Ok while the lines in the title are attributed to the belligerent American tennis star John McEnroe, they were exactly the words echoing across my mind (and am sure several million others) on tuesday night. As the referee pulled out the yellow and red cards in succession on account of a “technical foul” by Robin Van Persie and sent him off, the footballing world was left dumbfounded.
Arsene Wenger later said, “ I just spoke to [the] Uefa people. They are shocked as well. He killed a promising, fantastic football match. What for? If it’s a bad tackle it’s a second bookable offence but the way he did it it’s embarrassing, if you love the game. If you have played football at a certain level you cannot understand that decision. It’s impossible. Even if he [Van Persie] heard the official, where have you seen a sending-off like that?”
His emotions were echoed by almost everyone, with even the Catalan daily Marca reporting it not only to be “very questionable” but simply “unjust”. For those still wondering what am on about, Van Persie was on a yellow card, and as he sprinted on to latch on to a long ball, he was “blown” offside by the referee. The striker instinctively took a shot, which spilled into the crowd, and the ref gave him a second yellow – and thus a subsequent red – for time wasting.
While the rule book does put down time wasting as a bookable offence, but it clearly says only if the offence is deliberate. And it was clear to the world that Van Persie had shot the ball instinctively, with the whistle being blown hardly a second or two earlier. Ofcourse as the striker remonstrated immediately, with 90000+ fans screaming horse, he had as little chance of hearing the whistle, as would I of hearing a whisper in Bombay’s locals. Sadly the referee forgot a basic code, that game changing decisions such as red cards are often flashed after viewing the offence in context, and weighing the action’s impact on the game.
But despite the above facts, the Swiss’ offence cannot be directly related to having an impact on the result (though it’s clear to see the significance). The same sadly cannot be said of the laughable offside call by the linesman in the weekend’s game against Sunderland. But for that error, the dynamic of the League table would be totally different and such mistakes can have tectonic implications in a season. For all those thinking that I’m just a cribbing Gooner, let me say that I was equally incensed over the Phil Dowd’s failure to send off Carragher for his horror tackle on Nani. What prevented him from giving the Liverpool defender his marching orders I don’t know, but am sure he is not feeling too good about it now.
The problem as I see it is that referees, while having an extremely high pressure job, are the ones in the game with least accountability. What would happen if a referee could be baned / booked after a terrible and game changing mistake such as these. And why are they so shielded from the media? Why this facade of protection for the officials by the football authorities when they tacitly allow referees to be subject to constant abuse and disrespect from managers and players. No official in any other sport – even football’s sibling rugby for that matter – can be challenged by the players as in football.
I feel that if referees are made to justify their actions in public or have some punitive measures taken against them for blunders, the general standards will rise. Now I understand that it is very convenient for them to be made the scapegoats by the losing side, and that would be chaotic, but the state right now isn’t perfect either. We have to have referees taking more responsibility of their calls and justifying them in public – and at the same time protect them from antics of Sir Alexes and Drogbas of the footballing world.
One big matter related to this is the ubiquitous “human vs technology” debate. FIFA is hyper skeptical about bringing any technology in the sport – try mentioning the world “goal line technology” to Mr Blatter of Monsieur Platini. Intervention in football definitely is complicated unlike slower games such as cricket and tennis, wherein their nature permits for detailed referrals, but Rugby has been able to find a middle path. Again the referral system isn’t perfect anywhere, especially in cricket where it has created a furore in the ongoing , not to mention the chagrin it’s bringing about for the hassled umpires.
What FIFA and others need to understand is that these technologies can never be perfect, they shall always remain an aid to the human official with the final call being his/her. Authorities have to implement them and let them evolve, cause waiting to implement once it is perfect will never happen. Decisions could still go wrong, but no one is asking for an 100% success rate, even a single reduction in the number of erratic decisions being made currently should be seen as a success of the system.
Without breaking the natural flow of the game and devaluing the status of the referee, I guess an apt start would be for the fourth official to have the final word on controversial off-side calls. I mean in case of a disallowed goal (as in the case of Arshavin), or a goal which should not have been awarded, the fourth official – with real time access to match video and related aids – can immediately overrule the field referee. This would not delay the game (as it would have halted in any case) and would prevent the error leaving an indelible mark on the result.
In the end the millions of fans world over forgo sleep, blow away months of savings and drive themselves mad to see their teams win, or even lose fair. Thankfully no one is hinting at any malicious intentions, yet such critical misjudgments do leave the fans dejected. And am sure having watched their mistake, in hindsight none of the officials feel good about it either. A reviewed overrule then, would be much less damaging to their self-respect than a sense of guilt that cannot be (legally) undone. So I plead to FIFA, FA, UEFA etc, please have a serious look at this. There is no shame in losing to a great side like Barcelona – but as Switch (Belinda McClory) laments in The Matrix – not like this, not like this.