Premier League mandates handshake
QPR manager Mark Hughes has instructed his players to decide for themselves whether to shake John Terry's hand before Saturday's clash with Chelsea at Loftus Road.
The Premier League confirmed in a statement released Friday that the pre-match ritual must take place, guaranteeing an uneasy build-up to the highly charged west London derby.
It will be the first time that Anton Ferdinand and Terry, who has recovered from his ankle injury, will have met on a football pitch since the Chelsea captain's race trial in July.
Terry was found not guilty of using a racial slur against Ferdinand, after an incident in the corresponding fixture last October, but he remains the subject of a Football Association investigation over charges that he denies.
Ferdinand is expected to reject handshakes from Terry and Ashley Cole, who testified as a character witness for his England teammate at the trial.
How many players will emulate Ferdinand in a display of solidarity within QPR's squad is unknown and Hughes indicated they will make their own decision.
"We've had a discussion with the players but that's between myself and them. We don't have to broadcast that," said the QPR manager. "We'll have to wait and see (if Ferdinand shakes Terry's hand). Everybody has a mind of their own and will make a personal decision. It's unfortunate that they're in a situation where it's in the public domain. Anton is fine; there's no problem with him."
The rift between Ferdinand and Terry threatens to turn the handshake routine, introduced as part of the Football Association's Respect campaign, into a farce.
Should several QPR players also snub Terry or Cole, or both, it could prove embarrassing for the Premier League, which made its decision 24 hours before kickoff.
"There has been dialogue between the Premier League, Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea in relation to tomorrow's match between the two clubs," a Premier League statement read. "All parties understand and acknowledge that the pre-match handshake will go ahead as part of the normal pre-match activity."
Striker Bobby Zamora is one member of the home dressing room who will accept Terry's hand before the game, he told The Sun.
"I've known John Terry for years and he's a very good friend of mine," Zamora told the newspaper. "We grew up together and of course I'll shake his hand if he's playing. All this stuff happened a long time before I joined QPR."
Exasperated by the manner in which Saturday's derby is being overshadowed by a pre-match obligation, Hughes hinted strongly at his own concern about the handshake.
"There's a lot of debate every time we have a game against Chelsea," he said. "I've got my own views on the handshake and I raised those at Premier League level even before this season started. I don't want to go into that. I'm conscious of the fact that every time we play Chelsea the issue of the handshake clouds everybody's mind and the focus is taken away from a great Premier League game.
"It's not my decision to make, whether it happens. We're governed by the Premier League and if we're told it will go ahead, then we will do that."
Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo had no concerns about Terry's mental or physical well-being ahead of Chelsea's clash with QPR.
"As a human being, there are certain aspects of life that will faze you," Di Matteo said. "But, if you look at his career, he's always got on with it. He's a confident player. I played with some great players in my career. There were certain players who were very, very confident."
Terry's desperation to play Saturday has been compared to that ahead of January's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Loftus Road, which saw him aggravate a knee injury, sidelining him for several weeks. There is a sense of deja vu about the Barclays Premier League clash, with Terry coming into the game having only just shaken off an ankle problem.
"To be honest, an injury can happen to anybody in the game," Di Matteo said. "My assessment is on the fact that if the medical department tells me a player is fine, he's available to be selected. You never know what happens in the game. I don't think there are any concerns that he aggravates anything."
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert was more forthcoming with his opinion Friday, calling for the handshake ritual to be abandoned.
"It's more trouble than it's worth. Shake hands after the game, but not before it," Lambert said. "You are out to try to win a football match and I'm pretty sure you don't want to shake hands with someone you are going to go and compete against. Afterwards it's fine, that's a sign of respect and sportsmanship, fair play and all those sort of things. But before it, no, I wouldn't run with it."
QPR spent heavily during the transfer window but remain winless in their three Premier League games as the new arrivals continue to bed in.
"We've shown a steady improvement and I fully expect that to continue against Chelsea at the weekend," Hughes said.