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Shelvey Playing on While Pogba Can’t Shows FA Must Allow a Second Look

Shelvey Playing on While Pogba Can’t Shows FA Must Allow a Second Look

Wednesday, 9 January, 2019 - 07:15
Manchester United's Paul Pogba reacts after being fouled by Jonjo Shelvey during a match against Newcastle. (Getty Images)
London - Daniel Taylor
We all make mistakes. Even us football writers, as difficult as it may be to believe, have been known to drop the odd ricket over the years. I must confess, to my eternal shame, that in the mild panic of a last-minute, potentially deadline-busting goal during my early years of covering Manchester City I managed to type in the wrong name for the scorer, Gareth Taylor, and credit his heroics to, well, this is awkward ... myself instead.

The readers of the newspaper I was working for at the time – and Gareth himself, I imagine – must have been bemused to find this rather fanciful version of events slipped past the subeditors and made it into the opening line of the subsequent match report. The only consolation being that it was, thank heavens, before the years when Twitter’s pitchfork mob could be found scouring the internet for fresh prey.

Sometimes it is your own carelessness, sometimes it is an error during the editing process and sometimes I haven’t the foggiest, if I can alert you to a recent humdinger from the Guardian’s corrections and clarifications page acknowledging, courtesy of one reader, that our recipe for “spaghetti with radicchio, fennel and rosemary” had one problem – namely that it did not, in fact, contain spaghetti, fennel or rosemary.

Some newspapers have their systems set up to change words automatically for their own style preferences – hence the unfortunate occasion when Matt Holland, the Republic of Ireland midfielder, ended up in a match report as Matt Netherlands – whereas the list of copytaking cock-ups is the stuff of legend from the days when press box routine involved dictating your match reports through old rotary‑style telephones and relying on the person at the other end of the line to take it down accurately.

The classic story is the time Wales were playing in Latvia and one of the copytakers on duty was not entirely up to speed when it came to the names of the players, in particular the line that Rush and Hughes were up front – resulting in a match report that had a Wales attack led by Russian Jews.

The point is that we are all culpable sometimes of getting things wrong. It happens, it is life and when it comes to referees it is why, in part, I do not always see the point being too hard on our match officials. The game at the highest level has never been quicker. The referees you see demonized on social media tend to get a lot more right than wrong and, unpopular as it might be, I tend to think the assistant referees are actually rather brilliant at what they do. Because if you think it is easy to flag for a marginal offside decisions at full speed, keeping an eye on the ball while simultaneously monitoring the last line of defense and having the necessary skills to rule if a single body part – a foot, a knee, a shoulder or even an eyebrow – has strayed a few centimeters too far one way, you would be kidding yourself.

At the same time, if we are being honest about our mistakes here, I do find it rather galling that when a referee misses a red-card offense – and, by that, I mean seeing what happened but misjudging the seriousness of it – the authorities are so quick to close ranks and revert to their default setting that nothing can be changed retrospectively. And yes, I suppose this could be referring to that tackle from Jonjo Shelvey that means Paul Pogba was not fit to play for Manchester United in their FA Cup tie against Reading on Saturday.

It was, after all, precisely the kind of studs-up challenge that the sport wants to eliminate, we keep hearing. Yet the irony is that if the referee, Andre Marriner, said his view was blocked, or that he was looking the wrong way, Shelvey would now be eligible for a disciplinary charge and staring at a three-match suspension for violent conduct.

Instead, Marriner did see it and because he awarded a free-kick against the Newcastle player the Football Association automatically lets off the player on the rather flimsy basis it does not want to be seen to be re-refereeing games. All of which strikes me as a bit of a cop-out bearing in mind what it leaves us with: one player embedding his studs into another man’s thigh, injuring his opponent and getting away with it scot-free because, by the FA’s logic, it has already been dealt with.

If nothing else, at least this is the sort of issue that should no longer be so prevalent when the Premier League brings in VAR next season and referees will have the opportunity to review any incident.

For now, however, it is quite something to try to tot up how many players over the years have been spared bans because of this strange loophole whereby the FA does not seem to grasp that punishing a player on video evidence is not actually the same thing as undermining the referee. In particular, when that referee believes the player should be punished, too.

Just consider the story Mark Clattenburg tells about one match between Manchester United and Wigan when he was the referee who made a poor call for what should have been a clear red-card offense. “I gave a free-kick against Wayne Rooney when, having later seen the replays, he deserved more,” Clattenburg says. “He had elbowed Wigan’s James McCarthy but the FA decided to take no disciplinary action because I had apparently dealt with it on the pitch.”

The system, Clattenburg says with some justification, is entirely flawed. Yet the most relevant part of that story is that he was referring to a match from 2011. It goes back even further – longer, indeed, than I can even remember – and every time one of these incidents comes up it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference that the referee, in the vast majority of cases, is willing to accept he made a lousy call. All the FA wants to know is whether the relevant official had a view of the incident – and, if so, the case is closed.

The exception was the time in 2006, during a match between Manchester City and Portsmouth, when Ben Thatcher sent Pedro Mendes into cloud-cuckoo land with a forearm smash that earned the perpetrator, rather bewilderingly, a yellow card from Dermot Gallagher, followed later by an eight-match suspension (plus an extra 15 matches suspended for two years) – but only because the FA’s disciplinary chiefs knew if they didn’t do anything the police were likely to intervene.

Isn’t it finally time to change this rule? It is actually well overdue, particularly now we have moved into an age, thinking back to that game at the Etihad on Thursday, whereby we have technology that can tell us within a matter of seconds that 20.8cm of the ball’s diameter had crossed the goal‑line but, crucially, that 1.2cm hadn’t.

In another era, that might have been given as a Liverpool goal and nobody would have been any wiser because, to go back to the original point, there will always be human error. The modern sport is different: more attuned than ever to the importance of getting the key decisions right. It is just a pity, perhaps, that there is still no system in place for when a referee sees a free-kick, just not necessarily the malice, and the authorities slip into their bad old ways by insisting nothing can be done to put that right.

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