Refs, Red Cards And Replays

It was a clear red.

it was never a red.

He could have broken his opponent’s leg.

He never touched him.

The studs were up.

The studs were down.

He was out of control.

He was pushed.

He had both feet off the ground.

He had both feet on the ground when he made the tackle.

It was a dangerous tackle.

He got the ball.

The ref was wrong not to send Rojo off for what looked like a two footed tackle.

The ref was wrong to send Vardy off for what didn’t look like a two footed tackle.

It’s ironic that football referees are constantly condemned for making wrong decisions that, even in hindsight, with the benefit of countless replays, the fans and pundits cannot agree on.

After yet another weekend of controversial decisions, from Jamie Vardy’s sending off for a two footed tackle by the same referee who didn’t send off Marcos Rojo on Wednesday for a two footed tackle, to two offsides in both of City’s goals against Arsenal, to Spurs’ Sissoko escaping a red card for a high tackle and going on to set up the winning goal, football officiating never seems to be off the back pages.

Ironically, video replays were used in competition for the first time last week at the Club World Cup, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino declaring the results “extremely positive”.  But if anyone thinks video replays are a panacea for football, they will be sorely disappointed.  Unfortunately for the sport, the majority of decisions in football are not clear-cut.  They are not about whether a ball is on the line or not, in line or moving away, or if a ball is caught or not.  Footballing decisions require interpretation of the rules and depend on individual judgment from the referee on the day.  Even with the benefit of video replays, a different referee could easy come to a different conclusion.

Of course, if the technology is available, it should be used, even if simply to clarify a decision.  But it’s not the whole answer and it never can be.  Controversy will always reign in football; which side of the fence you sit on will invariably depend on which team you support.  It is the joy and the frustration of football.  It is what makes football so eminently watchable.  Football is like an endless sporting soap opera.  An argument without end.  And, in truth, football fans wouldn’t have it otherwise.



United Boo-Boys Mar Much Needed Victory At Old Trafford

The panto season was in full swing judging by the amount of booing that was reverberating around Old Trafford on Sunday.  Whilst Manchester United were doing their usual routine of going 1-0 up and hanging on for dear life against Tottenham, their fans were getting into the Christmas spirit by exercising their vocal chords for the annual panto visit.  Initially, it was Spurs’ feisty full back Danny Rose who bore the brunt of their opprobrium with a cynical tackle on United’s exciting goal scorer Henrikh Mikhitaryan 10 minutes from the end.  Rose’s role as pantomime villain was understandable as his clumsy tackle looked to have seriously injured the best player on the pitch, who, worryingly, had to be carried off on a stretcher.

Less palatable was when a small minority of United fans started booing their own player, Marouane Fellaini, first as he was warming up, and later when he came on as substitute in the 97th minute.  The hapless Belgian is not currently in the United fans’ good books (not that he has ever been in their good books any other time) ever since he clumsily gave away a last-minute penalty in United’s previous league match against Everton, costing them a valuable win.  But booing a player simply because he’s not very good seems hardly fair.  It’s not his fault if the manager keeps playing him.

Some people have attempted to defend the fans’ disparaging behaviour, arguing that since fans pay the players’ wages with their money by buying season tickets and match tickets, they are entitled to vent their ire on their players as they choose.  This is an entirely fallacious argument because aside from the fact that it is the TV and commercial deals that fund the players’ inflated salaries, being paying fans does not entitle them to act like boors and bullies.  They have a right to be disgruntled, but singling out one player for abuse is classless.

Turning on their own players is not only disloyal, it’s frankly stupid in being counter-productive.  What exactly do the mockers think their vilification of their own player is likely to achieve?  It’s hardly going to help the player’s confidence, is it?  They are not going to play better if they are abused.  They are more likely to make mistakes if they feel their own fans are getting on their back.  How ironically futile to boo a player because he makes mistakes in the hope that he will improve!

Worse, it reinforces the endlessly regurgitated ABU myth of all United fans being classless prawn sandwich munching glory hunters.  United players get enough grief from opposition club fans and the media without their own fans turning on them.  Note the ceaseless disgraceful treatment of United players over the years by England fans, inflamed by a sensationalist media, from chanting ‘stand up if you hate Man U’ at Wembley, to burning effigies of David Beckham after his sending off in the 1998 World Cup, to the recent pillorying of Wayne Rooney for daring to enjoy himself at a fan’s wedding reception the night after an England game.  It was interesting how the rest of the squad going into town clubbing and enjoying themselves at insalubrious lap dancing clubs didn’t get a mention in the press.  They weren’t United players so clearly no one cared.  United fans should be countering this constant demonising of their players by being doubly protective and supportive of them – as Fergie was in the old days and Mourinho was on Sunday by dedicating the Spurs win to Fellaini.  The fans shouldn’t be doing the ABUs’ job for them.  They should reserve their rancour for fan message boards, website comment pages and radio phone ins.

The United fans need to maintain a united front irrespective of their own personal feelings, particularly at a time when the club is going through a difficult period.  That’s when a club needs its fans to be loyal.  Not when they are winning trophy after trophy and basking in the plaudits of the footballing world, but when they are struggling to match up to former glories and everyone has gleefully consigned them to the dustbin of has-beens.

So the message from this United fan to the United boo-boys is: when in the stadium support your own and reserve your booing for cynical foulers like Danny Rose and rival players and rival teams.  Only then can you claim to be a proper United fan.  Not with a season ticket book in your pocket, but through absolute loyalty to the team on match day.



United Keep Drawing The Short Straw

If they gave out trophies in football for the most varied ways to draw matches, Jose Mourinho would already have won his first silverware for Manchester United.  No one has mastered the art of the draw quite as well as the current United team.  No matter what they do, no matter how they play, whether it’s home or away, top team or lower end strugglers, this United team will find a way to extract a draw.  They have played park the bus football (Liverpool); storm the Bastille football (Burnley, Stoke and West Ham); counter-attack football (Arsenal); more possession but low creativity football (Everton), and each time the outcome is the same.  A draw.

United’s latest draw against Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday was the 6th in their last 8 League games.  It doesn’t help that the team have acquired an unfortunate proclivity for conceding late goals.  Against Everton, they gave away a clumsy penalty in the 89th minute to throw away three points.  There used to be a time when it was United who were scoring last gasp goals and breaking opposition hearts.  This season, they have already dropped seven valuable points through goals conceded in the last 10 minutes.  When you are struggling to live up to past glories, every point counts, and every point dropped is an ideal excuse for United’s detractors to declare a state of emergency.

It is easy to consider Chelsea’s implosion under Mourinho last year, their current top-of-the-table resurgence under Antonio Conte, along with United’s inability to win matches, and consign Mourinho as a has-been well past his sell-by date.  But what should be heeded is that United are team on the decline after having enjoyed a prolonged period of success.  Had Antonio Conte been appointed United’s manager, who is to say he wouldn’t have struggled as well.   If it was easy to maintain success indefinitely why haven’t the Scousers won a league title for 27 years?  Jose Mourinho’s task at Old Trafford is a monumental one.  He is attempting to fight the tide of history.  Rebuilding an empire takes time.  Even Fergie took a whole 7 years to win his first league title.  Mourinho will be lucky to get 7 months.

The media and opposition fans want Jose Mourinho to fail because that means United will have failed.  After 23 years of unrelenting glory, this is revenge time for the long-suffering ABUs (aka Anyone but United), who are wilfully twisting early season teething issues into a crisis of relegation proportions.  In truth, Mourinho’s United are not doing that badly.  They are presently in 6th place with the season barely into December.  They are one place off where they finished last season under Louis Van Gaal.  They are in the semi finals of the League Cup and on the brink of qualifying for the last 32 of the Europa League.  Their football, irrespective of the outcome, is far more enticing and creative than anything played under Van Gaal or Moyes.  With a bit more luck in front of goal and a smidgen more grit in their defending, those frustrating draws could easily have become wins.

Given time, there is no reason why those draws cannot turn into wins in the future.  So long as the team keep creating chances, things will eventually click into place and the chances will start to go in.  United are traditionally stronger in the second half of the season, when results really start to matter.  United need to stay calm and most importantly, they need Jose to control his temper.  United’s cause is not helped by Mourinho’s permanently volatile state.  Leaving aside tax avoidance allegations, his constant petulant antics are giving the media and opposition fans far too much ammunition with which to attack the club.  Publicly criticising players, slagging off refs, kicking over bottles and getting sent off serves only to generate negative headlines and reinforce public perception that Mourinho has long since lost the plot.  At at time when United desperately need stability Mourinho’s combustible behaviour simply reaffirms the view that United made a fatal mistake in employing him.  Far from being United’s saviour he always appears one incident away from becoming their biggest liability.

The club cannot lose yet another manager.  United need Mourinho to keep his counsel and his dignity if he is to succeed, for the sake of the club and for his own redemption.  Likewise, United fans need to stay strong and support their manager, no matter what their personal opinions of him.  The club is bigger than any manager, any title and any fan feeling.  MUFC needs a manager to stick around.  It will, of course, help if Mourinho can win the League Cup (or EFL or whatever it’s called these days), even if it is a mickey mouse trophy.  Silverware is silverware, and at the very least it should buy Jose time.  As we know, time is a precious and much-needed commodity in football.