Following the fiasco of English clubs in the European competitions last week, a lot of articles on the web have popped out in the last few days. Everyone has a theory why all English clubs might not survive until Easter. That is a miracle of the Internet – you can write whatever comes to your mind. However, there is a particular article that made me write this piece. It’s Barney Ronay’s article that discusses refereeing performances as an issue that should be solved by… well, not talking about the referees. One of the most dangerous points of Ronay’s article is that, if people stop moaning about the referees and their (usually shocking) performances, they will do their job much better because:
Who out there could do any kind of job properly knowing every split‑second response will be scrutinised with relentless hostility, that your competence will be questioned, body mass ridiculed, integrity impugned? We seem to have forgotten that muddle and confusion, a lack of any deeper platonic truth in any of this, are why referees exist in the first place, that they are a grudging necessity, like corner flags or crossbars, there simply to keep the spectacle chugging along.
Ouch. It’s so wrong that it hurts.
Let’s start with the most obvious mistake: the referees are not like corner flags or crossbars. If they only were anything like corner flags or crossbars. The referees are human, they move, they make calls – correct or incorrect – about the issues on the pitch making an influence on the final outcome of the game. Unlike the refs, corner flags and crossbars are not biased to anyone. They are more like Justice pictured with a blindfold than any referee in the world. Corner flags and crossbars don’t manage the difference between Alexis Sánchez and Nicklas Bendtner – they threaten them in the same way.
Then, there is a more serious issue than the far-fetched comparison between “the grudging necessities” and the referees. There is a huge logical fallacy in Ronay’s logic when he asks a rhetorical question in order to prove his hypothesis. If, indeed, one can’t do his job properly knowing every split-second response will be scrutinized with relentless hostility and his competence will be questioned, let’s scrap all the talk about the managers and players in English Premier League. If, say, people stop writing about how Manuel Pellegrini failed to realize how suicidal it was to start the game against Barcelona with two strikers, perhaps he’ll do his job much better. Or, if people stop writing about how Arsene Wenger has been making a wrong decision for years by not signing a physical defensive midfielder to replace Gilberto Silva, perhaps Wenger will decide to do exactly that and sign, say, Victor Wanyama in the next transfer window. Who knows, if people had written less about David Moyes he would have kept his job at Old Trafford.
And, above all, let’s not write about the players at all because it’s all up to them. Perhaps Per Mertesacker would have performed better against Monaco if he hadn’t been constantly mocked for his lack of pace. Perhaps David Ospina would have prevented at least one of the Monaco goals if people hadn’t written about the Colombian’s lack of inches or about his supposed insecurity. Perhaps Vincent Kompany wouldn’t have been brutally exposed by the Barcelona trident if he hadn’t been criticized over the past two months. And maybe, just maybe, Dejan Lovren would have hit a place on Earth with his penalty against Bešiktaš instead of risking an intergalactic war. After all, if we accept Ronay’s view on the refs as a grudging necessity, it’s all up to the players. And, in order to help them do their job properly, let’s not talk about their incompetence because who out there could do any kind of job properly knowing every split‑second response will be scrutinised with relentless hostility, that your competence will be questioned, body mass ridiculed, integrity impugned?
The thing is, the way referees have been going over the has been the main reason why English clubs have been failing to produce a significant result against their Spanish counterparts. Manchester United fans – used to the referees’ bias in their favour during Ferguson’s reign – were fuming when Nani was sent off against Real Madrid and the fact Rafael should have been sent off as well snuck under the radar. Maybe because it took over 500 days to get a red card in the league (Evans on 23rd October 2011 – Rafael on 5th May 2013)? That other Manchester club isn’t much better. Yaya Toure’s absence was cited as one of the reasons for Manchester City’s poor performance against Barcelona but the thing is, the Ivorian gets excused for his tackles in the Premier League but that doesn’t happen in European matches. Then again, you can’t expect the referees to perform well if you know that Mike Riley is in charge at PGMO. He is the man that singlehandedly stopped our unbeaten streak at Old Trafford by not giving red cards to Ferdinand (on Ljungberg), both Nevilles (on Reyes) and Van Nistelrooy (on Cole) and by giving a penalty to United after Rooney’s dive in the box. Unfortunately, English football authorities decided to brush that scandalous performance under the carpet instead of giving a lifelong ban to Riley. English football, aside from all other problems like the coach-per-players ratio, an obvious lack of technical and tactical education of English players, inability to produce a goalkeeper capable of saving a penalty or two in a big tournament or an English manager who would be good enough for an ambitious club – has to deal with several useless referees. For example Atkinson, Dean and Taylor allow nasty tackles, they don’t impose their authority on players (why Branislav Ivanović wasn’t sent off for taking the card from Martin Atkinson’s hands against Burnley?) and who have been on the same level as the penalty takers in the English national team for the last 25 years. That sort of refereeing is what puts a lot of pressure on players and managers – instead of improving on their technique and tactics, players with flair have to play with a handbrake and avoid duels with the Stoke-esque butchers in order to save their career.
So, Mr Ronay, it’s not the time to lock up the keyboards and refrain from writing about the referees. It’s the right time to scream and shout about them!