The Ferguson Phenomenon. Ferocity and forgiveness. Or at the very least a certain impunity. Not for the first time – and a protracted embittered accusation by Rafa Benitez when managing Liverpool stands testimony – the Manchester United manager has furiously inveighed at a referee and escaped without any real consequence.
Mike Dean and his various assistants were publicly and bitterly excoriated by Ferguson during the match won 4-3 at Old Trafford by Newcastle United. In what might be described as the normal way Ferguson would have been held to account by the Football Association for his behaviour, but as we know it hasn’t happened. In the event the hapless arguably timid referee Mike Dean has chosen not to report the verbal assault which has allowed the FA to say limply that they are powerless to do anything about it. A limp attitude which has provoked from some quarters the response that there were surely other ways of circumventing the current impasse, backed it seems by the rules of FIFA, UEFA the Premiership and the rest by varying the charge and bringing it on other grounds.
Yet the rancid affair is simply the latest in a protracted series of Ferguson’s outbursts against referees and their decisions. An artist who painted his portrait has opined that these outbursts are in fact far from spontaneous expressions of anger but are carefully calculated. If true, so much the worse but this hardly affects the reality of the situation.
Ferguson’s reaction to what he deemed an irregular goal by Newcastle United was legally wrong but perhaps logically right. As we know that goal was scored with one Newcastle attacker in a palpably offside position. But under the current confusion gloss on the offside law he none the less was not “interfering with the play.” Bill Shankly in his Liverpool managing days was wont to ask the rhetorical question, “If he’s not interfering with the play then what is he doing on the field?”
The current situation is altogether too amorphous and ambiguous and puts a tremendous burden on referees and their linesmen. Some have argued with common sense that the very presence of a player in an offside position can be confusing and distracting to the goalkeeper and other defenders. So if Dean was right, Ferguson for all his fury wasn’t necessarily and “morally” wrong.
The worrying aspect of the contretemps is that Dean failed to report the displeasing incident and the implications of his behaviour. It has been suggested that he and other referees before him are afraid that should they criticise such Fergusonian tirades in their official reports, then they will not be called on to referee at Old Trafford in the future. Which raises the question of, why not? Surely the appointment of any referee should be a matter for the Premier League presumably supported by the FA. Why should any club however powerful have influence over the referees designated for their home games? Can there be an hard and fast rule which enables them to exercise such a veto? And if there is then it should surely be abolished.
The Gareth Bale “simulation” issue continues to be debated. Yet again the supremely gifted and wonderfully effective Tottenham left-winger was in the referee’s book again for an alleged offence of diving at Sunderland. To which Bale not for the first time angrily pleaded not guilty. Recently I saw the same thing happen to him at Fulham to the accusatory jeers of the crowd and once again having gone into the book he insisted on his innocence. In this matter I am wholly on the side of Bale. When he goes flying past a defender the slightest contact – with so tiny a margin for error – can so easily bring him down. Yes, it is hard for a referee or a linesman to descry in a flash what has really happened but my feeling is that in the case of a phenomenal talent such as Bale, and there are after all very few like him, he usually deserved the benefit of the doubt.
Before Arsenal’s recent game at Southampton Arsene Wenger – now seemingly and productively talking to his defensive coach Steve Bould – genially compared Southampton’s famously successful youth policy with Arsenal’s own. But as some have already if implicitly pointed out, comparisons are odious. Even under the knowledgeable Liam Brady, Arsenal’s colossally expensive youth policy has been a matter of the mountain parturating mice. Aside from Ashley Cole and the creative Jack Wilshere, what over the years has the Arsenal programme produced? And young indeed – a mere junior schoolboy though Wilshere came to them, he was originally nurtured at Luton Town?
When the Gunners recently played at Southampton their team included two outstanding products of the Southampton programme: Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Gareth Bale emerged from the Southampton system too. Players such as Fulham’s Sidwell indeed emerged from the Gunners’ scheme; but they went elsewhere. And it’s alleged that relations between Wenger and Brady are hardly ideal.