The closing of February’s Premier League fixtures arguably saw the worst refereeing in the English top-flight for many years and have consequently had a profound effect on the top-end of the table.
In the wake of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw against Burnley on Saturday afternoon, a certain José Mourinho pointed to four crucial moments that went against his side. As if ordering a Chinese for two, Mourinho uttered four numbers and little else as he said: “Minutes 30, 33, 43 and 69. Don’t ask me more questions.” The self-proclaimed ‘Special-One’ was clearly outraged at Martin Atkinson’s performance and understandably so. Chelsea did not perform to the standards they have set this season and not only found themselves in a battle against Burnley’s direct play but also against one of the highest ranked referees in this country. The incidents highlighted by the Chelsea manager are listed below:
Branislav Ivanović is felled by a challenge from Burnley’s Ashley Barnes, who escapes punishment after appearing to deliberately rake his studs on the Serbian’s leg in an aerial dual.
The first incident between Ivanović and Barnes represented an embarrassing lack of understanding of the game from Atkinson. The reaction of Chelsea’s goal-scoring defender said it all. Despite awarding a free-kick to Chelsea no action or warning met Barnes. The movement from the Burnley player’s boot onto and down the defender’s leg was malicous and intended to hurt Ivanović. Football is a contact sport and I do not want to dispute this. Every weekend forwards will hustle and harry defenders; it is part and parcel of the game. But Barnes’ actions were a level above the accepted physicality of the Premier League. If Martin Atkinson understood the nature of Barnes’ frankly vicious challenge he could of took control of the game from an early stage and avoided the unsavoury episodes to follow. Atkinson could of taken a number of measures such as simply issuing a yellow card, calling Burnley’s captain over to calm the player or even pulled the player aside and quietly asserted his authority on the game.
Chelsea are denied a clear penalty as Ivanović’s shot strikes the outstretched arm of Michael Kightly inside the penalty area, with Martin Atkinson looking on.
The word ‘interpretation’ crops up once again. The argument defending Mr. Atkinson’s decision not to point to the stop is that it is open to interpretation at what distance a player can react in time to avoid the ball striking the players’ arm. Therefore the onus is on the FA to give referees clear guidelines when to award a penalty or when to dismiss one. However, I am unable to concur with the defence for Martin Atkinson’s ruling of no penalty against Michael Kightly. His arm is away from his body, moving towards the ball, in a clear attempt to prevent the shot on goal, thus suggesting he has had more than enough time to think and react in the way he felt necessary.
A second clear penalty appeal is turned away, this time after Diego Costa is pushed to the ground inside the area by defender Jason Shackell.
The pinnacle of English football has seen an overly obsessive anti-diving campaign of late and it is such an attitude that is the root of inconsistency regarding referee rulings over penalties. However, Diego Costa is also a victim of a reputation that has preceded his arrival in England. Unfortunately this was apparent from the start of the season in August as Michael Oliver incorrectly booked Costa for diving when goalkeeper Tom Heaton, in the reverse fixture to Saturday, blatantly tripped him. Once more, in England we seem to have a dangerous self-righteousness and accuse foreign players of bringing the dark arts to our game. When, in my humble opinion, Wayne Rooney dived to earn a penalty for his side against Preston every single excuse was used to defend his tumble to the ground; momentum, anticipated contact etc. However, the same cannot be true for Diego Costa and this past Saturday he was wrongly accused of diving when he should have been awarded a penalty.
Barnes commits the worst foul possible within our beautiful game, with a horror challenge that was fortunate to have left Nemanja Matić without a broken leg. Matić’s reaction led to his dismissal.
Ashley Barnes’ general conduct throughout the game, which risked the safety of one player and their career, should see retrospective action. Martin Atkinson did not brandish a yellow or red card for the player, suggesting he has not seen the incident. Although I think retrospective action should still be taken even if the referee has seen or ‘dealt’ with the particular issue. While there is an argument it may diminish the officials’ authority, recent inadequate refereeing may leave us with no choice. Furthermore with the relentless improvement in technology there is no reason why we should not incorporate technology in a wider role within our game, we have seen the positive results from goal-line technology for example. Yet the fact I am truly uncertain whether the FA will take action against Barnes highlights the inconsistency in their rulings as they seem to approach a completely different approach to every case that they choose to take action on, emphasis on ‘choose.’