James Lawton: After Eduardo, Wenger should know dangerous play cannot be ignored
Gallas gets away with an atrocious tackle and the referee sails blithely on
Saturday 23 January 2010
Alan Wiley, the referee who faced down as innocently as some clear-eyed martyr the rage of Sir Alex Ferguson a few months ago, is now being given a virtually free ride.
It is being provided by all those who rushed, legitimately, to his support on the occasion of the classically intemperate attack by the Manchester United manager.
On that first occasion Wiley was guaranteed to walk free even from a kangaroo court after a near faultless afternoon's work. This time, though, he should be dead to rights. That he is not the runaway winner of the award for football scandal of the week is little short of breathtaking.
He committed an appalling error when he failed to punish William Gallas properly for a brutal late tackle on Mark Davies – and then compounded the distorting effect of his negligence by reporting, contrary to the impression he had given Bolton, that he had seen the incident and deemed it unworthy of any action.
The absurd result is that Gallas gets away with the kind of offence which has long been deemed the most serious in the game, the calculated, over-the-ball tackle most likely to cause serious injury.
When Eduardo da Silva had his career threatened by the unfettered attention of Birmingham City's Martin Taylor, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger's initial rage was pretty much unlimited. He said that Taylor, who received wide support among fellow professionals as a player not known for a nasty streak, should be banned for life.
Wenger withdrew from that position quickly enough, as Bolton's Owen Coyle this week modified his claim that Gallas had committed an "assault" on his player. However, in neither case was there any doubt that serious fouls had been committed.
Whether Taylor's offence was deliberately destructive, or merely one born of poor timing and extreme recklessness, was beside the point. Rightly, he was sent off.
That Gallas received no sanction, not even a yellow card – when a red one was glaringly appropriate – was an outrage only compounded by the fact that Arsenal were allowed to play on against 10 men and score a hugely important goal.
Here, we have another example of a game being warped by the failure of an official to do his job. Human errors will, of course, always happen but it is sickening when such mistakes, ones of great influence on individual matches, are allowed to go unacknowledged by the authorities, especially when video review happens to make the nature of the offence quite clear.
Because Wiley claims that he saw the incident the matter is closed. It is quite absurd. No one is saying that Arsenal, having regained some poise and already reduced Bolton's two-goal lead by one, might not have eventually triumphed in other circumstances. But they would have found it considerably more difficult if they had been reduced to 10 men, as they should have been.
Yes, I guess we all know where we are heading with this. It is back into the great debate about technological assistance and the Luddite refusal of the football authorities even to begin to embrace it effectively after a whole decade of the 21st century.
What the current situation says in the important matter of retrospective discipline is that the referee is essentially infallible. If he takes action, however wrong-headed, or admits to seeing something which he deems unworthy of his attention, the process stops dead.
Gallas gets away with his atrocious, dangerous tackle. The referee sails blithely on in the assumption that he is the sole arbiter of what is just and what is not. And football, the world's most popular and profitable game, continues to trail behind most serious-minded sports in their administration of on-field justice.
It means that sports like tennis, rugby union (for all its other inconsistencies), rugby league and, moving swiftest of all to an infinitely healthier understanding of the importance of avoiding the kind of hideous error which so disfigured the recent World Cup play-off in Paris, when Thierry Henry so deceitfully and without repercussion handled France's passage into the finals, cricket, are a light year ahead of their senior rival.
One unacceptable premise is that football referees are entitled to some deity ranking way beyond the officials in other sports. One argument against the adoption of cricket's referral system is that it would undermine umpires. It has merely exposed the most incompetent of them.
Much was made of the Graeme Smith controversy in Johannesburg, when the South African captain stood his ground, on the way to a brilliant century, against English claims that he had fallen victim to the finest of edges. Risibly, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, suggested this could be the death of the new system. As it happened, the case against Smith was less than utterly unassailable and it was also true that the avoiding of serious mistakes in the four-Test series reached a quite remarkable level. Also dramatic was the reduction in frivolous, hectoring appeals.
The feeble argument of some anti-technological forces in football is that the game would become a hopelessly staccato series of brief bouts of football sandwiched between video appeals. Plainly, feasible application of film assistance will always vary from sport to sport. In football the main challenge is not to monitor all decisions but prevent the kind of travesty that occurred in Paris. The best use of technology, clearly, is to help the referee avoid the kind of error which can make a mockery of any contest.
This was not prevented at the Emirates this week and if it is right that much thought will need to go into the question of whether such random events can easily be rectified on the spot there is already an overwhelming case for giving a fourth official, armed with a pretty much all-seeing eye, a much more important role.
Unquestionably, such a fourth man with some understanding of the game, rather than a black and white set of laws, could have made a vital contribution this week. He could have wiped out a goal which flowed directly from a piece of dangerous, cynical play. Also, he could have ensured William Gallas faced some measure of proper justice.
Ponting protects a great tradition
Quote of the week came from a cricket star of the ages. It was supplied, not for the first time, by Australia's enduringly combative captain, Ricky Ponting, who is currently fighting to defend the structure of an Australian game which for so long has provided such a brilliant foundation for the highest achievement.
"Punter" was deploring the threat to the old Sheffield Shield first-class competition by the brutishly named Twenty20 KFC Big Bash League. He said: "We have always been very protective of our domestic cricket because we think it has developed and brought on a number of very good players through 100 years."
We all know the kind of player he had in mind: Bradman, Miller, Lindwall, Harvey, Border, Thompson, Lillee, the Waughs, Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist. This isn't to mention one of the greatest of them all, the former larrikin Ponting. His special honour is he understands the meaning of what he does and fights so hard to preserve it in some recognisable form.
Let's hope sex clinic gets Tiger on course
The arbiters of correct behaviour may have gleaned some dubious satisfaction from the picture of an unshaven, glum Tiger Woods patrolling the bleak acres of a sex addiction clinic in Mississippi.
Hopefully, the world's best golfer will draw some benefit from his humiliating experience.
But this is his business, his hope. In the meantime those of us who respond to the artistry and imagination of a great sportsman can only anticipate eagerly the day he returns to the golf course. We must hope it comes no later than the opening of the Masters tournament in Augusta.
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