Are Swansea being victimised in the Premier League?

In the space of four days, Swansea City have twice fallen foul to a costly refereeing mistake on Merseyside. As if the harsh dismissal of Federico Fernandez against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup last Tuesday was bad enough – the Reds went on to score the winning goal from the resulting free-kick – the blatant, yet unpunished handball by Everton’s Antolin Alcaraz in the penalty area during Saturday’s Premier League fixture at Goodison Park denied the Swans the opportunity to record a famous away victory. Jonjo Shelvey, whose shot was so clearly blocked by Alcaraz’s arm, was later sent off in the game for a second bookable offence, and replays suggest that the man who once called Liverpool his home could also be forgiven for feeling hard done by.

Swansea City manager Garry Monk clearly feels that these are no mere isolated incidents. He first raised his concerns at what he felt were costly decisions going against his team in the aftermath of the defeat to Stoke City in October. Victor Moses’s shameless dive to earn Stoke a penalty, Monk argued, was further evidence of his side being the victims of a footballing miscarriage of justice, and in his post-match press conference the Swansea boss was critical of the fact that his grievances were falling on deaf ears.

“I’ve sent a DVD off, with a letter, but I’ve had no contact from [referees’ chief] Mike Riley,” he said.

“I think that’s very poor leadership from him. He is clearly not listening and I have to go above him, and hopefully we will get the answers.

“We just want to know why there is no consistency in the big decisions that have changed games for us.”

The events on Merseyside last week will have served only to strengthen Monk’s convictions. However, the 35-year-old must be careful not to stray into conspiracy theorist territory. His side have indeed suffered some pretty shoddy refereeing decisions of late, but to intimate that there is some kind of hidden agenda to sabotage the South Wales club’s campaign would be puerile. They are not the first team to endure a prolonged period of misfortune at the hands of the officials, and certainly won’t be the last.

However, what is refreshing about Monk’s approach is that whilst many managers would hesitate to criticise a referee for fear of punishment, he is not afraid to voice his opinions. Those officiating matches should certainly be held accountable for the decisions they make, and Monk has every right to criticise. This is by no means an advocation of slander – Brendan Rodgers’ claim that his Liverpool side were at a disadvantage in a league tie with Manchester City last season due to the fact that the referee came from Greater Manchester was particularly foolish, and his subsequent fine justified – but the way in which managers are threatened with punishment for the slightest criticism is harmful to the game. If referees are completely sheltered from blame, the standards of officiating cannot improve, and the animosity directed towards them will only persist.

On the other hand, by encouraging greater transparency and leniency with regard to what coaches can say about the officials – and perhaps even conducting post-match interviews with the referees themselves so that they can explain their actions – there is room for a greater improvement in the way games are officiated, a greater understanding of why a certain judgement has been made, and a greater possibility for the expression of empathy towards the referee, who is human after all. This can only be of benefit to the game in the long run.

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