Mark Hughes described the pre-match handshake routine between rival players as "fundamentally flawed" and open to promoting "disrespect" as he expressed his exasperation that the focus before Saturday's derby between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea at Loftus Road is being placed on whether Anton Ferdinand and John Terry observe the ritual.
The QPR manager reinforced his argument about the triviality of the procedure, and any attendant furore, by highlighting the issue that has truly mattered this week – the publication of the Hillsborough Independent Panel report, which exposed an establishment cover-up and finally brought vindication for the affected families.
"When I saw the list of [predicted] questions [from the press officer] that I was likely to have to answer today, there were nine on the handshakes and one on Hillsborough," Hughes said. "Ridiculous."
Ferdinand and Terry, who have both been passed fit after injuries, will face each other for the first time since Terry was acquitted at Westminster magistrates' court in July of making a racial slur against Ferdinand in the corresponding fixture last October. Ashley Cole, who gave evidence on Terry's behalf at the trial, is also fit and will start alongside the captain in the Chelsea defence.
The Premier League confirmed on Frirday afternoon that the handshake routine would go ahead, in contrast to the two matches from the second half of between the sides last season that followed the original flashpoint – the FA Cup tie in January and the league return at Stamford Bridge in April. The decisions to cancel the handshakes on those occasions were taken after legal advice about Ferdinand and Terry shaking hands before the court case.
The animosity between the players is bitter and Ferdinand is not expected to shake Terry's hand, or that of Cole. Hughes said his other players had "a mind of their own", as he suggested it would be up to each of them to "make a personal decision" as to whether they shake with Terry or Cole. They have had a meeting to discuss the matter.
Yet Hughes did not mask his frustration at the sideshow and he questioned why the Premier League insists on the pre-match procedure, which is part of its Respect campaign. Hughes said that he had made his feelings clear to the League, that handshakes should not take place before matches.
"We all fully support the Respect campaign, it's done fantastic work and it's to be commended but maybe this part of showing respect is, at times, fundamentally flawed," he said. "There should be discussion in terms of how we show respect and is this the best way to do it? I think it's open to debate. Maybe, it [the handshake routine] could be after the match, who knows?
"It just seems that every time, there's this issue. Surely that can't be right because it brings in the question of, at times, disrespect, so we've got to be careful. That is obviously not what the Respect campaign is there to highlight.
"The lead-up to this game has been ridiculous and everyone has been focusing on this one moment just prior to the game. On the occasions when it was scrapped [last season], I thought it helped the situation. Everyone shook hands at the end and it wasn't a problem."
The Premier League has no intention of abandoning pre-match handshakes, and not only because Fifa is set to promote the practice around the world. It is a key part of the Respect campaign and the League fears that scrapping them, because of a handful of problem games, would send the wrong message, particularly after a summer that has seen the extolling of the Corinthian spirit at the Olympics and Paralympics.
The League said in a statement that there had been a "dialogue" between itself, QPR and Chelsea in relation to the game. "All parties," it said, "understand and acknowledge that the pre-match handshake will go ahead as part of the normal pre-match activity."
Hughes bemoaned how the issue "seems to cloud everybody's mind every time we go up against Chelsea", but he said that his club would obey the instructions of the League, even if it is plain that they do not like them.
Hughes has long thrived on the intensity of a derby atmosphere; as a player he experienced them in Manchester, London, Merseyside, the south coast and Lancashire, not to mention the Barcelona-Real Madrid clásico. "Blackburn v Burnley was probably the scariest one," he said, with a smile. "But the abuse probably made you play better. You knew that if you were getting abuse, you were irritating the opposition fans. That was part of what I used to enjoy."
He is conscious that Terry and Cole are of the same mind and he acknowledged that any abuse from the Loftus Road crowd could prove to be counterproductive. In a similar vein, he said that he had no qualms about pitching Ferdinand into what is bound to be a hostile atmosphere.
"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. If I thought for one minute he was struggling to deal with the situation, then I'd make the decision. But I don't sense that."