On a morning (Eastern time) when all the winners are lower in the table than the vanquished opponents, today is a classic example where people will boast about the greatness of the Premiership and its unpredictability, a great league with tons of entertainment and intrigue.
However, a closer look at one result in particular will show you a classic example where people will pull out another common argument this year: all that’s wrong with refereeing in the Premiership. Simply stated, referee Phil Dowd was having none of a United victory at Craven Cottage today. Manchester United’s play in the first half looked to be enough to settle the matter, but Dowd’s insistence on pedantic “he challenged my authority” cards instead of noticing the “that just drew blood” fouls meant United were always going to be on the back foot.
Cristiano Ronaldo is, beyond doubt, the most polarizing character in worltd football. There is no middle ground with this guy. He’s easy to admire, as evidenced by his sublime talent. His array of flicks, tricks and movement bewitch and bewilder. His pace and power are breathtaking. He’s also easy to hate, as evidenced by the venom spat his way. He loves to preen, show off, and soak in adulation. He has no appetite for tough tackles and tracking back. He shows a disdainful streak towards opponents and referees, to the point where it appears that refs take great joy in refusing his claims for a foul and dishing out cards to the Manchester United #7 instead of giving him the whistle he’s earned.
But make no mistake about it; he is easily the most provoked player in England. In fact, it’s quite admirable that he shows the restraint he does.
Against Fulham, CR7 was clobbered around the pitch. On more than one occasion, John Paintsil clattered the Ballon d’Or winner, driving a knee deep into the thigh, then raking studs down the achilles in two more noteworthy exchanges. Instead of protection from the referee, Phil Dowd took exception to the time spent on the ground from the floored United player and Ronaldo earned a firm talking–to that almost resulted in a card. Eventually, Ronaldo did receive a caution for a foul that resulted due to the referee’s refusal to do his job and address the issue on his own. Finally Paintsil was carded, but it was for a relatively benign trip on Ji-Sung Park. Had Ronaldo been anywhere in sight, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we would have seen yet another trademark Phil Dowd smirk and “washout” motion, indicating that there would be no love for the men in red.
Ronaldo’s behaviour today was dreadful; lots of complaints, lots of backchat and lots of gestures that showed his displeasure with the way the game was being refereed. But this is actually proof of why respect campaigns are a farce. For, as much as Ronaldo can legitimately be called impetuous, a whiner, a baby, and an egomaniac, all of these titles ignore one simple fact:
He was right. John Paintsil should not have been allowed to participate in 90 minutes of football today, and Phil Dowd missed a hell of a game.
In the 80th minute, instead of carding the offending (again!) Paintsil, referee Phil Dowd decided to ignore the gouge of evidence on Ronaldo’s thigh and give the United villain a stern warning for taking offense to yet another violent foul.
In minute 87, we have another foul, another card, another sending off. The foul? Yes, John Paintsil. The card? That’s right- to Manchester United. Rooney threw the ball back in the direction of where Phil Dowd insisted the foul took place, and Dowd saw fit to offer a second yellow card. Was it the tone in which Rooney returned the ball to the spot of the foul on a United player (by “That man”, again, no less) that drew the ire of the referee? Was it the impression that the ref was somehow “shown up” by a United player? Maybe it was a perverse interpretation of the time wasting rule, as Rooney’s throw went beyond the mark.
But to see two Phil Dowd invest so much time in venting spittle on Ronaldo’s face while other players weren’t named by an announcer unless they were committing fouls, is unacceptable. The referee’s job is to protect players and promote fair play. Through his actions, Dowd maximised face time on TV by ignoring the dangerous play and talking, at length, to the aggrieved.
Was Bobby Zamora carded for dangerously pushing Jonny Evans out of bounds? Was Paintsil punished for his contributions against Ronaldo, which clearly consisted of “kick him in the air and see how long it takes him to land”?
No. Instead, he sent a player off for throwing a ball back to the place of the foul. He gave cards for fouls inflicted when the referee refused to protect the player.
In Sunday’s papers, Phil Dowd will be lauded as a referee who stood up to mighty Manchester United and didn’t flinch. He put the bullies in their place. He barked just as loudly and rashly at any player who would be under threat of caution for exactly the same behaviour. With the exception of a no-brainer intentional handball, his decision making and confrontational behaviour made it clear that he was more interested in promoting himself and make a name at the expense of Manchester United instead of rewarding quality football.