United at Old Trafford: Lucky, Good, or Something Else?
Full disclosure: I’m a Spurs fan. Have been for round about six years, which just so happens to be just before the last time Mark Clattenburg took charge of a Manchester United v Spurs fixture at Old Trafford. For any who needed their memory jogged (or who weren’t fans at the time):
Look, Tottenham didn’t deserve to win on Saturday. They were undone by the same problems that have plagued the entire season to date. Falling behind early, a few naive moments in defense, poor set piece defending. While they generally pass the ball well through the midfield, striker play has been awful, for the most part.
That said, Spurs shouldn’t be forced to beat the referee as well. Old Trafford is tough enough to begin with. Some might remember Spurs going into halftime with a 2-0 lead at this fixture two seasons ago, before Howard Webb called an incorrect penalty on Gomes, after which point the floodgates opened and United won 5-2. Getting back to Clattenburg, I also remember him taking charge of a Spurs-United match at White Hart Lane two or three years ago, and it sticks in my mind because Paul Scholes got away with three bad and cynical fouls without being shown any card at all.
Needless to say, when I saw who the referee was for this match, I went in expecting an uphill battle. Nani’s goal has been discussed ad nauseum on here, on pundit shows, and everywhere else so I’ll be brief when I get to it. I’m more concerned about the other incidents in what was a very clean match with few other talking points at all. But close examination does provide some enlightening details, in my opinion. Here’s a short rundown – by minute – of all the other incidents in the match (I’ve tried to put away my lilywhite colored specs to do this, please cut me a little slack!):
1′st minute – Nani goes up for a 50/50 ball with Benoit Assou-Ekotto, clean play but Nani decides to roll around on the pitch for a few seconds and make an appeal to Clattenburg. A pretty tame moment, but bares mentioning for all that happened later…
2′ – …including because of what happens in the next minute. Nani, now popping up on the opposite side, attacks Alan Hutton. There might’ve been minor (incidental) contact with Hutton, but not even close to being a foul. Nani then loses control of the ball as it goes out for a goal kick, takes 3 more steps and dives with no one around him. He then puts out his arms to appeal for God-knows-what. At this point Clattenburg should’ve at least given Nani a telling-off to stop all the complaining and play-acting (a yellow card for this sort of crap should be the way forward IMO), yet does nothing.
17′ – William Gallas receives the first yellow of the match for a foul on Javier Hernandez. The foul occurs near midfield, was not malicious but a fraction late, and was Gallas’ first foul of the match. Extremely harsh on Gallas, and of course now he has to be careful for the rest of the match.
21′ - The linesman makes a mistake in Spurs’ favor, as the ball goes over the touch line before Bale crosses to win a corner. Although the cynical side of me thinks that the only refereeing mistakes likely to go in Spurs’ favor in a match like this are the objective ones (was the ball out of play, who was last to touch it, etc), rather than the subjective ones.
30′ - Younes Kaboul makes a silly rash challenge on Hernandez which earns United a dangerous free kick and himself a yellow card. Which then led to Vidic’s goal. No complaints here, Kaboul’s defending in this instance was poor.
40′ - Park Ji-Sung fouls Aaron Lennon in Spurs’ half of the pitch; a slide tackle from behind while Lennon was away on a counter. Considering Lennon’s pace, the space in front of him, and the lack of United defenders back, it’s obvious Park knew what he was doing. Clattenburg doesn’t think this warrants a yellow however.
45′ - Michael Carrick fouls Assou-Ekotto from behind while he’s attacking in United’s half. Not a dangerous foul though, and didn’t deserve a card in my opinion. However, after Clattenburg whistles for the foul, Rio Ferdinand kicks the ball 50 yards up the field in frustration. I was under the impression this constitutes an automatic yellow, just like taking your shirt off after a goal. Guess not.
84′ - The Nani “goal”. For video, analysis, and discussion of the incident here’s the Gaffer’s post on the subject. I found an article in the Wall Street Journal of all places which pretty much sums up my viewpoint on the incident.
What I do feel the need to mention is why on earth Rio Ferdinand was allowed to take part in the discussion between Clattenburg and the linesman (Simon Beck) after Beck raised his flag when the goal was scored. And yes, I realize that it isn’t that dissimilar to the protests Tom Huddlestone made to the referee after his goal was originally disallowed two weeks ago at Fulham. But surely players shouldn’t be allowed to take part in decisions which are supposed to be made by the officials alone. It hurts the ability of the referees to do their job, and the integrity of the game, so that people like me can watch on TV and make an argument that something sinister is going on. Since there’s no culpability of the officials after the fact, one never truly knows how a decision is reached.
Finally, after the goal was given, and all the Spurs players protested for the better part of a minute, Luka Modric was given a yellow card after Clattenburg had had enough. I thought that as captain, Modric was entitled to an explanation of his decision to award the goal (especially as Ferdinand – the opposite captain – was allowed to confer before it was given) ?
All in all, an appalling display by the referee. 3 yellow cards to Spurs, 1 of which was deserved (Kaboul) ; none to United, who deserved 3 (Park, Ferdinand, and Nani for persistent play acting).
This is all an account of what my eyes have seen in one match, and isn’t meant to project what happens in all matches of this sort. But for marquee matches between two top teams, there’s only a pool of four or five generally recognized “elite referees” which do most of the big matches (of which Clattenburg and Webb are two), and at least with recent United-Spurs matches, they consistently get big decisions wrong, and in favor of the so-called “bigger club”.
So what do you think? Am I just a whining Spurs fan? Is there a shred of truth there? Are there other good examples in recent history of major decisions going in favor of the Uniteds and the Chelsea’s when they shouldn’t have? Are there major changes needed in the way matches are officiated, and the officials assigned to them? Please share in the comments.