Referees wrestling with a problem they can’t solve
How many teams will leave the World Cup happy with the refereeing? If it’s more than one I’ll be surprised as those “crucial” decisions seem to attract criticism only when teams lose.
The dissection of officials’ performances has become the staple of post-match interviews in recent years as, with one or two honourable exceptions, managers let rip (having had the benefit of replays from half-a-dozen angles of course).
I’m struggling to remember a manager complaining that a referee failed to penalise one of his players for holding an opponent while defending a corner or free kick yet every club is guilty of the offence to a greater or lesser extent at just about every set piece.
Last weekend’s highlighted “blunder” was referee Martin Atkinson’s decision to award Aston Villa a late, and as it turned out, decisive penalty after ruling that Birmingham City’s Roger Johnson had fouled Gabriel Agbonlahor.
TV replays showed that Johnson had, in fact, produced an excellent tackle but it was his bad luck that the ball continued in the same general direction it had already been travelling in and when his contact subsequently brought Agbonlahor down, producing uproar from the Villa fans, Atkinson mistakenly pointed to the spot.
It was a bad decision but an understandable one from an official standing 25 metres away with a poor view of the incident. Birmingham were right to be annoyed and frustrated but the same players complaining bitterly about the decision will have got away with worse, if not in that match, then in others.
Johnson let rip after the game, citing the vogue complaint that the referee “should be 100 percent sure” before giving a penalty. Does that imply that 75 percent is acceptable for corners or fouls elsewhere on the pitch?
I find it astonishing how good modern linesmen are, as replays constantly show them getting high-speed, hair’s breadth offside decisions right and even then the TV analysts begrudgingly complain that it “was very tight”, as if getting it wrong would be better.
If a referee did decide to clamp down on penalty-box wrestling (the Sunday Times is running a campaign to stamp it out) and awarded 10 penalties and sent off three players from each side in a match, do you imagine the respective managers would praise him? Would the FA come out on Monday morning offering staunch support? Would the sofa analysts thank him or deride him for not understanding “having never played the game at this level”? Would the radio phone-in ranters thank him for making a stand against breaking the rules?
If one were to try it in a group stage match in the World Cup this year would FIFA reward him for saving the game by keeping him on for the final or would he be castigated for “ruining the spectacle” and sent home on the first plane out of Johannesburg?
PHOTO: France’s Zinedine Zidane (R) talks with Referee Horacio Elizondo of Argentina after his sending-off in the World Cup final against Italy in Berlin July 9, 2006. REUTERS/Charles Platiau