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Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009

PREMIER REPORT

Wishes for 2009: Less unfair criticism of referees, fewer fake injuries


LONDON — Apart from England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 the year could hardly have gone better for English football. In fact, the World Cup-winning year of 1966 excepted, 2008 is probably the most successful 12 months the sport has ever enjoyed.

Christopher Davies

Manchester United was crowned Premier League, European and World Champions. Cristiano Ronaldo picked up individual awards as the best player in England, Europe and the world.

The Champions League final, a game of high quality, entertainment and excitement, saw two English teams — United and Chelsea — captivate a worldwide audience with John Terry's penalty miss providing a sad but dramatic climax.

England, under the astute management of Fabio Capello, regained the confidence of the fans with some outstanding displays which has seen it win all four 2010 World Cup qualifiers with a 2-1 win over Germany in Berlin thrown in for good measure.

It was, indeed, a very good year and how this can be equaled let alone beaten in 2009 is difficult to imagine.

We can look forward to what promises to be more than the usual two-horse race for the Premier League title and England completing its World Cup qualification with the same style in which it started.

Yet 2008 ended with the sort of ugly front-page headlines the beautiful game could have done without when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was charged with assault and affray, which carries a jail sentence of up to five years, following a nightclub brawl.

The news would have come like a hammer blow to many within Soho Square, headquarters of the Football Association, which wanted Capello to make Gerrard the England captain rather than John Terry because he had never been involved in the off-field scrapes for which the Chelsea defender had made the front pages.

Gerrard was Mr. Clean, the ideal ambassador and a family man which makes the charges against him not so much surprising but staggering. Whatever the outcome the controversy will be a tattoo for life for the Liverpool captain.

* * * * *

THIS COLUMN has two wishes for 2009, but as I write them I can see pigs flying past the window.

The first is that managers stop criticizing referees after games. The public is becoming fed up with such lame duck excuses. A referee makes an average of 220 decisions during a game and it is estimated 94 percent are correct. The other six percent are human error which of course managers and players are never guilty of.

The second wish, again one of naive optimism, is that players stop exaggerating pain level and clutching their face when their face has not been touched. It is cheating, a deliberate attempt to get an opponent sent off. If referees occasionally do not give what may appear blatant penalties, it is because players dive so much they are guilty of football's equivalent of crying wolf. They have lost the sympathy vote.

The slightest touch to the shoulders, neck or even the face sees an opponent fall over clutching an area where no contact was made. Why does pain always seem to affect a footballer's face? And when a player IS seriously hurt he does NOT roll over on the ground four or five times.

* * * * *
CAN'T even put into words what I thought of him when I walked into the Football Association's offices and saw who was in charge, I knew what was coming.

"I expected that and it didn't surprise me at all. I've had him many times before and I know what he is like, he really isn't good enough. He is just a poor chairman unfortunately and I've seen him make a mess of so many things before.

"I never complain about a chairman, but this guy is scary. What can you do? Someone thinks he is good enough, but he is definitely not."

Can you imagine referee Steve Tanner saying this about Lord Triesman, the chairman of the Football Association?

He would almost certainly never officiate another Premier League game again.

Yet they are, more or less, the quotes of Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp about Tanner after their defeat at West Bromwich — with names and jobs changed.

Unsurprisingly but disappointingly the F.A. did not think these comments were worthy of a misconduct charge. One of the top 20 managers in England humiliates one of the top 19 referees in the country and this is OK.

It is almost laughable to remember the F.A. is behind a program called Respect aimed at improving relationships between managers, players and referees.

More like Disrespect.

If this column consistently writes about this subject it is because the controversy continues to be one of the main Premier League talking points.

Redknapp felt that West Brom's first goal should have been chalked off for a foul by Roman Bednar on Michael Dawson.

If Dawson was pushed for the opening goal, a referee can only give what he sees and does not have the benefit of multi-angle, slow-motion replays.

While opinions are subjective, Redknapp's words and mathematics do not appear to be accurate.

"I've had him many times before" — in fact, "poor" Tanner had refereed Redknapp teams only three times before the 2-0 defeat at West Bromwich and appears to have been something of a good luck charm for the manager who had recorded two wins and a draw with the Somerset official in charge.

Last March, Portsmouth beat Birmingham 4-2 with no Pompey yellow or red cards.

In August 2007, Portsmouth defeated Bolton 3-1 and again Pompey was card-less.

When Redknapp was manager of Southampton, Tanner was the referee as Saints drew 0-0 at Leicester with two cautions for the visitors.

Which hardly smacks of "many times" and two yellow cards in three games for any side can hardly be deemed excessive or an example of harsh refereeing.

Redknapp's services to English football will see him honored by the Football Writers' Association at a Tribute Night on Jan. 11.

He has given so much to the game . . . his ability to find players we have never heard of (occasionally from countries we have never heard of) is unsurpassed while his teams always play football with the emphasis on style rather than strength.

So it all the more disappointing that a decent manager should slander a decent referee in this way.

While the F.A. allows match officials to be undermined in this way managers will continue to use and abuse referees in this way. It seems so obviously wrong you wonder how the guardians of English football allow it.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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