James Lawton: It's not Ferguson's rants the FA needs to sort out, it's shocking refereeing - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

James Lawton: It's not Ferguson's rants the FA needs to sort out, it's shocking refereeing

Did Ferguson create still another mockery of the insistence of the football authorities that the referee is an all-seeing, infallible arbiter of every situation?

We can say what we like about Fergie – and the Football Association can do with him what it will.

It might not be quite able to have him walk a plank suspended over the Manchester Ship Canal. Certainly, though, it can rebuke him and banish him to the stands.

But however the FA dresses it up, and however much we assail the Manchester United manager with charges of inveterately sore losing, there is still one important question to answer.

Was the old guy right or wrong? Did referee Martin Atkinson make a travesty of his control of Tuesday's otherwise excellent collision between Chelsea and Manchester United?

Did he create still another mockery of the insistence of the football authorities that the referee is an all-seeing, infallible arbiter of every situation?Or was Ferguson just emitting his usual bile when he didn't get the right result?

There are no prizes for guessing the majority view. It is that he is damned by his recurring voice and his utterly subjective view of anything that happens on the field.

No doubt there is more than a little truth in this. But then when wasn't objectivity an ideal that most football managers tend to find elusive? Look at Arsène "I didn't see it" Wenger, Harry "do me a favour" Redknapp – and in another football lifetime Kenny Dalglish felt the wrath of the FA disciplinary committee for his criticism of match officials.

Even the philosophical Carlo Ancelotti complained earlier this season, after defeat at Manchester City, that the referee had "left his whistle at home".

But, no, there is no question Ferguson most often strides most ferociously over the line drawn by the authorities. Still, though, there remains a duty to examine not just his record but the validity, or not, of his latest comments.

On Tuesday night, after conceding before the game that Wayne Rooney was fortunate to be playing after the elbowing incident that the referee Mark Clattenburg was so outrageously able to claim he both saw and reacted to properly, Ferguson made specific criticisms.

He charged that Atkinson had awarded an extremely soft penalty to Chelsea and denied one to United when John Terry appeared to move his arm into contact with the ball.

On both points many neutrals would agree with Ferguson, while allowing they were arguable, but it was in his allegation that it was truly absurd that the referee should fail to hand a second yellow card to David Luiz where he was on the hardest of ground.

Luiz, the outstanding player of the game was – who can argue? – given the freedom of Stamford Bridge. Had he been merely underlining his great talent – and the imposing early evidence that he will indeed prove a sensational signing – that would not have been a problem.

Unfortunately, along with his virtuosity came what seemed like a thoroughly unpleasant belief that he could do more or less what he liked with pretty much absolute impunity.

His body-checking of first Javier Hernandez and then Rooney was cynically premeditated and then, with Atkinson just a few yards away, his hacking down of the latter was surely the action of a player who had been led to believe that the risks in such action were minimal.

So it proved – and quite stupefyingly when he avoided that second yellow card.

The FA may choose, again, to cast Ferguson as the villain. But then one of these days maybe it should recognise him as not the disease but its most persistent symptom. The real malady, surely, is a refereeing system too often unfit for purpose.

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