I used to like boxing. A lot. However, the older I got the more wise I got to what was happening, particularly at the amateur level. A sport that was so pure was being ruined by corrupt officials and judges. This past summer I found myself watching random fights again at the Olympics and the only thing that had changed was the mind that was watching it. Fighters were getting flat out robbed. The crowd knew it and even strongly voiced their displeasure, yet the IOC, much like the sport’s governing body, once again buried its head in the sand, ignoring a serious issue that not only affected the individual outcomes of the contests but the complete validity of the sport itself. There a few things worse as a sports fan than watching officials intentionally change the outcome.
Indeed, if an international sports council was set up to monitor the integrity of different sports it is fair to say boxing would be a frequent visitor into the dock. And so to would soccer, a sport that would force the council to answer regular claims of incompetence from officials. The claims would come in so often that the council would have to further investigate why such a billion dollar sport opens itself up to constant similar accusations.
Let’s take an in depth look into the most recent claim that comes from two high-profile matches on Sunday in the English Premier League. Of the 380 matches this league has in a season these two particular games, a Merseyside derby and a clash between two of the best teams in the league, are in the top 10 in terms of level of tension even before a ball is kicked. Top officials, Andre Marriner and Mark Clattenburg, who are both on the FIFA list to be used internationally, were appointed as the referees. Both games started well, with the away teams racing into an early 2-0 lead before the home side’s leveled 2-2. Tensions rose on and off the field, and then game-changing decisions were made. Marriner’s assistant, Simon Bennett, incorrectly ruled Luis Suarez was offside when he scored in injury time and therefore denied Liverpool all three points. Replays of the incident immediately showed Bennett’s poor judgment.
Referee Clattenburg later in the day made an equally shocking decision when he elected to send Fernando Torres off the field for simulation. From his vantage point he thought Torres went over opponent Jonny Evans and fell to the ground in an attempt to win a free kick. Replays showed Evans clipped Torres and the referee was wrong.
In both cases our made-up ISC, and the majority of the fans watching worldwide, have two decisions to make. Do they go on to find the officials guilty of incompetence saying they made mistakes but they did not deliberately do it? Or do they find them guilty of intentionally having it out for Suarez and Torres? Boxing fans may well side with the latter, and with their minds poisoned we can’t blame them, but surely most football fans would agree the decisions were done without intent.
The ISC would certainly come to that conclusion but with football in the dock for such charges thrown their way once again they would surely look at ways to eradicate these claims once and for all and their findings would most likely look like this:
- Football is a game where many people’s failings lead to many people’s success. Why then are they asking officials to constantly be right all of the time?
- If so much emphasis is put on the decisions of officials why are most of them not full-time, younger and not as fit as the players playing the game?
- From timekeeping to foul play far too much is asked of officials by everyone involved in the game.
- Asking officials to judge simulation, or diving, is a very difficult task. It can be very subjective as you are asking them to know whether there was intent. The same can be said for the ruling of intentional handball.
- Instead of pressuring referees to stomp out diving, which is currently happening, FIFA and UEFA should be the ones to force it by giving their leagues the right to review such punishments on video the next day, much like the way they do for violent conduct missed by the referee during the game.
- Officials need time to get decisions correct. This sport is one of the fastest team sports in the world and officials need to be given more than a split second to make their judgments.
- Football must learn from rugby and when major decisions need to be made, such as scoring plays or incidents that decide whether players stay on the pitch or not, referees need to know there is a system in place for them to ensure what they saw was correct.
- At this stage players need to play the part. In the event the referee is unsure of a scoring play or a potential red card incident he must be given the freedom to stop play, go to an area on the field and consult with an official watching on television elsewhere. Players must not be allowed to go near the referee at this stage.
- Football must stop this obsessive need to want the game to continue instead of taking one minute to ensure a major game-changing decision is right. If you feel such time takes away from the flow of the game then you need to watch more matches. Every red card these days leads to a stoppage of at least a minute while the players all crowd the referee and grumble. It was 1 minute and 16 seconds before the game restarted after the Torres red. Another example was the recent red card awarded to Cheick Tiote of Newcastle United last week when a delay lasting two minutes and 39 seconds – full of complaints and other examples of petulance - took place before the game restarted. Just think how much better the game would be if a referee was allowed to blow his whistle, run to an uncrowded area of the pitch and talk to an official who had the opportunity to watch the incident from a different viewpoint. Once the ruling is given, players may not like it but they’d be much less likely to argue if they know someone had the benefit of seeing it from multiple angles. Benches would be less likely to crowd around 4th officials and insult each other and fans would be less likely to throw things on the field.
All-in-all it was an unsatisfactory Sunday in the Premier League and although it is easy to shout abuse and have anger towards officials, at the end of the day they simply made mistakes at their place of work. The fact that they affected two high-profile football matches is the fault of the sport, a billion dollar industry that won’t take the pressure off them by inserting some very simple rules that won’t make significant differences to how the game is watched or broadcast. Chelsea and Liverpool will be disgusted by the decisions that went against them but so were Newcastle at Goodison Park last month when the ball crossed the line and the goal wasn’t awarded, so were Wigan last week at Swansea when Arouna Kone’s last minute goal was wrongly called offside and so were QPR on Saturday when Arsenal’s goal wasn’t ruled offside. Grab a ticket and get in line. Just don’t lose sight about whose fault it really is.
Observations from the weekend’s games
- In an era where far too managers stick to a system no matter the opponent, Sir Alex Ferguson once again showed his tactical versatility early in Sunday’s game. Much of the talk heading in, was how United would be able to handle Eden Hazard, and it proved difficult as the game wore on, but not before they had a two goal lead, targeting that side of the field by playing a 5-4-1 without the ball, tucking Rafael in, and putting Antonio Valencia at a very deep right midfield position.
- It was a pity the game will be remembered for what Clattenburg did because it was a great encounter between two heavyweights whose styles countered each other well. For example, at times, United benefited putting Wayne Rooney in central midfield and Ashley Young running centrally from a wide area yet Chelsea found a way to exploit that and show, once again, another side of them under Di Matteo when playing superbly while behind.
- It really was a game of two halves at Goodison Park. One full of emotion, mistakes and goals and one gotten hold of by managers, in particular Brendan Rodgers. His changes, specifically to a back three, worked very well as they went man-for-man at the back, pushed the full backs higher to not get too deep in wide areas and put Raheem Sterling up top to keep the full backs deeper to prevent a 2-on-2 situation.
- We should no longer be surprised when Everton find diamonds in the rough and it appears Kevin Mirallas is another. Mirallas was very impressive in an uncharacteristic wide left position but sadly left injured at half-time which definitely made Liverpool’s second half much easier. The Belgian international has pace, confidence and two feet that will cause full backs no end of problems no matter what flank he plays on.
- Manchester City were very poor against Swansea and were fortunate to have Carlos Tevez in their side. One moment of class was enough once again. Remember, City have won all 21 league games at home in which the Argentine has scored in.
- I fear for Swansea while Michel Vorm is out. The Dutchman has not been as good this season as he was during last season (hard to be, to be fair) but he remains one of their best players and being out for6-8 weeks now is the worst time to do so. He could miss anywhere between 7-10 Premier League games.
- Reading against Fulham was an outstanding game. Two teams playing wide-open 4-4-2 styles meant midfielders had a lot of time on the ball yet the game really turned on changes made by the two managers. Bryan Ruiz came on and dropped a bit deeper than Dimitar Berbatov, causing the home side no end of problems. His goal capped a great 35 second, 15 pass movement to make it 1-1 but two goals each in the last 13 minutes led to a thrilling 3-3 draw with subs Gareth McCleary and Hal Robson-Kanu scoring for Reading.
- Thrilling was not a word for the early game between Aston Villa and Norwich City, unless you support the Canaries. Forget those who said Joe Bennett’s red card gave Norwich impetus and changed the game, because they were by far the better side even when 11 played 11. They should have won.
- It may be Villa’s worst start in 43 years but few are worried around Villa Park and because of the lack of pressure Paul Lambert will get time to go about it his way. Lambert’s side look like they lack experience yet he will not pick Shay Given, Alan Hutton, Stephen Warnock, Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia and, occasionally, Darren Bent. At least there is now a direction at the club. Those around Villa Park just hope it is not a road to relegation.
- It had been 524 days since we saw Jack Wilshere play for Arsenal and he had been missed and brought a needed touch of assurance and quality to their midfield. However, even with the young Englishman back, along with Bacary Sagna, Arsenal still struggled to break open an organised QPR side. Stuck in their 4-3-3 formation, Arsenal struggled to get advanced runners beyond playmaker Santi Cazorla and needed a moment of madness from Stephane Mbia to finally find more space. They scored their goal, which should have been called offside, with a winger (Jamie Mackie) playing right back, a right back (Jose Bosingwa) playing centre back and a right/centre back (Nedum Onouha) playing left back.
Six Super Stats
- Stephane Mbia was given QPR’s ninth PL red card in 2012, equalling the PL record for most ever red cards in a calendar year, level with Everton (1995) and West Ham (1999).
- Before Sunday, Mark Clattenburg had yet to send off a Chelsea player in 17 PL matches.
- Manchester United win their first PL match at Stamford Bridge in 10 and a half years, since a 3-0 win in April 2002.
- Sylvain Distin made his 385th PL appearance, more than any other foreign (non-British or Irish) outfield player, surpassing Dutchman George Boateng (384).
- Southampton’s 2-1 loss to Tottenham means their 26 goals conceded after their first nine PL matches of the season is the most ever, two more than the 24 Bolton had conceded after nine matches in 2011-12, and Sheffield Wednesday in 1999-00.
- Timed at 92:52, Papiss Cisse’s winning goal against West Brom was Newcastle’s latest winning goal at St.James’ Park in the PL era and meant it was only the second time in 21 games that Cisse and Demba Ba scored in the same game.