Last week I gave my thoughts on the Kick It Out protesters, fan chants and England under Roy Hodgson, and this week I look at Fernando Torres' controversial sending-off, two pieces of sportsmanship from Andy Wilkinson and Tom Cleverley, and two offside goals which were awarded. More refs should follow Clattenburg lead Regular readers need know reminding of my thoughts on diving. I have been saying ever since this blog began that it is a blight on the game, but one caused more than anything by referees, who encourage players to go down under contact. When I see a striker get clipped in the box and go down I don't blame them because I know they probably wouldn't get a penalty if they tried to stay up.
There seems to be this bizarre logic among referees that a player cannot possibly have been fouled if he has managed to stay upright. However, this encouragement from referees to fall over - Ian Evatt famously revealed Howard Webb had told Blackpool's players they were too honest - has led to certain players hitting the deck every time there is so much as a hint of a touch from the defender's boot. To make matters worse, you get pundits saying players are 'entitled' to go down under contact. What ever happened to honesty and integrity? Nobody will ever convince me that Fernando Torres did not dive on Sunday. He was undoubtedly clipped on the shin by Jonny Evans, but he was undoubtedly not felled by the Manchester United defender. Torres had rode the contact to beat him but then, bizarrely for a striker about to enter the box, he decided to chuck himself to the floor anyway. After the game, the incident was replayed time after time in slow motion to prove contact had been made, with Gary Neville going as far to say as Torres was entitled to go down regardless of the contact due to the nature of Evans' tackle.
Remarkably, the general consensus is the same. You would struggle to find someone that believes Torres could not have stayed up, yet the vast majority of people believe the Chelsea striker should not have been booked for diving. What those people forget is that if Mark Clattenburg had bought Torres' dive, he would have had to punish Evans. What if he had sent Evans off instead? Would people still say that Torres was right to go down and that Evans deserved his punishment? I highly doubt it, but Torres didn't care how Evans would be punished when he fell over. A cynic might suggest he even tried to get him sent off. Yet we're supposed to feel sympathy for Torres? I certainly don't, but what I will say is that he was extremely unlucky on Sunday.
As previously mentioned, players are encouraged by referees to go down under contact, and that is all that Torres did in this instance. Unfortunately for him, the referee was Clattenburg, a man that seemingly loves to be the centre of attention. I wish players were punished for that type of simulation all the time, but I doubt there is another referee in the Premier League that would have given Torres a second booking on Sunday so, as much as I think the decision was right, I also think it was incredibly harsh in the current, bizarre, climate. But the directive needs to change - encourage players to do their best to stay on their feet at all times, and educate referees about when a player has been impeded despite not falling over. Maybe then we would see some honesty return to the game and an end to this ridiculous opinion that any contact equals a foul.
Play acting needs to be cut out The usual accompaniment to a dive or 'exaggerated fall' is an extended period of clutching a body part. Which one is unimportant - Torres on Sunday felt his knee despite taking a nick to the shin - but the more theatrical the better. The aim of this play acting is to get the opposing player punished as harshly as possible by the referee and, often, it works, with cards regularly given out unfairly because the player on the wrong end of the tackle is pretending to be in pain. However, over the weekend I witnessed two great acts of sportsmanship. The first was at the Stoke v Sunderland game where Andy Wilkinson got straight up after a late tackle from Craig Gardner which could easily have led to a harsh red had the Stoke man stayed down, and the second was at Stamford Bridge where Tom Cleverley jumped to his feet after being studded in the chest by Torres, who could easily have seen red had Cleverley rolled around in agony.
What a refreshing sight. Nobody likes to see a game ruined by a harsh red card, and football would be far better if players stopped trying to get their opponents booked and sent off at every possible opportunity. However, referees also need to be trained to judge a tackle not on the pain it causes (faked or genuine) but by the tackle itself. If they could learn to do that we might see an end to this ridiculous play acting that annoys us all. Still not time for video technology
While I will welcome goal-line technology when it finally arrives next season, I've never been sure whether football should introduce video technology to decide on other incidents. The offside goals scored by Mikel Arteta and Javier Hernandez, and Luis Suarez's disallowed one, over the weekend certainly add weight to the argument for a video referee, but ask yourself whether you want to be robbed of ever feeling the instant euphoria a goal gives you. Do you really want to have to wait after every goal for a video referee to make a final decision? What are the players supposed to do during that period? Huddle together and look towards the big screen while the crowd chants 'oooooooooooaaaaaahhhh'? It just doesn't sit comfortably with me. And if a foul is committed 10 seconds before a goal is scored, should it be ruled out? How far back does a video referee look? Taking it further, say a challenge system was introduced and video referees were to make calls on contentious sendings-off or penalty appeals; does that referee have the final say over the referee on the pitch? What about incidents that are simply a matter of opinion?
There is no consensus on the Torres incident even after all these replays - Clattenburg felt he dived and has a case, but a video referee might have decided it was a foul and that Evans should have been punished. I'd have disagreed with that decision. There is rarely any agreement over any incident ever, no matter how many replays we all see afterwards. My point being, it will still come down to one or a few people to make a decision and there is still every chance many of us will disagree with it. You can never completely rid football of controversy - and nor would I want us to.