Wednesday 29 April 2015

Rational Ref: McManaman tackle exposes flaws in retrospective action

McManaman tackle exposes flaws in retrospective action

FA's mishandling of Wigan player's challenge puts safety at risk, shows system needs review

Wigan's Callum McManaman horror tackle on Massadio Haidara. Pic Focus Images

The most horrible factor about the 2012-2013 season's worst challenge, by Callum McManaman of Wigan, is not the tackle itself, but the fact it has been surpassed by an even worse scenario: the FA's pathetic, retrospective review of the incident.

In incidents where a major injustice has occurred on the pitch and where match officials have, for whatever reasons, shown they have not properly dealt with the offence, taking retrospective action is a sensible process. It protects players, supports referees and safeguards the image of the game. It allows justice to be, and seen to be, done.

Unfortunately, the FA's challenge turned out to be a feeble sidestepping of the issue. The FA used a technicality to excuse itself from not taking retrospective action against 21-year-old McManaman for his awful tackle on Newcastle's 20-year-old defender Massadio Haidara.

It exposes serious flaws in the system and is not limited to England since all around the world, including Hong Kong, the retrospective review system is often ineffective. It doesn't successfully protect players, match officials or the image of the game. In hindsight, the retrospective review process needs to be reviewed itself, for justice's sake.

Here is the FA's statement on the McManaman incident: "Where one of the officials has seen a coming together of players, no retrospective action should be taken, regardless of whether he or she witnessed the full or particular nature of the challenge. This is to avoid the re-refereeing of incidents."

Referee Mark Halsey was honest enough to admit that he did not see the incident. Due to 51-year-old Halsey's poor positioning, his view of McManaman's challenge was blocked by another player. However, assistant referee Matthew Wilkes admitted seeing the "coming together" of the players and the FA has shamelessly used this as an excuse for not taking retrospective action against McManaman.

First, the claim that the FA wishes to avoid re-refereeing incidents is hypocritical. They do it often and they do it to undermine the credibility of match officials. For instance earlier this year, the FA rescinded referee Mike Dean's red card for Manchester City's Vincent Kompany. That is the very definition of re-refereeing.

Second, the FA's ignorance regarding the poor accuracy and credibility of the witness' view is embarrassing. Just because a linesman saw the incident does not mean he had a "good, near and clear view" to make a competent decision. In fact, the distance between the linesman and McManaman's challenge was at least 32 metres coupled to the reality that his main priorities lie elsewhere on the field. We know the linesman made a poor decision in assisting Halsey, so why not allow a retrospective review? If the FA is so willing to re-referee, say, Dean's perfectly clear and competent decision to send off Kompany, then why is it less enthused about re-refereeing the poor decision not to send off McManaman on the basis that the linesman vaguely saw the "coming together" of two players from a distance of over 35 yards?

Justice has not prevailed and the FA is seen to be hiding behind excuses. Newcastle, clearly outraged, officially announced the FA's disciplinary process to be "not fit for purpose" and have demanded a change in the rule that allowed McManaman to escape sanction.

If there is no perceived justice, then fans will be angry and jump at the chance to form their own kangaroo courts. Players, too, will sense the injustice and may take matters on themselves on the pitch.

In McManaman's case, he will be jeered in future matches particularly by Newcastle supporters and, as is the nature of the game, when he eventually falls victim to a nasty tackle, there inevitably will be those who will cheer and claim that it is "justice" served. No one deserves an injury or to be put at risk of danger, but because the public perception is that McManaman has escaped a previous sanction then these very real human feelings may come to the fore among some fans. Therefore, the FA urgently needs to demonstrate that its retrospective review system is "fit for purpose". As it stands, the FA's mishandling of McManaman's challenge has endangered player safety, left match officials out to dry and tarnished the image of the game.

In the modern professional era, on the pitch there are 22 millionaire mercenaries all trying to harass, hound and hoodwink a standard salaryman referee trying his utmost to be correct, impartial and consistent. Since video replays are unacceptable in a game, the post-match retrospective review is the second-best means available to sanction players, act as a deterrent to unsavoury behaviour and ultimately protect the image of the game.

However, competition organisers around the world are failing the game with their pathetic process of retrospective reviews.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 March, 2013

POST ARTICLE: Have things changed at the FA?

Sunday 12 April 2015

Rational Ref: Professionals must remember only the ref can stop a match

Professionals must remember only the ref can stop a match

Professionals need to remember that only the referee can stop a match, even when a player goes down injured

Whatever happened to "play to the whistle"? By taking matters into their own hands and stopping play, players are only putting themselves in the dock, on the block, and up the proverbial garden path.

When a player apparently suffers an injury during play, referees are the only ones who have the authority to decide whether or not to stop a match. Players ignore this at their peril.

Tuesday's (20 November 2012) controversial goal by Shakhtar Donetsk against Nordsjaelland in the Champions League is a prime example. When a Nordsjaelland player went down injured, players voluntarily stopped play in the middle of the park. After the player had been taken off the pitch to receive treatment, the referee restarted play with a drop ball. It was uncontested and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Willian gently booted the ball back to his opponents' half. However, Willian's teammate, Brazilian Luiz Adriano, apparently did not realise a sporting gesture was being played out, and so ran on to the "pass" to the amazement of the static Nordsjaelland defenders, rounded the dismayed goalkeeper, and promptly scored.

Uefa has now charged Adriano with unsporting behaviour and he has been suspended for their next Champions League match (for "violation of the principles of conduct").

There are many levels of inquiry here, and one easy solution. First, in return for what most people perceive to be an unsporting goal, why did the Shakhtar Donetsk defenders refuse to allow their opponents a walk-in goal immediately after that misunderstanding?

"Half their team seemed to think [it would be fair], but the other half didn't," Nordsjaelland captain Nicolai Stokholm said. At that moment, Shakhtar Donetsk had no leader to tell the whole team what they should do. This would explain the team's mixed stance.

It also explains how seriously some players take their profession, with many having differing interpretations of how sporting behaviour fits into the game, if at all.

Second, why was Adriano seemingly unrepentant about his actions? "It was instinct, I see the ball and I dribbled and I scored a goal," he said. Adriano is basically saying a professional soccer player is supposed to win matches. Does this mindset override sporting gestures such as stopping play for an injured opponent?

Third, why did players stop play in first place? How did they know the player was injured and not faking injury? Are players trained in medical triage? With all these risks, why would professional players compromise themselves by taking up the referee's responsibility? It's not simply a matter of being sporting, since stopping play can also be trying to gain "brownie points" in the public eye.

And, why did the players not kick the ball out of play? They just stopped and looked around aimlessly, which reveals they really did not know what to do and were probably seeking guidance. Therefore, they should always "play to the whistle".

Players stopping play first came to prominence at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when Belgium played Spain in the quarter-finals. Even in the baking summer heat, and having to play extra time, whenever a player from any team went down his opponents would refuse to take advantage, and instead opted to kick the ball out of play. This was genuine and sincere "fair play".

But things have moved on since then, most notably professionalism and monetary rewards have brought increased cynicism and gamesmanship to the modern game.

This is why it is important to let one person, the match referee, decide whether or not to call a halt when a player is apparently injured. Referees will stop play only if, in their opinion, a player is seriously injured. A serious injury is something of the magnitude of a broken limb. However, judging by many players' reactions, it would seem a little knock or slap is plenty enough to stop a match.

At the amateur and parks level, stopping the game works beautifully for almost any injury, either real or apparent. But at the competitive and professional level, it is best left to the man in the middle to decide whether or not to stop play. This prevents players from duping opponents.

Remember the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain? No love was lost in this ultimately competitive match. With Spain eventually taking a 1-0 lead during extra-time, the Netherlands were frantically trying to find the equalizer. In the 120th minute, Spain's Fernando Torres pulled up apparently with a hamstring injury. The sporting thing to do would have been to kick the ball out of play. History shows the Netherlands did not give a fig about sportsmanship, as they continued to attack Spain's goal.

This week's lesson: At the professional level, sportsmanship is for suckers.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2012