Wembley pitch still giving grounds for concern

LONDON - Manchester United and Arsenal managers Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger rarely see eye to eye but both were united in their condemnation of the state of the Wembley Stadium pitch after the weekend's FA Cup semi-finals. Neither went so far as to blame the playing surface for their defeats but Wenger described the pitch as an embarrassment for a national stadium after his side lost 2-1 to Chelsea on Saturday.

Ferguson said he decided to leave many of his first-team regulars out of United's game against Everton on Sunday after he assessed the state of the pitch.

Everton manager David Moyes, whose side beat United on penalties after a poor game ended in a goalless draw, agreed the pitch was bad, although Chelsea's interim coach Guus Hiddink said he saw nothing wrong with it.

The grass at Wembley has been re-laid five times since the 750 million pounds ($1.1 billion) stadium opened two years ago. It has come under frequent criticism ever since.

Ferguson said: "When I saw the pitch on Saturday, what I didn't want was to go into extra time with my strongest squad.

"It looked spongy and dead and difficult to move the ball quickly around it.

"They've got all these lights around the perimeter to help the growth and the standard of the soil but it looks dead to me."


Wenger said the pitch quality was "a disaster" and re-iterated his complaints on Monday.

"You will never see a good football match on a bad pitch," he told reporters.

"It is not good enough for the Champions League Final, for the Olympic games, not for the semi-final of an FA Cup. Why? Because the first priority should be that the pitch is good when you build a new stadium. If that is not right, the whole stadium is bad no matter how much money you spend."

Moyes described the pitch as spongy and without speed.

"So many of the Premier League grounds are firm and good to play on but they need to do something about this one," he said.

England manager Fabio Capello has also criticised the pitch in the past year.

There are still 10 events on the pitch this season, including the FA Cup final on May 30 and England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra on June 10, as well as concerts during the summer.

That multi-use aspect and the subsequent need for removable turf is at the heart of the problem.

"The stadium's unique environment continues to prove challenging," the FA said in a statement.

"Whilst recent changes to the surface have seen improvements in player traction, we accept there are still further improvements to be made.

"The existing pitch will be replaced after the first set of summer concerts for the Community Shield. This new pitch will be of a different composition and from a different turf nursery.

"It is believed this composition will better suit the unique Wembley environment and make it possible to deliver both a quality playing surface and a quality event calendar."