As we get to the business end of the season, the whinging about referees has started to increase in volume and frequency.
One can hear the petulant shriek (it’s just not FAIR!) of managers across the land, be it the whining of those facing relegation such as Mark Hughes, the perennial moaning of the title favourite Alex Ferguson or the excuse-making and swivel-eyed conspiracy theories of a manager under pressure such as Kenny Dalglish. We all love to have a scapegoat, someone to deflect the blame onto in order to mask our own deficiencies and for football managers the referee is just that.
But the truth is that refereeing standards are pretty decent. Yes, there are mistakes made, but then referees are, to use a worn cliché, only human and where humanity exists then mistakes and imperfection exist. Players and managers themselves are not perfect. A striker will not score with every chance, a player will not complete every pass (unless he’s Xavi) and a goalkeeper will not save every shot. Referees cannot be expected to get every call exactly spot on given the pace of the game and the interpretive nature of many of the rules.
Over the last decade there has been a lot of talk about using video technology. It’s been successfully brought in with other sports such as rugby and cricket and has generally been effective in producing better decisions. However it has made referees more cautious and more reliant on it to make the tough decisions. Video tech can also ruin those pure moments of joy when a wicket is taken or a try scored, as everyone waits for confirmation. In the end you get two celebrations, both muted, which does not make for a better spectacle or for more enjoyable games. Due to football’s more fluid nature when compared to the more stop/start way that cricket and rugby works you do wonder whether integrating video technology would work. Plus, the football authorities and to a certain extent many major media outlets just haven’t had an open and constructive debate about how it would work in practical terms.
If a manager is so concerned or incensed about poor refereeing then why are they not putting some of the formidable resource of their football clubs to bear on the matter? Players are trained and drilled to the nth degree ahead of matches so the opposition is known. Why do managers not have an informed view on whether the referee is likely to be inconsistent or susceptible to the roar of the home crowd. What are the areas of weaknesses in the way he applies the rules. If a ref is particularly fastidious about diving, for example, then managers should know and pass this on to the players as part of their match preparation. If it’s that important then it seems it would be worthwhile to employ a referee scout to stockpile dossiers on them.
But simply put, there is no grand conspiracy against any particular club by referees. Refs are easy targets who aren’t allowed to talk to the press about their decisions, so can’t talk back and defend themselves. And can’t offer criticisms of the way that managers and players act during the game, though I’m sure referees would have a lot to say about some of the diva-style behaviour if given a chance.
Anyway you look at it, a manager who whinges about the referee but hasn’t done anything to plan and mitigate around an inconsistent referee and the resulting impact is, frankly, a chump.