QPR manager Mark Hughes called yesterday for the Premier League to reconsider the ritual pre-match handshake and questioned the continuing usefulness to the English FA's Respect campaign of a procedure he called "fundamentally flawed".
The Premier League has insisted that QPR and Chelsea players must shake hands before this afternoon's match at Loftus Road, despite ill-feeling that persists among QPR players towards Chelsea captain John Terry.
Terry was cleared by a court of law in July of a charge that he racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand in this fixture last autumn. No handshakes took place before the teams met in an FA Cup tie in January and a league game at Stamford Bridge in April.
However, the Premier League confirmed yesterday that the pre-match handshake "will go ahead as part of the normal pre-match activity".
Hughes said that QPR will abide by the ruling but, as he pointed out, his players are only human.
Cameras will inevitably focus on any pre-match contact -- or lack of it -- between Ferdinand, other QPR players and both Terry and Ashley Cole, who testified in support of Terry during summer's court proceedings.
Hughes believes that such incidents have the potential to undermine the basis of the Respect campaign.
"Surely that can't be right because it brings in the question of disrespect," he said. "So we've got to be careful and that is obviously not what the Respect campaign is there to highlight.
"I am sure everyone has a mind of their own and will make a personal decision -- each and every one of the players. It is unfortunate that they are put in a situation where it is put in the public domain.
"It's about the Respect campaign and we all fully support the Respect campaign. I think it's done fantastic work and it's to be commended -- but maybe this part of showing respect is, at times, fundamentally flawed.
"Should there be discussions in terms of how we show respect? Is this the best way to do it? I think it's open to debate and it's probably worth asking the Premier League."
He hinted strongly that his had been one of the voices questioning the continuing relevance of the handshake in pre-season discussions. "There is a lot of debate every time we have a game against Chelsea," he said. "I have my own views on the handshake and I raised them at Premier League level even before the season started."
Terry, of course, has had a proffered handshake refused before. Wayne Bridge, his former team-mate for both Chelsea and England, pointedly ignored the Chelsea captain before a match between Chelsea and his new club, Manchester City, following allegations that Terry had had an affair with Bridge's former partner.
The likelihood of such an incident was the main talking point in the build-up to that game, as it is today. Moving the formalities to a time when they attract less attention might be one answer, Hughes suggested.
"After the match, maybe," he said. "Who knows? It just seems to be that every time there's this issue. We have got a really important game and I am conscious that every time we go up against Chelsea, the issue of the handshake seems to cloud everybody's mind.
"This is taking away from a game which on paper is a great Premier League game and I think the focus should be put back on that rather than the handshake before the game.
"The lead-up to the game has been ridiculous and everyone has been focusing on this one moment just prior to the game.
"If it was taken away people say: 'What do we do now?' But on the occasion when it was scrapped I thought it helped the situation. Everyone shook hands at the end and it wasn't a problem."
Removing the pressure by taking Ferdinand out of the reckoning for selection had never been in his thinking, he said, and Ferdinand had not given him any reason to do so.
"I'm picking people based on their ability and what they can give the team," Hughes said. "If I thought it would affect his performance detrimentally then we would have to make a decision. But I don't sense that."
Nor was he concerned that Ferdinand's team-mates would overreact to the situation. "You've got to get the job done and be professional," he said.
"At times in sport, you can get into situations where you make wrong decisions and that can be affected by the events of the day and the events of the moments. But that's where you've got to take a step back and be careful and I'm sure my players will be." (© Independent News Service)