Chelsea’s incredible complaint that a Select Official racially abused their players will now overshadow what was an all around horribly refereed match by Mark Clattenburg. A match which saw several red-card fouls go unpunished, two cards given for diving, and an offside goal allowed to stand. And anyone who is surprised that Clattenburg is at the center of controversy can not have been watching football for long.
Clattenburg has a long and storied history of getting calls wrong. Not just small calls, big calls. There was the infamous Nani goal, where Tottenham’s keeper Gomes placed the ball on the ground thinking that the referee had called an obvious handball as Nani very clearly reached out and handled the ball to stop play. Clattenburg did not call the handball, he played advantage to the Tottenham keeper. And so when Gomes put the ball on the ground, Nani scored. And Clattenburg was seen shrugging his shoulders as if to say “what do you want me to do about it?”
There was Adebayor’s incredible stamp on Robin van Persie. From literally yards away, and looking directly at the action, Mark Clattenburg did not see this foul.
Then there was the bizarre penalty awarded to Chelsea, against Fulham. Danny Murphy appeared to have lunged, two-footed, and Clattenburg pointed to the spot. After the match, however, it was revealed that Murphy spoke with Clattenburg and the referee assured him that the penalty was for an infringement by a different player. Replays showed no fouls.
Or how about yet another incident between Tottenham and Man U which involved Mark Clattenburg? Pedro Mendes hit a shot from the center circle which bounced off United’s keeper, Roy Carroll, and went so far over the line that the keeper just barely kept it from rippling the net. Apparently neither Clattenburg, nor his assistants, saw the goal.
I could go on but I will spare you, the point is that you could watch any match refereed by Mark Clattenburg and find 2-3 incidents in which a player should have been booked or even sent off but which Clattenburg either doesn’t see the foul or doesn’t think it’s a foul. And the Chelsea v. Man U match for which he is now coming under fire is no different from any previous.
In the first half, there were several moments I felt Clattenburg was too permissive, but the announcers applauded for “letting play go on”. The first was a high boot by Rio Ferdinand, one of his now patented “kung-fu kicks” where he goes for the ball studs-up, at head height. No call. Torres returns the favor and kicks Tom Cleverly with a high boot. This prompts Clattenburg to get out a yellow for what could have easily been a red.
The second was a series of fouls involving Wayne Rooney. Rooney had been doing his level best to intimidate everyone on the pitch for 10 minutes or so and Clattenburg was doing his best to let him. Ramires gets angry and tackles Rooney from behind, Clattenburg calls the foul. But Man U right-back, Rafael, doesn’t stop and absolutely clatters Ramires from behind in what looks a lot like retaliation for the foul on Rooney. Clattenburg does nothing.
In the second half, with both teams feeling like the referee is treating them unfairly, Clattenburg clamps down. Dishing out two red cards to Chelsea and awarding an offside goal to Man U. But the moment that should give everyone pause is the second yellow and subsequent red card for Torres’ obvious dive.
There is no doubt that Torres dives. Yes, there is contact, but even if I concede there’s a foul I am a firm believer that you can have both a foul and a dive. Watch the gif again, Torres is slightly clipped on his right foot and takes a step with his left foot. Then he clearly decides not to put his right foot down and raises his left leg, thus falling to the ground. As a defender, I’ll admit that looks like a foul by Evans, lord knows he does use the universal sign of guilt when he raises both hands as if to say “I know you think you saw contact but that wasn’t me!” But there is also no debate in my mind that Torres simulates more contact than actually happened in order to get a call.
But what’s interesting here is that if Mark Clattenburg is calling dives then clearly the Premier League has decided to take a reactionary stance against diving this season. For example, in all 380 Premier League matches in 2011-2012, referees gave 20 yellow cards for “diving”. The season prior, nine. The season before that, when the Daily Mail did their witch hunt against foreign divers, there were 23 cards for diving. And so far, in just 89 matches there have already been 10 yellow cards for diving. Four against Chelsea.
Just to put that into perspective, if the trend continues (and it almost certainly will not) there will be 42 yellow cards for diving this season. That’s an incredible tally for a league which steadfastly refuses to give yellow cards* and who hold up referees like Mark Clattenburg as one of their very best precisely because he doesn’t call fouls or give yellow cards.
Should the League target diving? Is this really the biggest problem in the Premier League? And, the elephant in the room, how on earth can the match officials be expected to call diving correctly without the benefit of the same video replay that you and I get to see over and over and over?
My answers are no, no, and they can’t. This is just the League papering over the cracks in a broken refereeing system which treats a studs up challenge to Cleverly’s chest equal to an attempt to con the official into giving a foul.
*Did you know that Barcelona already have 16 yellow cards in La Liga (lowest in the league)? Arsenal have 7 (second lowest the the EPL).