Sam Wallace: Overhaul the disciplinary system to stop referees' get-out clause

Talking Football: The arguments will never stop, the cost will be high, but something plainly has to change

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The Independent Football

The Football Association's disciplinary system has to change. It did not even take Mario Balotelli's farcical reprieve for studding Alex Song to tell us that; we have known it for a while.

The lack of retrospective action against Balotelli for his foul in Manchester City's game against Arsenal eight days ago fell into the same category as two more infamous let-offs in the last 14 months. In February, Benoît Assou-Ekotto went studs-up on Franco di Santo in Spurs' home league game against Wigan and, despite the incident being reviewed, got away with it. In February last year Wayne Rooney elbowed Wigan's James McCarthy off the ball and no retrospective action was taken.

In all three cases, the referees in question – Martin Atkinson, Lee Probert and Mark Clattenburg respectively – gave the same answer to the FA when subsequently asked about the incidents in question. Yes, they saw the flashpoint but they did not see it well enough. Under the letter of the FA law, it cannot go back on any decision the referee saw, however inappropriate his response at the time.


Let's start with the changes here. Take the retrospective decision-making out of the referees' hands and give it to an independent panel.

A few inquiries last week made it clear to me that English referees want that responsibility lifted from them. On the whole, they feel uncomfortable making retrospective judgements. Currently, the old loophole of "I saw it, just not well enough" is their get-out. It should be closed.

Are there problems implementing this kind of change? You bet. A panel-review system is operated in the French league, where members of the Commission de Visionnage watch every one of the 20 games played in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 each weekend and refer any key incidents they do not feel have been properly dealt with by the referee to the league's Commission de Discipline for further action.

English football has four professional leagues, all of which have to be treated equally. That is 46 games a weekend and a huge volume of work for the FA. Additionally, in League One and League Two grounds the limited television camera coverage means there cannot be the same level of scrutiny.

That matters. For instance, a Premier League team could have a player suspended for an FA Cup tie against a League One side who have a player who has escaped punishment despite having committed a similar offence because grounds lower down the leagues do not have the benefit of 12 cameras with super slo-mo and HD. Equality under the laws of the game is fundamental.

This is where the FA runs into problems. Beyond its top two divisions, French football ceases to be important to the authorities and, by and large, the supporters, which enables the league to focus hard on Ligue 1 and 2. In English football it is different. The top four divisions are cherished and have to be treated the same.

As usual, the FA has taken a bucket-load of criticism for its inability to pursue Balotelli and also for the failure to rescind Shaun Derry's red card against Manchester United. It has largely escaped people's attention that it was not the FA, but a three-man independent panel, who heard Derry's appeal. Senior figures at the FA were just as perplexed at the decision. They cannot speak out.

The French have pushed further ahead with retrospective action than any other European football nation. The English FA tried to do the same eight years ago and was slapped down by Fifa, which has a general policy against what it terms the "re-refereeing of games". Since then, the FA has tended to be more conservative and seek approval from the world governing body first. That could yet change.

Where else could a lesson be learned from the French? They have a system in place where yellow cards can be upgraded into one-, two- or three-match bans if the Commission de Discipline decides the full extent of the offence has not been recognised by the referee.

Also, in Ligue 1 and 2, bans for red cards are awarded on a sliding scale according to the severity of the offence. The former West Bromwich Albion midfielder Abdoulaye Meïté, now at Dijon, was given an eight-match ban for fracturing the ankle of Julien Quercia of Lorient. In the Premier League, Meïté would have received the statutory three-match ban.

Why is it always a three-match ban in England? Chiefly because that is what the clubs wanted. They have consistently told the FA that they favour a fixed tariff for a straight red card rather than the uncertainty of a player going before a panel. Which means that a silly, heat-of-the-moment red card like Gervinho's against Newcastle this season earns the same three-game punishment as a leg-breaking tackle.

The next time a manager complains about that inconsistency, it is worth remembering that it has been the clubs who have told the FA they want it this way. It is also worth bearing in mind that if English football were to adopt a sliding scale rule on bans for red card offences, it would be swapping one set of problems for another.

The body responsible would have to decide if, for instance, Nigel de Jong's leg-breaking tackle on Hatem Ben Arfa in October 2010 was worth, say, an eight-game ban, then how much for Yohan Cabaye's crafty studding of Jay Spearing in December last year (no card at the time)? And if so, is that the same for Derry's lunge at Cabaye a month later (only a booking)?

The arguments will never stop. The administration costs will be considerable. Plainly, however, something has to change.

The flawed rules of the FA's current system are undermining what are, on the whole, excellent match officials. The disciplinary department at the FA has always been fiendishly hard to run. That does not mean it should not try to adapt and evolve.

Being polite to Distin cannot make it easier for Moyes

The accepted thing to say after defeats like the one Everton sustained on Saturday is that hoary old football expression, "We win as a team and we lose as a team". It means that Sylvain Distin is not hung out to dry for his catastrophic error that let Luis Suarez in for Liverpool's first goal, and got them back into the game.

The truth is individual errors like that do change games. They change careers. Liverpool came out strong for that second half but David Moyes has already said he thought his team had weathered the worst of it when Distin played in Suarez.

For a manager those key moments must be impossible to rationalise. The chance is gone, possibly forever. It does not even itself up, or work itself out.

And worst of all, you have to be polite about the man who messed it up.

Tevez is many things – but lovely he ain't

In his Manchester City blazer and his Manchester City club tie, Mike Summerbee gave up any pretence at being an objective pundit when it came toCity, or "us" as he referred to them on Sky Sports on Saturday. He also jumped to the defence of Carlos Tevez, describing him as "a lovely man" following the striker's dismissive attitude in his post-match interview with Andy Burton.

A great footballer on his day? Yes. A lovely man? Do us a favour. Roberto Mancini has brought in Tevez because the City manager is a pragmatist and he can see that the player has his uses. But, even in spite of Tevez's apology, if City were to turn it around and win their first title since 1968, they would be well-advised to keep the "lovely man" to the margins of the trophy parade.