LONDON – Lunch with a former Premier League referee was going well until the chat about his forthcoming holiday was interrupted by another customer. “You didn’t give Arsenal a penalty in 2011 against Manchester United. It was nailed on. You cost us three points,” he told my lunch companion.
I was shocked at such rudeness. The ex-referee said it happens regularly “and at least this guy didn’t swear.” Even in retirement the abuse goes on.
Fans remember what they perceive to be injustices because television scrutiny of match officials is now often greater than discussions about how a goal was scored or a significant change in a team’s tactics. Much better to forensically examine a tackle, red card or marginal offside than talk about how the game was won.
Last weekend Manchester City drew 2-2 with Tottenham in a thoroughly entertaining match. When Pep Guardiola was interviewed after the game the opening question was about Kyle Walker’s push on Raheem Sterling, which should have been a penalty for City but referee Andre Marriner disagreed.
“The first question is about the referee?” said Guardiola. “You are the BBC.” In this case the British Blaming Corporation.
The following day Match Of The Day 2 spent 10 minutes discussing the Walker/Sterling incident before moving on to football. Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris made two howlers to gift City its goals and was no doubt grateful the media’s obsession with referees pushed his mistakes down the pecking order. There were calls for Marriner to be punished, banned for a few games, though no one suggested Lloris should be dropped for his human errors.
A recent glance through a Sunday newspaper revealed 17 managers either “blasting” or “taking a swipe at” the referee after — surprise, surprise — their team’s defeat. On Thursday the back page lead in The Times was “Klopp fumes over cup exit” with the first paragraph: “Jurgen Klopp lashed out at Martin Atkinson for failing to award his team a penalty as Liverpool were knocked out of the EFL Cup at the semifinal stage by Southampton.”
It was a far from obvious handball decision which, had it been the other way around with a Liverpool player involved, Klopp would have been fuming had it been given. Never mind that Liverpool had failed to score in 180 minutes against Southampton, blame the referee.
Oldham manager John Sheridan was banned for five games for a verbal assault on a referee while in charge of Notts County which contained 13 truly nasty expletives. Reading the transcript released by the Football Association it made me wonder how a human being could speak to another in such a manner for any reason, let alone disagreeing with a couple of refereeing decisions. Sheridan’s “punishment” is to sit in the stands for five matches where he will still be able to communicate with the bench by notes. The F.A. may as well as given him 100 lines.
While the standard of refereeing in the Premier League is worryingly poor, the vitriol hurled at officials is completely disproportionate for an honest mistake. Too many professional observers, having seen multi-angle slow-motion replays, relish the chance to belittle a referee or an assistant, allowing no slack for a decision made in real time from one angle.
A foot offside?
Should have been spotted, that’s his job.
BT Sport has former Premier League referee Howard Webb on hand for their live matches, but other channels rely on ex-players and managers to decide whether a match official got it right. None has ever taken any sort of refereeing course and because you have played or managed does not mean you know the laws of the game. Imagine the outcry if a referee told a manager his tactics were rubbish.
Mike Dean continues to be a figure of fun for sending off Soufiane Feghouli of West Ham against Manchester United at the beginning of the month. From Dean’s angle in real time it was understandable how he saw the foul on Phil Jones as serious foul play, Jones doing his best to ensure the opponent was dismissed with a triple rollover. In slow-motion from other angles it was clearly not a red card offense and the sending off was overturned.
Last weekend, Dean refereed Barnsley vs. Leeds, a televised Championship match. Just about every media outlet, newspapers and online, reported Dean had been demoted, which was not the case. Referees cannot be demoted during the season as some sort of punishment.
Premier League referees are contracted to take charge of some matches in the Football League and Dean was selected for the highest-profile game in the Championship between two Yorkshire rivals. The media knew what it was writing was incorrect, but the facts came a poor second to the chance to ridicule Dean.
When the media goes out of its way in such a manner to criticize Dean for his error and deliberately makes a mistake to continue its hate affair with the referee, you know there is a serious problem. And not just with refereeing.
Pattern continues: Granit Xhaka is starting a four-game ban following the Arsenal midfielder’s red card against Burnley last Sunday, the ninth of his career and second as a Gunner. It is familiar territory for the Switzerland international because his latest suspension brings his total since 2011 to 22. For good measure he has also been cautioned 57 times including 18 yellow cards during one season in Germany.
“He has to control his game and not punish the team,” said Arsene Wenger, who should hardly be surprised at Xhaka’s continuing suspensions. When he joined Arsenal from Borussia Monchengladbach for £33 million last summer, he had received six red cards in the previous two seasons.
Wenger was under pressure to bring in new players, but to pay £33 million for an average midfielder who has two red cards and one Premier League goal so far was not the Frenchman’s finest bit of business. And he should have known better.
Meanwhile, Wenger has pleaded guilty to a misconduct charge after being sent to the stands during the game against Burnley for protesting against a correct decision by Jon Moss to award the visitors a penalty. Wenger tried to watch the rest of the match from the tunnel and when fourth official Anthony Taylor asked him to move away the Arsenal manager verbally abused him and pushed him.
Wenger was appearing at a disciplinary hearing as The Japan Times went to press. If the Football Association does not give Wenger a stadium ban rather than a touchline ban, then it will have let down every referee in the country with such leniency.
While Taylor was not hurt, manhandling a referee is a serious offense and Wenger should be punished accordingly.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.
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