Whether Fernando Torres’ fingernail scrape on Jan Vertonghen during Spurs’ 1-1 draw with Chelsea merited further Football Association action is a point that will divide supporters. What is not in doubt, however, is the problem with asking referees to review incidents.
Dean will have been asked the simple question by the FA this week: did you see the Torres incident in the 52nd minute when he appeared to drag his nails across the face of Vertonghen? Had he answered 'No', the case would then have gone to a referees' panel who decide whether the incident constituted violent conduct and merited a red card.
Should the panel have taken the view that it was red card, it would automatically have gone to an independent regulatory commission who would decide how long Torres should be banned. There would be written submissions from both sides but no personal hearing.
Last season, had Dean answered 'No', he would have been asked a further question: 'What action would you have taken had you seen it?' The panel system has now replaced that second part.
The flaw in the system is that referees hate the responsibility of retrospective citing. If they say they did not see an incident they leave themselves open to the charge of incompetence. Secondly, their actions are then perceived by clubs as vindictive. Animosity builds and the referee in question find himself unofficially steered away from officiating in games involving that club.
As it is, when Dean was asked whether he and his officials saw the Torres incident his answer was 'Yes' - but with important caveats.
It is the classic route out of trouble for referees who feel they will be left isolated and under-fire if they cite players. Dean said that one of his assistants saw the incident - probably linesman Jake Collin - but did not see it, as per the FA statement, "in its entirety". Therefore the charge of incompetence is sidestepped and it prevents the FA from taking the punitive action that gets the clubs' backs up.
The solution would be to take the retrospective system away from the referees altogether and refer the process from the beginning to the panel. But it does not look like that is going to happen any time soon.
As a postscript, the Callum McManaman foul on the Massadiao Haidara in March that attracted such attention has been cited by some in relation to the Torres case. McManaman's foul was an "on-the-ball" incident for which it is taken as given that the referee had some sight. Therefore retrospective action was previously not applicable by default.
As from this season, retrospective action will be possible in such on-the-ball incidents as the one involving McManaman when it is the case that the referee is completely unsighted and both assistants are also looking elsewhere (ie, at potential offside decisions). But that too will rely on the referee admitting that he saw nothing.