It was on Monday night, when Graham Poll was speaking live on Setanta Sports in the aftermath of John Terry’s controversial dismissal against Everton, that a serious weakness in top flight referees was revealed.
Poll claimed that even the best of officials find it extremely hard to send off big-name players, and that it is more difficult to show a red card to the England captain than it is to a youngster just breaking through the ranks.
Poll said that in the moments before a referee sends off a high-profile player, thoughts always rush through their minds about the consequences of their decision. All the controversy. All the talk in the media. Maybe all the criticism they would receive. Fair enough – they are only human.
The problem, however, is not when referees just think of these consequences, but when they actually take of their mind so much that they eventually duck out of punishing the player appropriately.
Graham Poll admitted the following evening, when speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, that in the early part of his refereeing career he let that happen to himself. If it happened to him, one of the best officials the Premier League has seen in recent times, then it must be happening to many young referees at the moment as well. That is a serious worry.
There was always bound to be some angry reaction to Poll’s revelations, and Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, provided it in his press conference yesterday.
“For me it was embarrassing when you listen to that,” thundered Wenger.
“They ask whether it was a sending-off or not. He says you have to consider that you are sending off the captain of the national team.”
“What has that got to do with the rulebook? The rulebook doesn’t look at passports. When you listen to that it is embarrassing for the referees.”
“Is it a sending-off or not? Are you from England or not from England? Are you 17 or 30? It has nothing to do with that.”
“It is a big concern when you hear the national number one referee talk like that.”
It certainly is.