By Tony Attwood
I wanted to pick up on the story that Mauricio Pochettino claiming that Juventus are “specialists in football’s dark arts” and that they manipulated the refereeing in their Champions League game with Tottenham, when it happened, but being on the other side of the world, having an 11 hour time difference and wanting to cover our games against Milan and Watford, each got in the way.
But return to it I must, because of the obvious contrast. Any comment from Untold about refereeing decisions is met with howls of derisive laughter from the SNAF (the Wenger hating “Arsenal fans”) and the anti-Arsenal Arsenal mob. And yet here we had the newspapers and other media seriously listening to Pochettino and taking due note of match manipulation allegations.
The difference is response is quite extraordinary. All Untold suggests is that both the set-up and the behaviour of the referees’ organisation, the PGMO, is very different from that of other countries in Europe, and this is curious. Therefore it is worth asking why PGMO does behave as it does. And yet the media absolutely refuse to pick up the story, and will not ever question what PGMO is up to, even when it goes further and further away from the mainstream of European football (as most recently with VAR).
And it is not just us. Mr Wenger has suggested things are wrong as well. The response? Well, you know.
And yet when the Tottenham manager suggests something is amiss on the basis of one game’s evidence, the press are all over the story.
Now of course the word of the Tottenham manager is infinitely more interesting to the media than a 10 year collection of evidence by a blog, simply because he is the Tottenham manager and we’re just writing a blog. But it does show just how lopsided football journalism has become when a total issue can be ignored because… well, because.
The issue of the organisation of and the fairness of refereeing is one that is fundamental to football, and the fact that there is clearly a question or two to be asked about the decisions taken by PGMO can’t be disputed. Which raises three interesting points:
1: Why are the allegations of the Tottenham manager, which were made without any clear evidence that can be examined, taken so seriously by the media, while any mention of dubious refereeing by the Arsenal manager is laughed off, or not reported at all?
2: Why does the media not take up the issue of why English refereeing is organised in such a different way from that elsewhere?
3: Why do PGMO run a system which is obviously open to corruption, by organising matters so that the same referee gets the same clubs to referee over and over again?
Of course I have asked the last two questions so often I know it is now boring, so let’s deal with the Tottenham issue. The entire case of the Tottenham manager is based on the fact that he said he saw Giuseppe Marotta, the CEO of Juventus, in the tunnel at half time and that he had complained to the Polish official, Szymon Marciniak.
What Juventus were complaining about was that Marciniak had not given a penalty following a challenge by Jan Vertonghen. The allegation is also that other members of the executive of Juventus also took issue with Marciniak.
Pochettino then went further and said that Andrea Agnelli the Juventus chairman was also seen in the tunnel. Potchettino then stated there were “two games [to be played] against this type of club – “one on the pitch; one outside it”. In effect, corruption.
He then added that Juventus had given Tottenham “a massive lesson in how to behave”, which presumably means “they showed us how it is done and we will follow their example.” In other words, Tottenham will now put undue pressure on referees in European matches and act in a corrupt manner.
The Tottenham manager continued, “In this type of game every minimal detail can help you to win. We put pressure on the referee but it was easy for the referee to manage us because we were very nice people, trying to help to play a game. In this situation, with experience, you have more possibilities to achieve all that you want. That is another game. It’s not only the game playing football.”
Pochettino then went a lot further suggesting that the referee succumbed to this pressure and that in the second half there were “many fouls that weren’t fouls”. He also spoke of a number of minor infringements such as starting the game with the ball moving and having a player inside the box when a goal kick was taken.
Now as I understand Law 16, covering goal kicks, the regulation only says that all opposing players must be outside the penalty area until the ball is in play. If this were not so, a defender would not be able to kick the ball for a goal kick (as occasionally used to happen when a keeper was injured but stayed on the pitch).
The key point behind these allegations is that the implication in his interviews was that the Tottenham manager was saying not just that Juventus manipulated the referee but that Tottenham would learn from that experience and do it themselves in future.
Which is another variation on match fixing. It is not the same as Type III match fixing which we have focused on in the past (in which a club owner suggests to a referee that he would reward the referee if he can do anything to help ensure that a certain other club draws a match it might otherwise win, or loses a match it might otherwise draw).
It is incredibly difficult to spot Type III match fixing because it does not involve overtly helping the club behind the bribery win its own matches – instead it stops that club’s rivals from winning every game they might. The only way it can be stopped – or at least made much less likely to have an impact – is to ensure no referee gets to manage a game by any one team more than twice in a season.
That is what other leagues do, but what the PGMO resolutely refuse to implement in the Premier League.
In bringing up this refusal by PGMO to act like associations in other leagues, we are ignored by the media and laughed at by supporters of other clubs and by the anti-Wenger movements surrounding Arsenal. And yet when the Tottenham manager mentions seeing some dubious actions by Juventus directors, it gets fulsome positive coverage.
This of course is reasonable at one level – he is the Tottenham manager, we’re just a bunch of Arsenal supporters. But there is an underlying issue. Is manipulation of football by illicit means going on or not? And if it is then first, why does the media in the UK not consider it, and second, why is the PGMO acting in such secrecy and with such rules that they can only exacerbate the issue?
This weekend the Guardian’s report of the Arsenal Watford match contained the line, “Welcome to Arsenal, a place where nothing is as clear as it seems.” That should perhaps have read, “Welcome to the media’s coverage of the Premier League, where we work hard to make sure nothing is clear”.