It’s been building over recent seasons and with clubs, fans, media and now talk of FIFA all becoming embroiled in the big referee debate one of the most closely fought title races in recent history is being threatened with a back seat role as the accountability issue becomes all consuming.
Tune in to any football phone-in or scan the back pages of a newspaper and it seems that with every week that passes there is a new scandal, each more controversial than the last. Should Wes Brown have been sent off for Sunderland against Stoke on Saturday? Most observers agree it was unbelievably harsh, except of course Stoke manager Mark Hughes – not known for his gentle nature during his playing days. Then there was Luiz Suarez, victim of a vicious studs first high kick by Kevin Mirallas which Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers branded potentially career-ending. And the social media backlash by Wayne Rooney against Sky pundits for condemning his own dangerous tackle. In each case the referee made the wrong call – at least according to popular opinion.
The officials themselves of course are not allowed to come out after a match and explain themselves, effectively absolving them of responsibility. However, refs’ chief Mike Riley took matters into his own hands after Ramires dived to win a penalty for Chelsea against West Brom recently, calling Steve Clarke to apologise. This stirred up another hornet’s nest, with Jose Mourinho accusing the West Brom manager of leaking details of the call in order to discredit them. Gus Poyet then asked for a similar call from Riley after Saturday's sending off of Brown at the Brittania Stadium. And so it goes on.
There is talk of an official in the stands with a monitor screen, miked up rugby style to hold up play while an incident is replayed which is, of course, impossible to implement in football. Unless of course we want our game to end up like cricket with thirty second breaks peppering the ninety minutes while we all wait for the big screen to flash ‘foul’ or ‘no foul’.
No, football is subjective; refs are human and will always make mistakes. It is happening no more now than it always has. The difference is the stakes are greater financially, hence the greater pressure placed on our officials by clubs and the frankly disgraceful treatment of them by managers like Hughes who, as a former player, should know better.