If you thought United’s exit from the FA cup (thus bringing to an end their treble dreams) was the most shocking aspect of Saturday’s game at Old Trafford, think again! Martin Atkinson’s performance as the match official was the stuff nightmares were made of (especially for Man Utd fans like me). From the opening whistle to practically the last kick of the match, he got most of his decisions wrong and thus ended up earning Sir Alex Ferguson’s ire. What is even more irritating is that, thus far, no action has been taken against Martin Atkinson whereas both Sir Alex and his assistant, Carlos Queiroz, have been sent letters asking them to explain their post match comments on refereeing standards which is bullshit if you ask me.
To begin with the decision that started it all was the penalty appeal against Ronaldo which was not given at about the 7th minute. Ronaldo’s reputation as a diver precedes him wherever he goes and therefore he ends up not getting most decisions which he should be getting. Harry Redknapp referred to Distin’s challenge as a casual shoulder barge and stated that he would have been disappointed had the penalty been given. From my minimal understanding of the game of football, a shoulder barge is when you use a little upper body strength to cover the attacker from the ball, not when you bash into someone inside the penalty box who is running full speed towards the goal and that is what exactly happened. So, I fail to see Harry Redknapp’s logic behind his and the referee’s reasoning.
It is hardly worth getting frustrated over one such decision especially when your team goes on to dominate the entire match but when you see your stand-in goalkeeper sent off unjustly for a foul and when pretty much every other kick of the ball is not going your way, then the anger will definitely go to your head. I have seen referees like Howard Webb and Alan Wiley think many times and confer with the linesmen before making the decision to send off a player even on the most obvious red card decisions. But the immediateness of the red card shown to Kuszack was what got on my nerve the most, especially when Rooney was on the goal line and Tevez was just behind Kuszack to stop Baros. That decision arguably had the most impact on the game. With our stand-in goalkeeper sent off, Ferdinand took his place and when you lose your most mobile defender just like that, it is difficult to get back into the game even when you are the world’s best team playing at home and United ended up losing the game 1-0.
None of these are excuses for United’s exit from the cup by no means; United had ample opportunities to put the game to bed with three shots cleared off the line and two shots off the post, so saying that refereeing decisions are the reason for the loss is by no means true. But it is true that such decisions are becoming commonplace especially in English football and it is surprising that neither the Chief of Reefrees, Keith Hackett nor the FA is doing anything about it.
Ronaldo’s post-match comments summed up the state of refereeing perfectly. With techinally skilled players not given enough protection by match officials, players like Ronaldo, Rooney etc. might have to change their styles a lot to prevent getting kicked because that is the only way to stop them. One of Arsene Wenger’s previous comments also comes to mind in this situation. During one of his post-match interviews (probably the one in which Eduardo suffered his horrendous injury), he stated that the opposition have finally figured out the only the way to stop Arsenal is to kick Arsenal. The same holds true for any team that plays entertaining and attacking football.
The FA definitely need to make a firm stand in situations like these. While it was nice to see Rob Styles suspended for a weekend for his unbelievable penalty for Chelsea against Liverpool early in the season, those kind of hard and strict punishments need to be enforced more often to make match officials understand the importance of their role on the field. Other officials should look up to people like Howard Webb and Alan Wiley who are content to let the game flow and give out as few cards as possible and take their example in making informed, proper decisions even if a few seconds are wasted in the process. Officiating a football match is by no means an easy job and I do understand that but the way the current situation is falling on a downhill slide (especially in the BPL), the future does look a lot less brighter for football in general.