LONDON — There should have been no controversy.
Under the laws of football — whether we agree with them or not — referee Graham Poll was correct to allow Arsenal striker Thierry Henry a quickly taken free-kick which caught Chelsea napping in last Sunday’s enthralling 2-2 draw at Highbury.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is famous for his many dossiers which contain, apparently, everything you wanted to know about football but were afraid to ask.
Except, that is, about Law 13 — free-kicks which, without going into sleep-inducing detail, allow the team which has been sinned against the chance to take the kick whenever it likes.
Henry was asked by Poll if he wanted to wait for the defensive wall to be set up or whether he wanted to take the free-kick at his leisure. The French striker chose the latter and scored. End of story.
Or rather, the beginning of a saga that should never have started.
Mourinho, who is either arrogant or self-confident depending on how you view him, could and should have said, when asked about the free-kick: “The referee was correct. My players were not alert to the situation.”
But despite being involved in English football for only six months the Portuguese has learned one important lesson — blame the referee and not your players. Even when the referee is right and your players are at fault.
Strangely, when Henry curled the ball in the empty net Mourinho, in the technical area, cursed Eidur Gudjohnsen and Petr Cech.
Not an expletive was uttered about Poll.
Gudjohnsen was in front of the ball and when he became aware of the situation belatedly turned around in an effort to make his teammates aware of what was happening.
Cech was standing by one post organizing his wall and the ball sailed inside the opposite upright. Rookie errors all around.
Yet at the press conference Mourinho shifted the blame to Poll.
“I know the rules,” said the Chelsea manager. “We had a top Premiership referee visit [Chelsea’s training ground] Harlington preseason to explain things including distance, whistle, time.”
For reasons known only to himself, Mourinho forgot to say that the “top referee” was in fact Poll who, with the use of videos, told the squad the regulations regarding free-kicks.
Interestingly, Chelsea had no complaints when, two seasons previously, its striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink scored from a quickly taken set-piece in an F.A. Cup tie against West Ham.
WHEN THE MEDIA asked Jose Mourinho which rule Graham Poll had gotten wrong, Mourinho refused to answer, somewhat weakening his case. Well, totally weakening it actually.
Television pundits, the Premier League and ex-referees all backed Poll’s handling of the situation, but Mourinho’s misguided quotes made the back pages, sadly over-shadowing as good a Premiership game as there has been this year.
“I cannot say what I feel in my heart and soul because I would be in trouble with the Football Association and fined . . . I would rather the money be spent on Christmas presents,” said Mourinho. Saying “nothing” can at times say it all.
The following day Cech followed his manager in apportioning the blame on Poll.
Cech said, on www.idnes.cz, that Poll must have “an uneasy conscience” and that the referee “harmed us.”
He told the Web site: “We could have won. The referee presented Arsenal with a goal. It was shocking.
“It is not possible to accept this. Referee Poll harmed us. Eidur Gudjohnsen immediately stood in front of the goal. He asked the referee three times if he would whistle for the kick.
“He was told to go away from the ball but was assured that the referee would whistle. But he did not whistle and then let the goal stand. Everything is clear on television.”
When he was asked why this had happened, Cech joked: “Maybe he [Poll] is a supporter of Arsenal. Or maybe he just had a blackout, it is difficult to explain. But even if we did protest, he would just say that he did not promise any whistle.
“What would it be good for?
“But he must have an uneasy conscience.”
CHELSEA, IN A damage limitation exercise, said Petr Cech had been misquoted and the interview badly translated.
So when he said “maybe he is a supporter of Arsenal” did he really say “he is a referee from Tring?”
And when he said “maybe he just had a blackout, it is difficult to explain,” did Cech really say “I know the laws of football and the referee was correct.”
The Football Association is rightly investigating Cech’s comments and in the perfect world the Czech Republic international would receive a suspension for doubting the impartiality, honesty and integrity of a match official.
THE CONTROVERSY generated by Mourinho would not have occurred during a television broadcast of a National Football League game.
At every NFL game there is a senior member from the officiating department of gridiron’s governing body whose sole job is to liaise with the TV producer over controversial calls like Henry’s goal, which resulted from a legitimate quickly taken free-kick.
They have a direct line to the producer’s truck and will explain exactly what the rules state.
Should the referee in charge of the game need further clarification of any rule he can contact the NFL’s overall director of officiating in New York, who is available at all times during any game.
The NFL officials are not live on air but merely act in an advisory capacity to ensure everyone is fully informed of exactly what the decision should be and why.
The relevant information is passed on to the commentators thus avoiding scenarios which are too common during football matches, when commentators or studio “experts” can incorrectly say the referee was wrong because they are unaware of what the laws are.
It is also NFL policy that head coaches and players are encouraged not to criticize officials after games.
While the television companies in England broadcasting live football matches have a team of researchers to supply statistics and details of players’ careers, they seem reluctant to employ an ex-referee to be in the studio off-air to advise on the laws of the game.
Maybe controversy makes for better viewing.
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