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Saturday, Aug. 25, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Bad precedent set by Hackett in incident involving Styles


LONDON — Rob Styles went to work last Sunday and made a human error.

Christopher Davies

Unfortunately for Styles he is a Premier League referee and they are not permitted to get anything wrong without public examination and humiliation.

Players can miss open goals, let the ball slip through their hands and football curses but moves on.

Styles saw Steve Finnan's challenge on Florent Malouda as a penalty, which was converted by Frank Lampard to give Chelsea a 1-1 draw at Liverpool. From his view at real speed it is not the worst decision he has made, but the luxury of slow-mo replays from different angles showed it wasn't a foul.

The following day Keith Hackett, head of the Premier League referees, telephoned Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez to apologize. So did Styles, perhaps under "advice."

It is not believed that Hackett phoned Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United) or Sammy Lee (Bolton) whose teams were also on the receiving end of crucial goal-affecting refereeing errors last weekend.

So why was Styles' mistake any worse than other errors by match officials?

Perhaps it proves that referees are far more likely to be criticized for making a decision than doing nothing. Don't give a decision and you get far less stick than if you do — a crazy logic but one that is true.

Hackett lambasted Styles in the media and has dropped him from this weekend's fixture list.

It is a dreadful example of crass bullying by a man pandering to media hysteria. As man management it could hardly have been managed with less subtlety.

Styles did not make an error in law, only in judgment, which of course is invariably subjective.

He made a mistake — so did goalkeepers Jens Lehman (Arsenal), Colin Doyle (Birmingham) and Tony Warner (Fulham) for the second time this season, yet their managers did not pillory them in the press or drop them.

Hackett has set a precedent by phoning Benitez to apologize. After the next high profile mistake by a referee Hackett will be expected to be on the manager's sympathy line again to grovel.

It is not believed Hackett telephones managers who incorrectly criticize referees — the, easiest and most convenient of excuses — in the wake of a defeat for their team.

Mind you, he would need a loan from Roman Abramovich to pay his telephone bill if he did that.

Why couldn't Hackett have spoken to Styles in private and just left him off this weekend's games and let people put two and two together?

Why did he adopt such an insensitive method?

How can he expect Styles to respect him after the public humiliation?

Styles is a solid, experienced referee who deserved better. Hackett should know better.

It is a pity Hackett's bosses did not publicly condemn him for appalling man-management. Maybe they did it privately, which is what Hackett should have done with Styles.

Hackett was trying to show that referees are accountable for their mistakes, but he made a far bigger error than Styles did and should also be accountable.

He has guaranteed Styles carries baggage for the rest of his career.

Styles was hung out to dry by his boss which, ironically, has seen public opinion turn from being anti-Styles to very anti-Hackett.

* * * * *

RIVALING Keith Hackett in tact — or rather, lack of it — is Tottenham Hotspur.

Many of us have been on holiday and bumped into someone we know. But you must have a degree in gullibility to believe that Sevilla coach Juande Ramos, Tottenham club secretary John Alexander and director Paul Kemsley all just happened to be in the same Spanish hotel at the same by coincidence last week.

It is an insult to supporters to expect them to swallow this piffle.

Martin Jol, the Tottenham manager, is a decent man, more decent than some of those who decide his future, many would say.

If the board believes he is not the manager to take Tottenham to the next stage after two fifth-place finishes then he should have been replaced before he chose the new players for the squad this summer.

Only in football would a business authorize the investment of £40 million and weeks later try to replace the man who had supervised the spending.

Not for nothing has Spurs had four permanent new managers in just over six years.

The statements from both parties merely added to the confusion and farce.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for London Daily Telegraph.


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