THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

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

Comments (14)
Comment by t.j.vickerman 2010-04-06 12:21:50

Agree with every word. Strangely, have just read a very similar column by John Nicholson on Football365.

Comment by redmondo82 2010-04-06 17:35:49

I always find it funny how managers forgive their highly-paid superstars for failing to do their jobs but are full of vitriolic condemnation for any officials who make perfectly understandable mistakes.
If only all managers were as magnanimous as Roy Hodgson!

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2010-04-06 21:28:38

I, too, agree with every word.

Comment by ooh aah 2010-04-07 07:22:59

I think it was Alan Hansen who said that the reason Collina was such a respected referee was that he got most of the big decisions right. (By big decisions I think most of us would define that as penalties, free kicks near the box, offsides in the final 3rd and red card decisions). Now I don't expect them to get every single decision right, but I'd expect them to get in the region of about 70% right. How many of our current crop of premiership referees get close to that figure. Not many I'd imagine, if any. Some would be lucky to get 50%. In which case why are they there? A blind man tossing a coin (heads it's a penalty, tails it isn't) would avarage out at around 50%. So yes referees are an easy scapegoat sometimes, but to say such criticisms are never justified is nonsense. And whilst managers should be addressing the issue of player performance, they do actually have all week to do that in training. Does nobody think someone should be addressing refereee training too, in order to improve their standards?

Comment by tratorello 2010-04-07 09:01:51

Ooh aah, when you say Collina "got most of the big decisions right" do you mean in the eyes of the managers of the "big" teams? Because that's how it seems in this country. Fergie doesn't give a hoot if Mike Dean makes the correct decision in a Wolves vs Burnley match just that when he referees a Man. Utd match that he feels under huge pressure to award "big" decisions in his favour.

When they did a feature on "Football Focus" they analyzed loads of penalty decisions and found that the referees got it correct roughly 67% of the time, a figure which was only just matched by the pundits and some fans when they watched them back on video. So a referee with just ONE view of the incident had as good a success rate as a panel of "experts" who had the benefit of watching in on screen.

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2010-04-07 09:18:38

Strikers miss easy chances ... midfielders make atrocious passes ...
defenders get caught in possession ... goalkeepers fluff easy saves ... players get sent off for behaving stupidly ... so why do we expect referees not to make mistakes?

Comment by Ronny Delgado 2010-04-07 09:20:02

I have not seen this Football Focus item. How did they decide which penalty was correct and which was not?

Comment by Lincoln 2010-04-07 09:30:07

If your 'keeper fluffs it or your striker misses an easy chance, then you can sell them, work on them in training, or buy a new one. What can you do about a referee who constantly lets you down? I am not in the habit of slating referees, just that I can understand where the frustration comes from as they are an uncontrolable (you can't motivate them, help them work on their fitness etc) and yet have as much, sometimes more, of an effect on the outcome of a game than any one player for the manager's team.

Comment by tratorello 2010-04-07 09:39:34

Ronny, if I recall correctly I think they had a referee watch the videos from all available angles and make a definitive judgement on them, but as you can imagine quite often there is not 100% consensus on what is a penalty and what isn't.

Referees are under the most scrutiny of anyone involved in the game, who else has an independent assessor marking their every move? If they consistently get bad marks then they get (publicly) demoted.

Personally I think the refs and officials should go on strike until the managers agree to sign a code of conduct, especially when most of them don't seem to know the laws of the game and speak utter nonsense most of the time.

Comment by owlzat? 2010-04-07 10:53:03

I do think that refereeing standards are a subject worthy of discussion. There are some officials doing the rounds in the football league who are consistently poor, and it seems to me that some of the worst end up in the prem. I sometimes wonder if promotion is just a case of getting noticed.

Having said that, managers criticisms are rarely motivated by a genunine desire to see standards improve. When they criticise officials, what they really mean is 'i want more decisions to go my team's way' (if not every decision). Hence a decision which brings vitriolic criticism from a manager one week will simply be brushed off the next if it goes the other way. Unfortunately those managers who are serial moaners are unable to see their own hypocrisy, and journalists never seem to challenge them on it.

Comment by ooh aah 2010-04-07 10:59:06

I explained what big decisions are in my original post. Whether Fergie cares about Mike Deans performance in a Wolves game is irrelevent, I frankly can't see your point.

I haven't seen football focus some time, and I'd certainly agree with your use of inverted comma's to describe the experts (I've noticed that one problem is that ex-pro's still judge tackles according to the accepted norm back in the 80's).

67% is a good figure though, better than I'd expect it to be, and much better than the figure I got when I reviewed the major decisions from the opening weekend of last season. My recollection was an overall average of 54% I think, although there was quite a bit of variation from one ref to another. (Perhaps unsurprisingly Mike Riley finished at the bottom of that particular study). I was going to post the results on otf at the time, but as I was leaving the country at that time that got lost by the wayside.

Comment by tratorello 2010-04-07 11:16:37

My point about the Wolves game (which is a fictitious example before a pedant points out that he didn't ref that match) is similar to that made by owlzat, Fergie does care whether referees get decisions correct just that they make them in his favour. I didn't see him complain about the referee after the Carling Cup final and his failure to send off Vidic.

Blaming the ref is the default setting for so many managers now, purely in a desire to deflect criticism from them and their team selections, tactics, etc. Referee's are subject to scrutiny (see Mike Dean's demotion today) so I don't see what purpose managers being allowed to criticize them, often for their own personal motives, actually serves.

Comment by trevorw 2010-04-10 01:15:52

I was a ref for 30 years. At the coin-toss I would say to both captains: "when you get 100% of your passes right, I'll get 100% of my calls right."

One thing that spectators, including pundits in the studio, never take into account is the possibility that at the crucial moment that an infringement takes place, a player in his normal course of play will run in front of the referee, and for a millionth of a second obscure the vision of the ref. Thus, 75,000 spectators and 22 players might see the foul, and you are the only one on the pitch who doesn't. (In the professional game, at least there is the possibility that the Assistant will have seen the offence.)

Comment by jonmid 2011-07-02 19:33:25

Interesting article on Henry's sending off

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Wenger's sympathy over red card.-a0223111751

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