Refereeing woes

The greatest referee moaner is beyond doubt Manchester United's Alex Ferguson. Though you might say he's somewhat selective, writes Brian Glanville.

Such was the enraged outburst of Arsenal's manager Arsene Wenger at the Swiss referee Massimo Busacca at the end of the Gunners' Champions League defeat in Barcelona that UEFA took disciplinary action. You could understand why Wenger was incensed. Busacca as we know had sent off the Arsenal striker Robin van Persie after a highly controversial second yellow card. Clearly offside, and indeed after van Persie had even glanced round at the linesman's upraised flag himself, the Dutchman had run on to take a wayward shot at goal, technically an offence though a somewhat innocuous one, but enough for Busacca to flourish the yellow card and expel van Persie. Thus burying any remote chance the Gunners had of saving a game in which they had been dominated.

Strange to say, Busacca's doubtful decision might even be thought to have enabled Wenger to save face. For the truth is that his own arguable mistakes had surely contributed to the dominance of a Barcelona team which made light of losing both its first choice centre backs — Carlos Puyol, injured, and the suspended Gerard Pique. It looked as if the Barca defence would thus be highly vulnerable to attack by a usually gifted Arsenal offensive but in the event they were, with the exception of Sergio Busquets' own goal, which put the Gunners back in contention, largely untroubled throughout the game.

A game in which Cesc Fabregas, thrown into the fray though there were such manifest doubts about his fitness after a hamstring injury, had a sad return to the club which had first found and developed him and from which he had been whisked away by Arsenal as a 16-year-old. For it was his reckless back-heel which set up a vital goal for Barcelona. Something which would surely never have occurred had he been fully fit. Overall his contribution so often crucial was largely negligible.

This was one obvious mistake by Wenger but there were others. Robin van Persie, who had hurt himself while scoring against Barca at The Emirates, was also pitched into the return game though as it transpired plainly not ready yet. And it was baffling that when, as late as 78 minutes, an Arsenal substitute was sent on it should be the limited big Dane, Nicklas Bendtner, a frequent blower of his own trumpet, rather than the talented Moroccan international, Chamakh.

And why you wondered did Wenger use or misuse an ineffectual Czech Tomas Rosicky, and fail to bring on the elusive little Russian, Andrei Arshavin, such a threat to Barca at The Emirates, until 74 minutes.

This, however explicable, was in fact only the latest, if most dramatic, of Wenger's conflict with referees. Just days earlier he'd been up in arms over a couple of indisputable bad decision which had robbed the Gunners of League victory at home to Sunderland. In that case, Arshavin was involved. First when he was blatantly shoved in the back by the Sunderland centre half Titus Bramble and given a free-kick by referee Anthony Taylor, then when, a linesman quite incorrectly gave Arshavin offside when he was running through to score.

“I'm too disgusted to speak about it,” declared Wenger. “These things can have an impact on the Premier League. Justice has not been done. The decisions have punished us severely, especially the offside that wasn't offside.”

All true enough, but just a moment. Shortly before that, at Wembley in only the second minute of the League Cup final, when Lee Bowyer broke clear of a scattered Arsenal defence, only and blatantly to be brought down by the young Polish goalkeeper, Wojciech Szczesny, a deluded linesman quite wrongly flagged Bowyer offside. Thus, no penalty was given, and the ‘keeper, who could have been sent off, remained on field.

Of course, the great referee moaner is beyond doubt Manchester United's Alex Ferguson, though you might say he's somewhat selective. Thus when the controversial referee Mark Clattenburg bizarrely failed to send off Wayne Rooney at Wigan, when he had thrust an elbow into the face of young McCarthy, giving him a hug and a yellow card instead, Fergie was all sarcasm and bile, declaring that some would wish to see Rooney electrocuted.

Yet, in no time at all, he was ranting away that his favourite bete noire among referees, Martin Atkinson, deploring the fact that he had been deputed to control the crucial Manchester United-Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge, and afterwards criticising his failure to send off Chelsea's Brazilian defender David Luiz for what should have been two yellow cards. He wasn't wrong, but it got him a summons from the FA disciplinary committee.

Which no doubt was why we didn't hear a subsequent word from him when, at Anfield, Jamie Carragher was guilty of an appalling foul on Nani, which has put him out for weeks, but stayed on the field, as indeed did Liverpool's Maxi Rodrigues, when he brought down United's Rafael Da Silva. Referee Phil Dowd did nothing. Not a peep from Fergie, not even on the Manchester United closed circuit TV. Aware even afraid, of the FA's disciplinary mechanism, it would seem. Surely not talk about the boy who cried wolf, in Aesop's fable.

Soon after Clattenburg's indulgence at Wigan, one saw him officiate at Fulham versus Blackburn, giving a very late penalty, whereby Fulham won. A Blackburn player Grant Hanley at a corner, clasped Fulham's Aaron Hughes round the middle.

A foul beyond doubt but hugely resented by Blackburn whose manager, Steve Kean, conceded the point, as being “technically” valid, adding that if all such fouls were given, there'd be a lot of penalties in a game. Hardly a defender of his defence. Clattenburg then decided to take a month off. But when Howard Webb, allegedly best of the bunch, won't send off De Jong for that shocking foul on Alonso in the World Cup final, what, pray, are we entitled to respect?