If it wasn’t abundantly clear before this weekend, it should be now. The referees of the English Premier League are detracting from an otherwise great season of soccer. Normally when a team like Burnley steals points from a team like Chelsea away from home, that team gets its fair share of plaudits and admiration. This weekend the world is trying to deduce why Jose Mourinho shared his “lucky” numbers in his post-match interview. And instead of talking about Phillippe Coutinho’s wonder strike against Southampton, the soccer world will instead talk about Kevin Friend and his reluctance to call, well anything. It’s becoming more than a footnote, it’s now the story.
Yesterday it was Martin Atkinson detracting from an important point for the Clarets, because instead the chatter is about how he sent off Nemanja Matic for retaliating against what should have been an immediate red card offense for Ashley Barnes. Not only will Matic miss Chelsea’s League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur, his sending off coupled with Chelsea’s inability to put away weaker sides at home has given Manchester City a glimmer of title hope and Burnley a slight ease of relegation fears.
Today the soccer world watched Spurs rescue a point from West Ham United with a late penalty decision that went their way. Two and a bit hours later the world sees Southampton aggrieved by what could have been four penalty decisions and two Liverpool players sent off in the first half of a game that meant so much in the race for the top four. If referees had consistency, then both of those controversial calls that felt linked so closely together would have gone the same way. Even if the calls in the end from Friend were right (Southampton were denied one stonewall penalty and despite what the referees association says Simon Mignolet did handle the ball outside the box which should have been a straight red), the fact that there were so many claims for one team in one half in a game of this magnitude speaks a great deal to how referees are now perceived.
This entire mess is made worse when replay provides an out for the referees and the FA and yet video review seems as far off as transparency does. A weekend like this that could shape the futures of so many clubs should ensure the correct decisions be made in the future, but it seems that putting one’s head in the sand and wishing the problem away is the step the FA wants to take.
There were too many good story lines to speak of this weekend for it all to be overshadowed by officials.
But the fact that I’m writing this piece at all tells you everything you need to know. Par for the course, sadly.
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