Sir Alex Ferguson knows when his players need his protection. In the wake of Wayne Rooney’s off the ball scuffle with James McCarthy at the weekend, Ferguson has recognised the need to defend a player who could have been banned for three matches if referee Mark Clattenburg had deemed his actions to have not been sufficiently dealt with during the course of Saturday’s game at the DW Stadium.
Ferguson condemned a newspaper campaign to have his talismanic striker “electrocuted” but even as he uttered the words, he must have known his player would go unpunished.
Enraged Wigan fans were being forced to ask themselves; was referee Mark Clattenburg ever going to concede that he did not see the McCarthy incident? The idealists at the FA may suggest so, but, regardless, if Clattenburg didn’t believe Rooney’s elbow deserved a straight red card then should he even be refereeing at the highest level?
Of course, the FA deciding to ignore Rooney’s petulance, is hardly breaking precedent. I was absolutely amazed to hear Steven Gerrard’s off the ball punch on Michael Brown last season was ignored, in the same way his swearing at referee Andre Marriner was swept under the carpet. Both times the defence that the referee had seen and dealt with the issue at the time was trotted out for the media.
Although the evidence is often compelling, I have always found it difficult to buy into the concept that referees deliberately give decisions in favour of the so called ‘bigger’ clubs. These incidents do happen – decisions given and not given at crucial times, but I cannot honestly say this is a conscious decision at the time by the man in black made to avoid backlash from a Ferguson or an Arsene Wenger.
At the weekend I overheard a fan ask Alan Green on BBC radio if he thought that referees were intimidated by having a well-known or charismatic manager standing on the touchline. Green, never short of a controversial opinion, said that he did although that in the Rooney case Clattenburg hadn’t simply opted out of sending the Manchester United man off because he was being watched by the player’s manager.
Nevertheless, the bitter taste of the wrong verdict being reached remains. To help with this sense of injustice, open and cut cases such as this one should certainly be susceptible to retrospective action by the FA. Referee accountability is not something that is in keeping with the ‘Respect’ campaign, but in this situation all involved are on the opposite end of nothing but derision.
The FA will defend their actions to the hilt, claiming that the organisation’s by-laws dictate that their hands have been tied by the referee’s post match report. In reality, this debate has been going on for years – if those in charge of the association really wanted to amend their processes, there have been enough instances in the past to highlight this blind-spot.
Even when it comes to looking at hearing decisions the organisation have made, strange inconsistencies have been opened up. Roy Keane was given a five match ban for his career ending tackle on Alf-Inge Haaland, something that appeared ridiculously lenient when Ben Thatcher was banned for eight matches for his violent but no more malicious challenge on Pedro Mendes.
I suspect no one is surprised by the FA’s statement on the Rooney incident, nor are they surprised by articles of this ilk highlighting the hypocrisy and inconsistencies of the organisation. The sad and frustrating element of this case is that these instances will continue to occur – simply relying of referee discretion is idealistic and naive. When we as a nation condemn FIFA for their strange decisions and inflexible rules, it might be best to remember instances like this before the rest of the football world point out the flaws in our own system.
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