6 April ~ Another weekend of Premier League football goes by and yet again referees have been proving themselves to be human. Shockingly, they didn't get every split-second decision absolutely right. A Mr Ferguson of Manchester bypassed his team's ineptitude in favour of slating a linesman for missing an offside on Didier Drogba's goal that helped Chelsea regain the league lead (oh, the excitement). A Mr McCarthy of Wolverhampton saw the red card given to his defender Karl Henry as a "diabolical joke" (and that on Easter weekend too).
A Mr Moyes of Liverpool castigated Howard Webb for ignoring a "stonewall" penalty that he most strongly felt should have been awarded to his side (once we've worked out the connection between spot-kicks and the US gay rights movement, we'll get back to you). Moyes even sought to cast Webb's performance in a wider context, as though that added weight to his criticism. "The referee has not been refereeing as well has he has been in recent seasons," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. It's enough to make you doubt that Moyes spends his working hours dissecting the faults of his players rather than analysing the performances of referees. What's more, he went on, "decisions this weekend have been dubious in lots of the big games". Yes yes, this refereeing problem is really getting out of hand. But what to do about it, David? Abolish refs and let managers make the calls by mutual agreement? A quick show of hands among the fans?
Not that Moyes was angry, unlike the perennially "fuming" Sir Alex. The Everton manager casually dropped the observation into his post-match interview, unprompted. Like Five Live's eager callers, he just wanted to have his say. But he also acknowledged that Howard Webb was not the reason why Everton didn't win the game. "We didn't play well enough," Moyes conceded. "We didn't pass well enough." Now we're getting somewhere. These abominable referees do not necessarily decide the outcome of a game, because they never actually touch the ball. Even "fuming" Fergie stopped raging and snorting long enough to admit that during the first half at Old Trafford on Saturday Chelsea "were by far the better team".
If managers with years of experience in the game can understand the simple truth that defeats or dropped points are largely down to their own teams' poor play, why can they never resist the temptation to have a poke at the referees? Sure, looking for someone else to blame is as human as the actual mistakes, real or imagined. But what good does it do the game, apart from piling up yet more media stories about nothing? The referees do not improve their performances because of managerial moaning – on the contrary, it merely increases the pressure on them and the likelihood of poor decisions.
It's easier for winning managers to be magnanimous towards the game officials, but Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti spoke refreshing sense when asked about the Drogba goal. "I never comment on the referee's decision," Ancelotti said. "It is offside when the linesman's flag goes up, it is a penalty when the referee blows his whistle." Those words should be printed out and stuck to every microphone thrust before a losing manager, coupled with an automatic 50 grand fine and ten-game touchline ban for slating referees. His challenge should be to name five reasons why his team didn't win, but without once citing an external force with a flag or a whistle. The headlines won't be as full of fuming Fergies, but it might help a manager identify his club's footballing deficiencies, take pressure off the harassed officials and move the overall tone of the game away from knee-jerk scapegoating to one of more civilised consideration. Oh, and Mr Ancelotti, don't forget to pass the message on to your players. Ian Plenderleith