The Kiko Casilla verdict is in: Leeds might not be able to sack him, but they have to do something & recognise this situation is more important than them…
The unbreakable bond of the dressing room does odd things to people. On December 22, 2012, Liverpool trotted out at the DW Stadium to warm-up for their game against Wigan, wearing t-shirts with Luis Suarez’s name and number on the back, and his celebrating image on the front.
Even odder was the sight of Kenny Dalglish emerging for his pre-match interview sporting one over his own top, resembling a man off to do some winter gardening but who didn’t want to get his good fleece dirty.
The shirts were a show for support of Suarez, who a few days earlier had been found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra and given an eight-match ban. “I think the boys showed their respect and admiration for Luis with wearing the T-shirts,” Dalglish said. “They will not divide the football club, no matter how hard they try. We stand right beside him and we always have and always will.”
In many cases, such an act of loyalty might be impressive, but this was a classic case of a group allowing perceived persecution and their own bunker mentality to block out what was actually important. “Some issues are bigger than football,” tweeted Jason Roberts at the time, proving that very often the blindingly obvious really does need to be said.
It took years for someone in that Liverpool dressing room to acknowledge that they had made a mistake. Nearly eight years, in fact, when Jamie Carragher admitted Liverpool had got the episode “massively wrong” when Evra appeared alongside him on Sky. “What message do you send to the world,” said Evra, “supporting someone being banned because he used some racist words?”
That episode came to mind this week, when the FA released their written reasons for Kiko Casilla’s suspension, after he was found guilty of racially abusing Charlton’s Jonathan Leko. Casilla was banned for eight games, fined £60,000 and ordered to attend a face-to-face education session, after the FA commission found that “on the balance of probability” the goalkeeper had called Leko a word that I shall not write here, but you all know what it is.
If you’re so inclined, you can read the full 62-page verdict here, but the general summary is that the commission believed Leko and Charlton forward Macauley Bonne’s evidence over anything that Leeds put forward, including Casilla’s claim that he didn’t know what that word meant until it was explained to him. A fairly ridiculous notion in itself, so when combined with the other inconsistencies and implausibilities in his statement, it’s tough to argue with their opinion of Casilla’s evidence.
They were also scathing about the contribution of Leeds team manager Matthew Grice, about whom they said: ‘We regrettably formed the clear impression that by his evidence he was not seeking to assist us to ascertain the truth of what had happened on and after the day of the match, but rather was giving such evidence as he felt would most assist [Casilla and Leeds] to defend this Charge.’
Some issues are bigger than football.
In response, Charlton put out a suitably dignified statement, welcoming the verdict but not sticking the boot in to Leeds or Casilla, and more importantly calling on a selection of powerfully thick social media cowards who had directed more abuse at Leko and Bonne, to firmly knock it on the head. The Daily Mirror reported on Wednesday that some of the Charlton players were furious that Casilla was not given a longer ban, given the language used and that the FA had pushed for a ten-game suspension.
As for Leeds, the club are yet to issue an official response. Which is a something of a relief, quite frankly, with the echoes of Liverpool’s conduct still heard nearly a decade on. Leeds and the version of Liverpool in 2012 are very similar in many ways, clubs whose best years were in the past, with large fanbases among whom there was a sizeable section found it easy to assume everyone was against them, which is sometimes true and sometimes not.
Hopefully they won’t do something similar to Liverpool though, in a misguided attempt to show solidarity with a colleague. You hope that they will resist that urge, and at the very least keep quiet.
Or they could do more. In most jobs, if an employee was found to have unambiguously racially abused someone at work, the chances are they would be quite rightly out on their arse before the gavel had bashed down, but as we know football is a very different business, where normal rules do not apply.
We don’t know what, if any, internal discipline will be given to the keeper: morally, they should sack him, but you can certainly see the circumstances in which they wouldn’t. They could argue that Casilla has already been punished enough, suspended for the meat of a promotion run-in and with this decision following him around for the rest of his career, so firing him on top of all that would be too much.
They also might not be able to sack him. Players have clauses related to misconduct in their contracts, but unless that player had a previous history of racial abuse – which Casilla did not – it’s unlikely that anything specific related to that will be in his deal. The case for dismissing someone as a result of a judgement based on the balance of probability, rather than beyond all reasonable doubt, might be shaky. They could decide, as stupid as this seems, that legally they simply aren’t on firm enough ground to fire Casilla.
They could however determine not to pick him for the three remaining league games he is eligible for, and any potential playoffs after that, then quietly sell him in the summer. If I was a Leeds fan, I would not want to see Casilla play for my club again.
They must do something, though. Casilla continues to deny the charges and the club backed him throughout the process, but they now have to decide whether they accept the verdict of the FA commission: if so, taking strict action would send out a powerful message that racism is a zero-tolerance issue. Clubs are happy to do things like wear Kick It Out t-shirts – as Leeds and Hull did before their game at the weekend, a gesture rendered fairly absurd by some Leeds fans chanting Casilla’s name – but sometimes less keen to actually do something more extraordinary about it when presented with the opportunity.
Whatever they do, they must ensure that they don’t emulate the Liverpool of 2012. Casilla must not be turned into a martyr, a symbol of imagined persecution. There should be no t-shirts, no banners proclaiming their unwavering support, no undignified club statements announcing how hard done to Casilla has been. Appeal if they must, although reports indicate that is unlikely.
Casilla may continue to deny the charge. Leeds can believe him if they want, but more important is that they recognise this is bigger than solidarity inside a football club.
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