skip to content

MARTIN SAMUEL: Sir Alex Ferguson's partisan agenda insults our referees

05 May 2011 00:12:53

MARTIN SAMUEL: Sir Alex Ferguson's partisan agenda insults our referees

When Manchester United lost an important game at Arsenal on Sunday, Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager, instantly began his preparations for the next one, with Chelsea. Did he review the central midfield partnership of Michael Carrick and Anderson that had been thoroughly outclassed? No. Did he ponder whether the young Javier Hernandez, so exceptional in his first season at the club, may be approaching the point of burn-out and benefit from a rest, perhaps against Schalke 04 tonight? Not publicly. Did he consider a quiet word with his captain, Nemanja Vidic, who in certain big matches has demonstrated a degree of recklessness that could have proved costly? Apparently not. Ferguson instead addressed the man most likely to have an influence over matches between elite clubs this season: the referee. 'Obviously it gives Chelsea a major chance now and that's what happens,' Ferguson said. 'They got great decisions on Saturday. We never seem to get these kinds of decisions, but they do. They got one to win the league at Old Trafford last season, so that's a worry.' Blurred vision: Sir Alex Ferguson only sees injustices against his own side. Turning his attention to a penalty that should have been given to United, late in the game at the Emirates, Ferguson added: 'It was clear but we're not going to get decisions like that in a major game. It's too big a game.' See what he did there? Jose Mourinho might be the only coach UEFA regard as an enemy of football for his Machiavellian pre-match antics, but he is working from a very well established manuscript. Chelsea did get the breaks against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, but it is not as if the good fairy of fortune never sprinkles her magic dust on United, either. On the final day of the 2007-08 season, United were extraordinarily lucky against Wigan, when Rio Ferdinand should have given away a first-half penalty and Paul Scholes should have been sent off. Chelsea failed to win that afternoon, and ended up losing the league by two points anyway, but they might have had a bit more wind in their sails if, at half-time, instead of knowing United were 1-0 up, they heard the score was 1-1 with United down to 10 men.   More from Martin Samuel... MARTIN SAMUEL: The school that gives everyone a sporting chance05/05/11 Martin Samuel: Give us an occasion that does justice to Wembley '6804/05/11 Martin Samuel: Stop Sian madness- only lunatics would say it was foul play04/05/11 Martin Samuel: Well done Arsene but you still need an upgrade to win big01/05/11 Martin Samuel: A comeback for Houllier could be just what the doctor orders01/05/11 MARTIN SAMUEL: Be honest lads, you'd rather be hiding in the loft28/04/11 Martin Samuel: Neuer must be Sir Alex's No 1 choice after stunning show26/04/11 Martin Samuel: Watch it, Real and Barca, you're turning into Scotland... 26/04/11 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE Most weekends, Ferguson does not need tovisit the subconscious of the referee because his team are superior, but when the elite meet it is different. The reason the games between the top clubs so often turn on a controversial call, is that the two sides are perfectly matched. The midfields collide and cancel out each other, defence smothers attack; in these circumstances all that separates the teams is a random event, a single moment of pure genius as provided by Lionel Messi, a mistake of utter foolishness, such as that of Heurelho Gomes, or more often than not, the human error of a match official. Over everything else, an elite manager has control. He deploys the best defenders to reduce Messi's impact, he buys the best goalkeeper so the chances of a fumble are slim, but he can do nothing about a referee who misses a blatant handball, or a linesman who puts his flag up having failed to spot the far side full back playing everybody on by inches. These are the factors Ferguson worked on the minute the Arsenal game ended. He might not have known who the referee was at that stage - it is Howard Webb - but he wanted to lead an early invasion of his psyche. Ferguson would argue that all he wishes for is fairness but, in sport, the concept is subjective. Arsenal were denied a penalty, too, on Sunday, but even in admitting this, Ferguson attempted to argue that Vidic's handball was harder to spot than Gael Clichy's foul on Michael Owen, as if this made it less of an injustice that the offence went undetected. Webb would not be human if he had not now registered that any mistaken decision, however understandable, that goes Chelsea's way will be seized upon and added to United's big list of grievances. Similarly, the insistence that United do not get the decisions in big matches is now a challenge, a win-win for Ferguson. If Webb proves him wrong by giving United, say, a soft penalty, the trophy is as good as on display at Old Trafford and if he does not, if he finds for Chelsea in any marginal call, it heightens a misplaced sense of maltreatment, and the pressure increases. One imagines, if Ferguson's words have the desired effect, Didier Drogba would need to be bludgeoned to the ground with a rusty pickaxe before Webb awarded a penalty to Chelsea. Some would argue that even the appointment of Webb signals first blood to United, after the fall-out following his handling of their FA Cup third round victory over Liverpool on January 9. Webb sent off Steven Gerrard and gave a penalty for Daniel Agger's first-minute challenge on Dimitar Berbatov. To these eyes, Webb did little wrong - Gerrard's tackle was reckless, Berbatov was fouled, and United could have had another penalty, for a foul on Ryan Giggs, which was not given - but that did not stop Ryan Babel posting a photoshopped image of Webb in a United shirt on his Twitter page. The FA fined him ?10,000. In the middle of it all: Howard Webb will referee Sunday's big match Webb is a good referee, but if his handling of that match had ended with United players accusing him of bias towards Liverpool, would he be present at Old Trafford on Sunday? Probably not, in the current climate. Football is no stranger to paranoia (at the weekend, an Arsenal fan outside the Emirates accused me of saying his club had poisoned Tottenham players to gain entry into the Champions League in 2006-07), but what Ferguson did travels beyond that. Discussing a referee, or his decisions, before a game is considerably more reprehensible than a throwaway comment made in its immediate aftermath. Yet, while the FA banned Ferguson for five matches for saying Martin Atkinson had a rottengame against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in March - which he did - no action will be taken for the more insidious approach to Sunday's encounter. Yet which is worse? A manager, minutes after the match has ended, his emotions high, questioning a decision he knows to be incorrect; or a manager seeking to influence the decision-making process before a ball is kicked? Banning Ferguson, the FA said he called the integrity of referee Atkinson into question, although his outburst seemed little different from previous statements that have been ignored. 'You want a fair referee, or a strong referee anyway, and we didn't get that,' said Ferguson. 'When I saw who the referee was, I feared the worst.' Was Atkinson's integrity being questioned; or was Ferguson saying he is a weak official and therefore his judgments lack fairness? Either way - and knowing Atkinson did make a serious mistake in allowing David Luiz, the Chelsea centre half, to remain on the field - is this truly a greater offence than attempting to set a partisan agenda before the game? Familiar pose: Ferguson points to his watch during United's defeat at Arsenal on Sunday In August 2009, Roy Keane, then manager of Ipswich, was warned by the FA after comments made about referee Keith Hill before Crystal Palace played at Portman Road. Palace had received a horrid decision at Bristol City days earlier when a Freddie Sears goal had been given as a goal-kick, after freakishly rebounding into play from the bottom of the net. Keane intimated that Hill could be aware of the controversy and favour Palace out of sympathy. 'We might have to remind the officials that it is a new game,' Keane said, which sounds innocuous enough. The FA, however, saw it differently and sent Keane a warning letter with a reminder not to discuss the official prior to the match. It is to be hoped the authorities will at least take the same approach with Ferguson, although the damage is already done. There is a lot of injustice in football because referees are human and humans are fallible. All that makes it even half fair and tolerable is that so random is the process that there is considered to be an absurd, unquantifiable form of levelling out. So: United should have had Gary Neville sent off twice this season, and should have gone 3-0 down at Blackpool, but Jamie Carragher should have been sent off against them during Liverpool's win in March and the booking Hernandez received for diving against Newcastle may well have been a legitimate penalty instead. It is not a perfect world, and at times its inconsistencies are maddening, but taken as a whole there is a screwy sense of logic to it, an acceptable level of wrongness. Just as mutually assured destruction made some cockamamie contribution to world peace, so mutually assured dissatisfaction with the ref keeps football harmonious. And it is this delicate fabric that Ferguson is trying to alter. He wants to ensure United receive less than their rightful share of inaccuracy and unfairness; and by doing that, he really isn't playing fair at all.  FA PARTY PIECE IS AN EYE OPENERThe sudden interest of the Football Association in third-party ownership issues is intriguing, to say the least. The hearing into the contract of Queens Park Rangers player Alejandro Faurlin began on Tuesday and a verdict is expected by Friday. There has been some headline-grabbing speculation around the punishment, if guilty, with some claiming the club could be deducted 15 points. Yet, two years ago, when this column turned the spotlight on Matthew Spring's transfer from Luton Town to Charlton Athletic, it was a different story. Spot the difference: Matthew Spring (left) caused controversy when he joined Charlton from Luton two years ago Spring had been on loan at Sheffield United, who struck a gentleman's agreement with Charlton that he could not face them in an FA Cup tie. Luton, as the selling club, were the first party; Charlton, as the buying club, were the second party; so that made Sheffield United, well, you can probably guess. The Football League at least wrote to all concerned - although heaven knows why, as they did not even install third-party rules until September 2010 - but the response of the FA was a joke. Having delayed making any comment for roughly two months, and then confirming no action would be taken, not a single member of the governing body was prepared to go on the record to explain why this did not constitute third-party interference. Now they want to come over like Judge Jeffreys. Make your mind up, gentlemen, are third-party issues a hanging offence or not?  HOW UNUSED BENTLEY TOOK A WRONG TURNDavid Bentley was last seen storming away from St Andrew's after failing to make even the bench for Birmingham City's match with Wolverhampton Wanderers. He is on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, although a permanent move seems unlikely after this. Only 26, Bentley may already be running out of options in the Premier League, despite once being touted as the successor to David Beckham for England. Limited options: David Bentley What went wrong? Might it have started on June 7, 2007, when Bentley told England Under 21 manager Stuart Pearce that he would not be going to the European Under 21 Championship in Holland? 'It is for the betterment of my career,' said Bentley, who had impressed on duty with the England first team prior to the announcement. 'I've never come off a 60-game season and gone straight into another one. I asked senior players, "What do you feel like in October and November?" They said, "You hit a brick wall." They also said, if I wanted to be firing for the European Championship next year, I had to think long and hard.' We all know what happened next. Having left Pearce in the lurch - as Bentley was not injured, his place in the squad could not be filled - he was not really trusted by senior manager Steve McClaren and played just seven minutes of competitive football for him, as an 83rd-minute substitute against Israel. Fabio Capello gave him his only England start, against Switzerland on February 6, 2008, and he was last named in a squad for two matches that September. As for the European Championship tournament for which he was keeping so fresh: England did not qualify. The debate around Pearce's selections for this summer's European Under 21 Championship continues, but the moral to Bentley's story would seem to be play all you can, while you can, because you never know what is around the corner. Had Bentley kept his momentum going that summer, who knows if his career would have taken a different path? He might even be in the same position as Ashley Young and James Milner, two graduates of the 2007 European Under 21 Championship, who are exactly where Bentley thought he was going to be now.  WHAT SORT OF WALLY...Here follows a brief lesson on the perils of giving your son your name, if you are a football coach and he grows up to be a budding sports writer. Wally Downes, assistant to Avram Grant, manager of West Ham United, has a son, also Wally, a young journalist of much promise. Asked to preview Sunday's visit to Manchester City by the Sunday Telegraph, he eagerly complied, which is how the headline 'Downbeat Grant is fast running out of time' came accompanied with the confusing ascription 'By Wally Downes'. Imagine a young writer by the name of Pat Rice putting his name to a piece calling for Arsene Wenger to stand down and you get the general idea. For future reference, it might be an idea if the younger Wally applied the word junior to his name, not least because Wally Downes Jnr is a by-line made for a magazine like Sports Illustrated. Try saying it with an American accent, if you don't believe me.  Explore more:People: Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher, David Beckham, Ashley Young, Michael Carrick, Lionel Messi, David Bentley, Matthew Spring, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Babel, Daniel Agger, Rio Ferdinand, James Milner, Steven Gerrard, Martin Atkinson, Fabio Capello, Jose Mourinho, Roy Keane, Didier Drogba, Keith Hill, Stuart Pearce, Gary Neville, Steve McClaren Places: Liverpool, Newcastle, Israel, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Switzerland Organisations: Football League, Football Association


Daily_Mail

Sponsored links