbio, moving into Serie B. With a Coppa Italia match looming against Cesena, Farina was approached by former Roma teammate Alessandro Zamperini to throw the match for around £160,000 – around double Farina’s annual wage. Not bad for an hour and a half’s work. Not only did Farina turn down the bribe but he also reported the approach to the police which led to the arrest of 17 people. Subsequently, he was praised by Italy captain Gianluigi Buffon, invited to train with the national team by coach Cesare Prandelli, commended at May’s Ballon d’Or ceremony by Sepp Blatter and named a FIFA Ambassador to Fair Play. Farina hung up his boots at the end of the season, at the age of just 30.

INTERPOL investigated the match-fixing scandal and their general secretary, Ron Noble, an associate of Lerner, suggested to the Villa owner that Farina might be a good fit for Villa. Farina has since become an FA-qualified coach and is now working on the club’s youth and community programmes. 

Simone has spoken to the club’s website about his excitement at landing a coaching role at Villa. “I am very happy about this opportunity, it means a lot to me,” he said. “I have tried to look for the positives and I believe that this could be the most beautiful thing that could have happened. The most beautiful thing for me is watching them smiling, I have already started coaching the youngsters and what they have given t me is great. As you can see they are care-free, happy and they only think about playing football and being happy and this really pleases me.

“My experience have led to this opportunity so I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, for the kids. And I will try to give them a sport education and teach them respect because I think it is very important for young footballers. Knowing I had the backing of INTERPOL, FIFA and Aston Villa made me feel at ease as well as very proud. I have dreamed of living in England as I think it has the best football, especially now, at the moment. Therefore, for me, it is a dream to be here at Villa Park today. To see the support from the Villa fans, it is something that moves me and I owe them a lot. I haven’t had much trouble settling in. The only thing I have to work on is my English. This makes me feel very proud, because it represents a historical club, not only in England and this fills me with joy and makes me feel very enthusiastic.”

Sepp Blatter has also commented on the appointment. “I am very proud of Simone. We definitely need football to be clean, transparent and honest. I wish to congratulate both Aston Villa and Simone, and wish them all the very best in their co-operation,” he said.

Farina began his role last week where he is mentoring Villa’s youngsters on both the technical and moral aspects of football. Villa have a history of cultivating excellent prospects who do not quite go on to reach the levels they might have. Lee Hendrie, Darren Byfield, Darius Vassell as well as the Moore brothers – Stefan and Luke – were all earmarked for stardom but lost their way. Farina may have arrived too late to make his mark on Villa’s vast pool of academy graduates currently on the fringes of the first team squad but the club will hope that his educative skills will influence the next batch of youngsters so that Villa’s future might also be a source of pride in years to come.

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