When Romeo Dallaire penned his classic book Shake Hands with the Devil it is highly doubtful that he ever suspected the title would relate to the English Premier League. However, nine years after it was published it may be the perfect way to title an ongoing saga at the forefront of media attention. It is not one that looks favorably upon the league and one that will continue to exist unless some unforeseen developments take place in the relationships of certain individuals. The aforementioned saga consists of players from opposite teams choosing not to shake hands as is the custom before a Premier League match because of poor sportsmanship. For the good of the league it must come to a conclusion, and fast.
The first highly scrutinized modern day example of the missed hand shake was between former Chelsea and England teammates John Terry and Wayne Bridge. For those unfamiliar with the incident John Terry had an extra-marital affair with Wayne Bridge’s ex-girfriend and it caused volcanic tension between the two resulting in Bridge neglecting to shake Terry’s hand when the two met for the first time in a Premier League fixture. Returning to the aforementioned I am sure on that day that Bridge would have rather shaken hands with the devil himself then a former teammate who had shamed him so publicly.
Not only was John Terry the first to cause a no handshake in recent football but he was also the most recent. After the Bridge incident controversy could only allude the Chelsea defender for so long. This time rather then extra-marital affairs it would be a racial scandal that would once again pen Terry into the front page print. Without delving into the issue extensively it essentially consisted of Anton Ferdinand of QPR reported that during a match Terry called him a “f–king black c–t”, words that are certain to stir up media attention of several different levels. The entire debacle came down to whether or not Terry stated or asked these words and he ended up getting off with a warning. Again the result of the first time these two met in a Premier League match was Ferdinand avoiding the outstretched hand of John Terry as well as that of Ashley Cole who was supportive of Terry during the entire process.
The gesture once again made international news and sparked some questions out of the media. After watching the latest clip of an avoided handshake Sportsnet analyst Craig Forrest asked simply, “Is this handshake thing a good thing? It’s talked about respect but in the end you are losing respect by doing it.” So should the Premier League continue to have handshakes before each fixture? While it does not seem to be a noticeable event unless their is some sort of controversy associated with it. Therefore the answer is yes. It looks far more professional and sportsmen-like to have the two teams acknowledge each other before an often fierce match. Plus, 99.9% of the time everything goes as planned and the handshakes are beneficial not detrimental to the league’s reputation. With that in mind the 0.1% percent of the time when a handshake does become an issue it becomes an avoidable press catastrophe for the league. The Premier League, nor any other professional football league on to the planet, will ever be able to fully avoid issues. This would always be the case when so many egos are brought together to play on one football pitch. However, by the simple gesture of not shaking your opponents hand before a match the original story and fallout that was originally experienced returns to the forefront of media coverage. Events that the league would look to be done with become front page material once again. While at the moment it is not the right decision to keep handshakes before Premier League matches – if this sort of thing continues opinions will be swayed. Should players opting out of handshakes become more frequent the league will certainly have to look into changes, especially if the reasoning for the gesture is something more petty then the recent versions.
One idea would be to simply have the captains from both sides shake hands before the game as is done prior to International matches. Though you would have to hope that the captains of both sides would not have some sort of spat between each other. Either way, the quicker the Premier League can put a stop to handshake shenanigans the better. In the end handshakes are like referees; if things go well they never get mentioned, it is only when things go poorly that everyone notices.