Tuesday, February 7, 2023

McManaman foul awful but The FA are the real villains

Good morning.

In the absence of any real Arsenal news due to the Interlull – how about that FA, eh? Yesterday they declared that no further action would be taken against Wigan’s Calum McManaman for his, frankly, horrendous challenge on Newcastle’s Massadio Haïdara.

Although he took some of the ball he clearly, and deliberately, followed through into the opponent’s knee, forcing him off the pitch on a stretcher and the fella is likely be out of action for some time. The referee appeared to be unsighted but his assistant was looking pretty much straight at it; still no action was taken against McManaman.

Having had the chance to review the incident, the FA released a statement yesterday and said:

Following consultation with the game’s stakeholders (the Premier League, the Football League, the Professional Footballers’ Association, the League Managers’ Association, Professional Game Match Officials Limited and the National Game) in the summer, it was agreed that retrospective action should only be taken in respect of incidents which have not been seen by the match officials.

Now, this to me is interesting. For a long time they’ve hidden behind the suggestion that it was a FIFA ruling and that even if they wanted to do they couldn’t do anything about it. As regular readers will know, when Mario Balotelli got away with a disgusting challenge on Alex Song’s knee last season, we showed that was not the case. In other countries, whether the referee has seen something or not, whether he’s dealt with it or not, further sanction can be applied by a disciplinary committee.

The FA statement makes a lie of their constant reference to FIFA and shows quite clearly that this is a self-imposed restriction. They have decided incidents can’t be ‘re-refereed’ and all it does is send the message that they have no real will to tackle serious foul play or violent conduct, and that player safety is not a concern in the slightest. Perhaps McManaman wasn’t thinking about Balotelli on Song when he made the challenge on Sunday, but the lack of action against it fostered a culture in which a player think it’s ok to go in with his studs on another player’s knee.

“What’s the worst that can happen? A three game ban? I’ll go for it.”

If the worst that could happen is a mandatory three game ban extended by another three, or five, or seven, by a panel which reviews incidents after the game then you can be quite sure players would be less inclined to try and smash their opponent to pieces. It wouldn’t stop all bad tackles, the death penalty is a pretty serious deterrent but it doesn’t stop people committing violent crimes and murder, but it would, at least, send a signal that the authorities are serious about eradicating dangerous play from the game.

And here’s the other thing: what is so wrong about re-refereeing incidents which may not have been dealt with at the time? Everybody involved in football, from players to managers, officials to pundits, talks about how difficult a job the referees have these days. The pace of the game, the fact they have to make split-second decisions without the benefit of replays from multiple angles, the culture of gamesmanship and cheating, all of these things make a referee’s job extremely testing.

So if there’s a common understanding of that, why is there such a reluctance to offer them the chance to correct decisions they may have got wrong? It wouldn’t undermine the officials in any way, it would strengthen them. That they can see incidents which merited further action at the time and can do nothing about it diminishes them and their reputation far more than holding their hands up and admitting they got something wrong in a split-second under intense pressure.

The fact they can’t do that is no fault of FIFA or UEFA, it’s entirely down to The FA. And the sad part is it’s probably going to take something worse than McManaman on Haïdara for something to be done. Perhaps this will be a watershed moment, the weight of public opinion and the fact that those charged with protecting the game of football are doing it serious damage will spark some kind of change, but I fear, and have done for a long time, that it will take serious injury to a high profile ‘star’ (probably English) before anything will.

I don’t know how many times I’ve said it but the entire disciplinary system is flawed, it doesn’t work. There must be a sliding scale when it comes to bans handed out to players. The examples down the years are plentiful – a guy who taps an opponent in the face with a ‘raised hand’ is deemed to have committed an offence which merits the same ban as the guy who snaps a player’s leg in two with a violent challenge.

In no sane world is that workable or just. Yet this has been an issue for years and years and The FA’s complete reluctance to do anything about it tells you that they don’t really care enough. They’re happy to control the game from on high but nobody wants to get their hands dirty. We have the crazy situation where Newcastle’s assistant-manager is charged by the FA for reacting to the McManaman tackle but the perpetrator of said tackle gets off scot-free.

Maybe his behaviour wasn’t appropriate but neither was that of the Wigan player; it’s like a family member of a crime victim being jailed when the offender is let off on a technicality. Newcastle have released a statement, calling the FA’s disciplinary procedures ‘not fit for purpose’, and fair play to them. It’s about time clubs made a real stink about this. I suspect these are sentiments privately shared by most clubs, how great would it be if they offered public support to Newcastle about this?

It doesn’t have to be about McManaman specifically, but unless there’s a real push to change things then nothing will. It’s not just down to the clubs either, those who write about the game and make a living from it have a duty to highlight this issue and continue to do so until it gets fixed. One very senior journalist yesterday said that perhaps the ‘public shaming’ of the Wigan player would have more impact than any ban.

What a load of nonsense. It makes the assumption that the player gives a shit about what the public think, and you can be quite sure that when he’s playing his next game he’ll have forgotten all about it. Maybe he’ll keep his studs to himself for a while but a lengthy ban would make sure of that.

The other thing to consider is that although McManaman’s tackle was horrible and dangerous, the idea of making him some kind of pantomime boo-boy for The FA’s stupidity misses the point entirely. They’re the ones who need to change. The player has to take responsibility for his action – even if The FA let him off – but it’s not his fault the system has given him a free pass.

In the end all we can do is hope that the Newcastle player recovers fully and by the time another shocking tackle seriously injures a player that there are guidelines and rules which can be used to punish the perpetrator properly.

I, however, won’t be holding my breath.

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