Wolves preview :: The FA are negligent liars

Morning all, a blog in two parts this morning, starting with:

WOLVES

In terms of team news there will be changes at the back. Kieran Gibbs groin is feeling the strain of 9 consecutive games and will be replaced by Andre Santos. Laurent Koscielny’s suspension means Johan Djourou comes back into the centre of the defence, while there are some doubts over Bacary Sagna, whose virtues the manager is keen to extol. I suspect he’s preaching to the converted, he’s just a top quality consistent performer.

Fingers crossed he’s all right because three changes to a back four which has been pretty solid in recent weeks is probably a bit too much to feel assured. But if that’s what we have to cope with there’s not much we can do other than get on with it. Gervinho remains absent so I suspect Benayoun will keep his place in the attacking trio.

We know Wolves are going to fight, they sit bottom of the table and I have to say it’s probably a false position considering the way they’ve played over the last couple of seasons. They’ve got some good players, players who can score goals too, and we’ve got to make sure we’re switched on tonight and that another QPR doesn’t happen. Mikel Arteta says:

We have some good examples this year when we have dropped points against teams near the bottom. We have to go there with the right mentality and the right approach and sense of pride. When you’re playing away from home there are no easy games in the Premier League.

Cliched, perhaps, but no less true because of that. We go into the game knowing that we can open up a 5 point gap on Sp*rs and Newcastle, and 7 on Chelsea. These kind of games have been tricky for us in the past but if we’re focused and work as well as we did against Man City then you have to fancy this is a game we can take three points from. But we must ensure our level remains high, if we let it drop, if we allow a touch of complacency or individual errors to creep in, then we’ll find ourselves in trouble.

Just 10 days ago we were reminded of this at Loftus Road, and even though we tend to be forgetful about the lessons we learn, surely it’s too soon to see a repeat of that. I remember a game last season, or the season before, where we scored very early and very late, in a 2-0 win, and between those goals Wolves were dangerous and threatening. It might have been Fabianski’s best game in an Arsenal shirt. A bit more efficiency would be nice tonight, some early goals would settle the nerves, so fingers crossed we’re on the ball.

Which brings us to:

THE FA

The decision not to overturn Shaun Derry’s red card was absurd. Video replays show he hardly touched Young, it showed Young clearly offside, it showed Young dived. The FA’s decision to ignore the evidence and allow a cheat to prosper sends a terrible message and embarrasses the game of football.

Equally, their decision not to punish Mario Balotelli any further for his assault on Alex Song sends a similar, but more dangerous message. It says that it’s OK to commit acts of violence on the pitch and that you might as well take a chance because the ineptitude of officials might let you get away with it – even if video shows that the challenge is worthy of a ban far lengthier than even the mandatory punishment a straight red card for violent conduct brings.

This particular incident is particularly frustrating because the FA say:

Where at least one of the officials has seen the coming together of players retrospective action is not taken, regardless of whether they have seen the full extent of the challenge.

So what we have is a situation where one of the officials saw there was a challenge but not the challenge itself, because as rubbish as referees have been this season, I cannot believe that any official who sees a player go in on an opponent in a way that might break his leg wouldn’t take the appropriate action. If said official did see the full extent of the challenge yet failed to take necessary action, they should be demoted, if not sacked. The ludicrousness of this is highlighted by the fact a linesman who got an offside decision wrong is demoted at once, a team of officials who miss a potential leg-breaker are arbitrarily shielded and protected by the FA.

Referees have to make decisions in an instant. It is, sometimes, hard to get things 100% right. In an era of professional officials you would hope that acts of craven violence would be spotted and dealt with, but sometimes they won’t. So, where is the harm in a referee reviewing the video after the game and saying ‘I saw it, but didn’t realise it was that bad. Had I seen it I would have issued a red card’?

I said this on Monday, and many times before, but English football has an almost unique reluctance to deal with real violent conduct on the football pitch. The FA refuse to punish players for dangerous tackles and as such we continue to see two-footed lunges and leg-breakers, and the perpetrators of them banned for three games while injured players can be out for up to a year.

In their ruling yesterday, The FA did their usual trick of hiding behind FIFA laws, saying that because an official had seen the Song/Balotelli incident no further action could be taken:

In agreement with FIFA, this is how ‘not seen’ incidents are dealt with retrospectively in England. It is a policy that is agreed  with all football stakeholders.

This is a lie. It’s false. In other countries referees can see an incident, deal with it at the time, but further punishment can be meted out to the player who commits the act of violent conduct. Some examples to follow:

Example 1: Hamburger SV v Stuttgart 03/03/2012 – Striker Paolo Guerrero is sent off for this nasty challenge. The automatic three match ban becomes an 8 game ban after the video is reviewed.

Example 2: Bordeaux vs Rennes 12/12/2010 – Jaroslav Plasil is lucky not to have his leg snapped in two by Rennes’ Tongo Doumbia. The referee sees the incident at the time and dishes out a yellow card. Subsequently, the LFP review the incident and a supplementary report from the referee (suggesting he himself looked at the video and made a recommendation), and impose a 4 game ban on Doumbia.

Example 3: Valenciennes vs St Etienne 10/3/2012 – Carlos Sanchez Moreno fouls Fabien Lemoine of St Etienne early in the game (incident at 25′ – turn your pop-up blocker to maximum) and is issued a red card. The LFP review, the outcome is a 9 game ban for Moreno.

Example 4: A player Arsenal were linked with, Emir Spahic, goes WWE on an opponent, laying him out with an elbow here. The ref doesn’t ‘see’ it or act on it, but on review he is handed 4 game ban. That does not act as a deterrent as he does it again 4′ into this video. Due to the seriousness of the incident he is handed a ‘preventative’ 1 game ban and after a hearing that ban is extended to 7 games including the one game he’s already served.

So, we have a range of incidents which referees have seen an acted upon (and ones which they didn’t like Spahic’s elbows) but were subsequently punished properly by using video evidence. So the question is: if the authorities in France and Germany – and I’m sure in other leagues – can deal with incidents that referees have seen and even issued cards for, why can’t The FA?

If it were against FIFA rules then those ruling bodies are acting contrary to them and would surely be penalised by an organisation that is so anal about said rules that it holds special meetings to ban the game from the creeping horror of things like the snood and players taking their shirts off after a goal.

Are the referees in these cases undermined? Absolutely not. There’s an acceptance that a referee gets one chance to see an incident and a little time to make a decision. He does not have the benefit of replays until after the fact. Reviewing video footage after the game doesn’t challenge his authority, it simply says that all available evidence will be used to punish a player guilty of violent conduct.

And in the long run, doesn’t it make a referee’s job easier? If players know that despite getting away with something on the pitch they’ll be banned for it afterwards, won’t most of them think twice before going in over the top, late, studs up, on somebody’s knee? We’re told that human error is part of the game, and it’s true for officials and players, so why not make video reviewing and disciplining of players post-game mandatory? Why not introduce a system as in rugby which would allow Arsenal, for example, to cite Mario Balotelli for his challenge on Song?

The bottom line is that The FA’s assertion that they are restricted by FIFA rules/guidelines is utterly false. The reason they don’t take action is because they don’t want to. I don’t know why. Maybe they think it will open a can of worms, maybe they don’t want to deal with the administration/cost of reviewing incidents, maybe they think they would undermine the authority of the referees. But whatever the reason, they’re wrong and they continue to get it wrong.

And the worst thing is we can say ‘Well, it’ll take a serious injury to a player for them to change their ways’, but the fact is they have had countless opportunities already – and too many serious injuries – to do something about it, and every time they bottle it. If they don’t have any will to police the game properly, for the good of football and all the players, then they’re guilty of neglect of the worst kind. They have abdicated responsibility and hidden behind a lie which will be of no comfort to the next player who has a leg snapped or a cheekbone smashed.

It’s about time somebody challenged them about it. It’s about time that fans refused to put up with their nonsense any more. Quite what can be done about it, I don’t know, but The FA made a mockery of English football yesterday. They sent a message that cheating is fine and that you can get away with acts of violence. They continue to sanitise the game for fans, in so many trivial, unnecessary ways, yet refuse to deal with the real issues on the pitch.

They are a joke and they should be, but won’t be, ashamed of themselves.

Finally, there will be live blog coverage of tonight’s game against Wolves. Check back for a post with all the info or bookmark the default live blog page.

And finally, finally, a massive doff of the cap to Ollie for his outstanding Ligue 1 research. Merci!

Till tomorrow