April 20th, 2009
12:50 PM ET

Is Wembley up to standard?

LONDON, England - It may be England's national stadium - but Wembley has just felt the wrath of two of the world's most experienced football managers in as many days.

Arsene Wenger described the Wembley turf as 'laughable' after their FA Cup semi-final loss.
Arsene Wenger described the Wembley turf as 'laughable' after their FA Cup semi-final loss.

Following the two FA Cup semi-final matches at London's Wembley Stadium over the weekend, Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger have both vented frustrations at the quality of the pitch.

Ferguson's United lost 4-2 on penalties, while Wenger's Arsenal was beaten 2-1 by Guus Hiddink's Chelsea.

The ground was cut up during both matches - affecting not only the balance of players, but also their ability to launch swift, accurate passes. Large divots were regularly taken when players changed direction, and on numerous occasions the ball bobbled up while rolling flat across the surface.

Ferguson told the post-match news conference his team selection had been decided by the state of the pitch in Saturday's semi-final between Chelsea and Arsenal. The 67-year-old surprised some by selecting a very young team for the match.

"Yesterday (Saturday) it looked spongy and dead and difficult to move the ball quickly around it. So we had to go with the bold decision of playing the younger ones," Ferguson told the assembled media.

Wenger was even more critical of the pitch, though, he refused to blame it for his side's 2-1 defeat. Wenger's main issue is that the ground is not flat.

"When you see what this stadium has cost and you cannot turn up with a proper football pitch ... somebody must give explanations about that.

"It's laughable ... the quality of the pitch is a disaster. I just think it's not a pitch," the Arsenal manager told the UK's Guardian newspaper.

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink, however, felt the pitch was not an issue. He told The Guardian: "The pitch was good to play. I don't want to make a lot of comments about this.

"If you go to a lot of places in Europe and Africa you get pitches that are a lot worse than that. I don't think you should start talking about the pitch, whether you win or lose."

The criticism from Ferguson and Wenger is not the first time the Wembley ground has caused a stir.

In December last year the Australian Rugby Union launched an investigation to find what part the Wembley pitch played in injuries to two players during their match against the Barbarians.

The Croatian football team also complained about the surface following an international match in 2007 played in treacherous conditions due to heavy rain.

The turf has already been re-laid five times since the £750 million ($1.09 billion) stadium officially opened in 2007.

It is understood the current turf, which consists partly of a synthetic element to help it stay firmly rooted, will not be changed for the 30 May FA Cup final.

It is next scheduled to be replaced in the summer, after a series of concerts.

The ground has had a heavy workload over the past two seasons, with events including; American NFL (gridiron) matches, rugby league matches, and a rally car event which saw tarmac laid over the grass.

The Football Association (FA) is yet to make a comment on the pitch following the weekend's matches.

Do you think the turf is up to standard? Tell us in the comments box.


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