Saka is being kicked to bits, and the refs are doing nothing about it



By Tony Attwood

I know from conversations that many people like me are tired of Saka being targeted by defensive oafs whose fouls are not punished by referees.   It can seem in some games as if it is open season on Saka – kick him as much as you want and most of the time nothing happens except that Saka gets hurt.

But now the Telegraph has taken up the issue and has reported some numbers I wasn’t aware of.  For example that “This season, Saka has won 40 fouls in the Premier League, the ninth highest in the division,” but in return it seems only four cards have been shown to the defenders who attack him. 

Other players that are heavily fouled (Zaha, Grealish, Jordan Ayew, James Maddison, Richarlison, Adama Traore and Harry Kane) have all had referees showing cards against the players who attack them far more frequently, according to the Telegraph’s report.

But when Saka commits a foul, the effect is reversed.  He is twice as likely to be yellow carded for a foul as any player is for fouling Saka!   It is utterly and totally outrageous.

His own fouls are being regularly punished with bookings, but when he is fouled nothing happens except he gets a free kick. This season he averages 4.8 fouls committed per yellow card he receives, which means he has been more than twice as likely to be booked for committing a foul as an opponent is to be booked for fouling him.   And only one player (McGinn) has suffered more fouls and had fewer yellow cards awarded to the offenders.

The explanations given are that some of the fouls against him are just to slow him down, and so it is thought, not worthy of a card.   Also, it is said that Saka is so skilful he can ride tackles – but this is nonsense, for in the football rulebook the effect of a foul has no relevance to whether it is serious foul play and deserving of a card, or not.  It is the foul that is punished, not the effect (according to the rules).

Now it is good that the Telegraph is reporting this – although it is behind a paywall, so won’t be widely read.   But what is not good is that a) other publications have not picked up on this before and b) there is no mention of the referees’ employer PGMO in this report.

In fact, what PMGO is supposed to do is to monitor the game at all time, look for anomalies and unacceptable behaviour and take steps to deal with it.   What is completely clear here is that absolutely nothing is being done.   Saka is being left to get kicked to bits, and it is up to Arsenal to change his style of play to avoid what could be a career-threatening injury.

Worse, because PGMO is ultra-secretive in its approach, with referees not giving interviews or explaining themselves, the matter is left to the few football journalists who believe in research and statistics as opposed to making up wild and whacky stories about transfers that never happen, to follow this through.

So in this case full marks to the Telegraph and to Sam Dean.

But more than anything this is not how football should be – it should not be down to one journalist to pick up a point like this and bring it to the attention of PGMO (if they have a subscription to the Telegraph that is).  It is noticeable for example that the Premier League’s own site has a section recording fouls by players but not one on fouls against players.  Worse that site doesn’t even have a section on fouls by teams so we can see which teams are being sent out to maim the opposition.

But we do know, because of the statistics prepared by Who Scored that Chelsea get fouled 65% more by the opposition than Manchester United.  Such a variance is weird, and it would be good to know why players tend to foul against certain clubs more than others.

The four most fouled clubs are Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Arsenal.   The least fouled clubs are Tottenham, Liverpool, West Ham United, and Manchester United – and as noted above this is not a matter of the odd percentage points.  The differences are huge – and there is no relationship with other statistics such as shots per game.  

This really is where we need PGMO to come to the fore and explain what is going on, and why refs are acting as they are.  But their silence remains total – as it does on all other matters.

7 Replies to “Saka is being kicked to bits, and the refs are doing nothing about it”

  1. A few additional points:

    The Guardian report on the Villa match, which was largely sympathetic to Villa rather than Arsenal, who were considered lucky to win, did actually use the phrase that Saka was “kicked to bits”, but with no further comment, as if this is just an acceptable and routine part of the game.

    Saka is different from the other players who “win” fouls, (eg Grealish, Kane, Zaha), in that he never goes looking for fouls, nor indulge in the blatant diving that they do. Also, they don’t get booked as often as he does.

    The only credible explanation must be that the PGMOL have a different agenda for Arsenal.

  2. I seem to remember that in the early days of Messi at Barcelona he also was kicked to pieces. They tried to do to him what they had managed to do against Maradonna. Maradonna suffered from a fractured leg and then after a while he left. When Messi was again kicked to bits the referees started protecting him. He was the poster boy for La Liga and they didn’t want to see him leave early because of the kicking. So they ordered the refs to clamp down on the wild kicking that went on. And so yellows and reds cards started coming out of the refs pockets. And the kicking stopped. And Messi could become the player he became. This was clear case of the refs protecting the skillful player. I wonder what will happen if one day Saka gets the Eduardo treatment and his career is finished? Surely the English team wouldn’t be happy about that?

  3. Anomalous decision making behaviour by the members of the PGMOL has been observed and monitored by UA for many years now! The types of foul being perpetrated towards young players such as Saka et al, may well have increased most recently, with little or no resultant protection for said players from referees.

    PGMOL is never ever challenged by National Media. Occasionally a sporting journalist may make an observation (Sam Dean?) but very little is followed up Nationally. PGMOL rarely comments about itself and the performances of its members, unless it is to wax lyrical about a positive performance!
    PGMOL has no available web-site for external observers to add comment. One reads about the hard job referees now face at all levels. Whilst not decrying such reporting and not supporting verbal and physical attacks on referees, at a professional level the PGMOL is not transparent and under the auspices of Mike Riley has become even more secretive. How can this be?

    What is the number of referees currently officiating in the Premier League? How many are from the Midlands and the North of England? How many from the South and especially from the London area? Why such an anomaly? How can this be?

    How many referees are black and Asian and how many are women in the Premier League? How can this be?

    PGMOL is like Ol’ Man River – it just keeps rolling along!

    But, hold onto your horses! Now, Howard Webb has been brought in to oversee VAR. At last change, I hear you say!

    “My job is to make sure we get the consistency around the question VARs have been told to ask themselves: was [the referee’s decision] clearly wrong?” he says. But he also acknowledges that the simple existence of the technology can create unintentional consequences. (Guardian quote 2020) Mr Webb has never been a referee using VAR!

    The Guardian follows up with ‘Webb believes that consistent communication will be key to improving things. In the US he got into the habit of setting up referees and officials with broadcasters after each round of fixtures to discuss contentious decisions and believes this both informed media coverage and broke down mystique. He is hopeful of doing something similar in England but accepts even this comes with risks. “You don’t want to turn referees into celebrities,” he says. “But as it stands there’s clearly a feeling that perception [of refereeing] could be better and the level of transparency could be better. And I think that’s right.”

    Yes, he is here to change things, and how. – Apology to Arsenal and to Brighton……..but no reinstatement of points. Arsenal gets fined twice for its players surrounding the match referee in order to query ?……..Bukayo Saka gets kicked to high heaven without any protection from the referee other than receiving a yellow card for retaliation…..

    Change? Really? “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss!

  4. Unfortunately under the newly implemented directive of “letting the game flow”, match officials have effectively been given
    licence to ignore the targeting of more skilled players, which has encouraged managers to implement these tactics.( Pep with B Silva on Saka) It’s the unintended consequence of an admirable attempt to cut out “going down too easily” & “buying fouls” but is sadly looking like a return to “letting him know you’re there” by “leaving something on him” of times we thought were in the past but are still admired by a large number of TV commentators & pundits.

  5. Ukesox’

    “Admired by a large number of TV commentators and pundits”

    Yes, indeed, and also practiced by an increasing number of managers (not just the Pulis, Allardyce, Dyche etc.type), but also Pep, as you say in your example of B. Silva, last week.

    Nothing will change under Webb, despite noises to the contrary. The odd press comment, or an occasional apology / explanation will be of no consequence.
    In the last week, we have seen the deliberate elbow by Haaland and the atrocious Man Utd player foul against Leicester totally ignored.

  6. I fail to understand how the premier league can be so stupid as to allow the refs to ruin a global brand by obviously tainting the brand with incompetence. Are they so daft they don’t expect their audience to eventually turn away from viewing the crooked theater that is the prem? Why would you allow the hired help to ruin your product and do nothing about it? What kind of idiots own the Prem anyway and how on earth can they be so daft? Hell in a handbasket.

  7. @Mike,

    this is the bell I’ve been ringing for quite a while. At some point, the global exposure part is going to create a problem by highlighting the moronic incompetence of PGMOL. The days of the old (manure)boys club are numbered if you ask me. people are starting to notice some thing is amiss. That errors do occur, that they screw up results. And it ain’t affecting only Arsenal…by not giving a damn about errors and bias against Arsenal, PGMOL just made the whole organisation rotten and incompetent. This is like gangrene or termites. one you’ve got it, it is terminal unless you cut-off the limb or the house that is affected.

    How and why the owners have so far done pretty much zilch to fight that is beyond my understanding, except for the fact that most clubs are northernly and London area club are mostly not british owned…not that it is totally ‘exact’. But when a Manchester referee or VAR is in charge of a game with manchester involved, this just cannot be ok.

    Imagine a World Cup final England vs Brasil with a brazilian referee. All of England would be screaming murder and ask the Uk government to declare war on Brazil. But this is what happens every week-end in the PL.

    Lately we’ve seen a change in attitude towards screw-ups… maybe it is just the beginning. But definitely somebody is starting to think about the line you are expressing : tarnishing of a global brand

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