Neville back on offensive over standard of refereeing

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Manchester United captain Gary Neville has weighed in where his manager left off with the Football Association last week on the subject of Premier League refereeing standards, suggesting that games between the top sides should be reserved for a small elite of the top officials.

Though Sir Alex Ferguson has now personally apologised to Alan Wiley for the comments about fitness which have seen him receive a two-game touchline ban, Neville has implied that Steve Atkinson should not have refereed United's game at Chelsea eight days ago and that referees' "decision-making doesn't seem to be great in the big moments." Neville declared: "No one can deny it is very difficult to be a referee, but they are supposed to be professionals."

Neville considers the Italian Pierluigi Collina to be the epitome of good refereeing. "Collina always used to get the big Champions League matches because he rarely made mistakes," he said. "They should make it like that in England and use a few elite officials in the big games instead of trying to give all referees experience.

"These big games shouldn't be about giving refs experience; they should have to earn it. The best players play for the big clubs and the best commentators commentate on the big games; that's how it should be with refs." After United's 2-0 defeat at Liverpool last month, Ferguson questioned whether Andre Marriner had the experience to handle the intensity of that particular fixture.

Though Ferguson believes after this conversation with Wiley that any prospect of a libel suit from the 49-year-old is now unlikely, he argued before a four-man FA tribunal on Thursday that the general fitness levels asked of referees should be higher. Neville also appears to believe there is a fundamental problem with expected standards.

"I don't want to say we've been hard done by this season because every team has their complaints, and I don't want to jump on referees' backs because they are under a lot of pressure," he said. "Not only that, but the game is so fast that you can't eliminate all mistakes. Nevertheless, I expect the big decisions in the big matches to be correct, which is not happening at the moment."

He, like Ferguson, questioned the infringement given against Darren Fletcher which led to Chelsea's goal at Stamford Bridge. "There was some controversy over [John] Terry's goal and I don't think it was a foul ... which led to the free-kick," he concluded.