It’s ridiculous that from 50-plus countries, UEFA couldn’t pick one that would give Arsenal and Chelsea’s stars a feeling of safety and security.
Actually, it’s not even that. Just a positive welcome would have done.
Because surely the game should want to make every single player feel healthy and happy and give them the peace of mind to be able to give their all once they cross that white line.
The decision to hold the game in Azerbaijan, where there are such tensions with Armenia that an Armenian footballer who plies his trade in England didn’t feel comfortable making the journey, sends an awful message that money is taking over the game and damaging its credibility.
If I had been Arsenal’s chief executive I’d have been furious at the position my player and club had been put in.
I’d have monitored the situation closely and once it became clear Mkhitaryan wouldn’t go, I’d have said: “Right, that’s it, we are refusing to play.”
I’d have been straight on the phone to my opposite number at Chelsea and I wouldn’t have stopped there.
I’d have rung my counterparts at Champions League finalists Liverpool and Tottenham as well and told them we all had an opportunity to stop UEFA – and football in general – making more decisions like this one.
I’d have been telling them we should unite and say enough is enough, because that seems the only way the message will get through now.
Arsenal and Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs could have brought the two showpiece UEFA finals to a juddering halt with the help of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
And on that point, where has Gordon Taylor been in all this? The PFA chief and the top brass from those four football clubs could have stood outside a hotel in London in the past couple of weeks and read a solidarity statement.
One which said: “This is not happening with Henrikh Mkhitaryan. This guy has earned his right to play and if this country can’t give him the security he needs then it’s one out, all out.”
Unfortunately, we live in an ‘I’m all right, Jack’ world, and there will have been people at Arsenal thinking: “The money we are making from this is worth more than making a stand on behalf of our player.”
Let’s say the game was Barcelona versus Juventus and Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo, and either one or both were Armenian. Because it’s just by a quirk of fate that they’re not.
Would UEFA have operated the same policy and played the game if one or both of those two had said they didn’t feel safe in Azerbaijan?
I very much doubt they would.