By Bulldog Drummond
In March 2014 Andre Mariner sent off Kieran Gibbs for doing … nothing, in a match against Chelsea and gave Chelsea a penalty. Two mistakes – one, as replays showed, was that the ball was not going into the net when the Arsenal player touched it, and two it wasn’t Gibbs. In fact it wasn’t even a player who looked like him. In fact it wasn’t even a player the same colour as Gibbs. It was the Ox.
In September 2015 Gabriel and Santi Cazorla were sent off in another notorious match against Chelsea. A couple of days later the wild and whacky Mike Dean had the humiliation of seeing at least one of his decisions overturned. Gabriel had not performed an act of violent conduct on Diego Costa. To no one’s surprise we found Costa had cheated. To everyone’s surprise the referee “mistake” was overturned.
At the time I remember reading the subsequent press reports and seeing under the surface absolute shock waves that such a reversal could have happened. The consensus was that this time the ref had gone a step too far down the line, but that one reversal (which of course did not reverse the result of the game) was a good bit of PR for the PGMO allowing them to continue with business as usual.
No one expected what happened in the Cup Final when Victor Moses was sent off for diving.
Players only dive in televised matches when they are pretty sure that they are going to deceive the referee even if they know they will be picked up on TV. After all, that’s all that matters. TV pundits are never going to come out and say “this man should never referee again” because “football in the PL has been utterly compromised”.
So questions begin to arise. Will the Chelsea manager tell his players that the play acting of Costa and Moses should come to an end? Have the referees really turned the corner, with video refereeing getting ever closer? They know they can rely on the media to play down referee errors, and that even if no one says anymore “it all evens out in the end” that has always been the underlying theme. “The game is too fast these days for refs to pick up everything,” that’s the new mantra
It is a shame, but such musings are now central to all matches between Chelsea and Arsenal. So which of the four options will we see:
- Diving and pretending, with the referee pretending to be conned and mistaken
- Diving and pretending, with the referee actually being conned and mistaken
- Diving and pretending, with the referee not being conned and mistaken
- No diving and pretending and no referee mistakes of thinking that when one player commits a foul it is ok to send someone else off even when no one should have been sent off.
It says a lot about where we have got to, that which of these four we get will determine a lot of what happens in the game.
Of course such matters are not the stuff of newspapers – which is why Untold has to take them up, to offer some sort of balance against media decisions as to what is and what is not news. The media has written out memories of diving and pretending and referee errors from the history of football, and they approach the match this weekend as if it is some sort of fair and even contest between two sides that will play the game by the rules and a referee who will apply the rules.
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So instead we get this:
“when the Arsenal manager was politely asked about whether he was leaning towards a return to a good old back four after his recent dalliance with a defensive trio, he looked a little irked. It says a lot that he was probably more comfortable dealing with the issue of crowd control than how he wishes to set up his team strategically.”
The look of Mr Wenger. Not what he said, but the look. One eyebrow raised too much perhaps? Not referee errors. Not a change in refereeing behaviour. The look.
Two problems there: journalists are not trained in interpreting looks. Indeed they are hardly trained in interpreting football matches. And they always believe that the way one looks reflects what’s really underneath. A simple mistake, but one that really shouldn’t run on for ever and a day.
The general view seems to be that the refereeing will not change despite what we saw in the Cup Final and we will be back to the norm, and another solid defeat for Arsenal. As a result if the referee is spotted making an error, it can be treated as a surprising moment, not part of a stream of events.
Everything that Arsenal do is seen as a sign of dithering and uncertainty. For example, Mr Wenger, it is said, doesn’t know which format works so he changes from one to another.
But as always there is another way of presenting the report.
Managers give their half time talk based on the notion of what has happened so far. X looks unsure on his left, always go that way. Y and Z are not communicating with each other well, move between them. The wing backs are pushing up very quickly – hoof the ball beyond them while one of you blocks the move of either Y or Z.
Not very sophisticated but it does for a team talk, and it can work on occasion, given a fair wind and a typical Arsenal/Chelsea referee. But… supposing the opposition come out in the second half with a totally different formation. Some footballers are not the brightest guys in the arena, and sudden shouting from the manager to change the whole formation again, can cause even more confusion.
In short, changing from one formation to another at half time can be a very good, positive way of changing a game around, rather than a sign of dithering and uncertainty.
Changing the style of the referee so he actually recognises what is going on and who the players are is good too. Let’s hope it continues.
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