Posts Tagged ‘The respect campaign is dead

12
Jan
09

Ding, Dong, Respect is Dead

Manchester United has reached the half-way point in their season and yesterday’s 3-0 thumping of Chelsea was the perfect foil for all that is wrong with the Premier League. From the hapless officiating of Howard Webb, to the overt displays of disrespect from Wayne Rooney, to the hapless attacking of Chelsea the signs are all there that the Premier League is very very sick, if not already passed.

First in this mini-series on officiating and “the beautiful game,” I turn my attention to Howard Webb. Lauded by many outside of the Arsenal circle now for many years as the “best official in England”  some of the cracks are beginning to show and I’ve seen a few commentators take some of his decisions to task. Even still, right now, I agree that Howard Webb is the pinnacle of English officiating.

I have seen this type of official many, many times in my career as a sports fan: he’s the “I’m in charge here” official. He’s the guy who feels like it’s his job to dictate the game. He, like Graham Poll before him, will often give out a quick yellow to let both teams know that he’s the boss. The problem is that in doing that he becomes the center of the game rather than the players and even if he gets every decision perfect, by injecting himself into the spotlight, he radically changes the game. It’s no longer 22 men playing against each other in a fair competition it’s “how will Howard Webb call this game?”

In the first 5 minutes on Sunday, Webb gave Lampard a yellow card. Now, I’ve seen a lot of fouls. I’ve seen a lot of Chelsea fouls. I’ve seen Frank Lampard get away with fouls that would have had lesser players sent off. But I can’t recall the last time I saw Frank Lampard get a yellow card in the first 5 minutes of a big game for a very slight foul. It wasn’t Lampard’s transgression (Lord knows he’s sinned) that earned him that yellow, it was Howard Webb telling the world that he was in charge and that one call radically changed that game.

The lie of the whole thing is that Webb isn’t in charge. All you have to do is see the disgraceful way that Wayne Rooney acted after he’d kicked a player who was shielding the ball for a throw in to see this point illustrated. Rooney was called over by Webb, presumably for another talking too (his 3rd of the game) and he turned his back on Webb and walked away. When Webb blew his whistle and called Rooney over he threw his hand up in the universal sign of “go fuck yourself” and kept walking, back turned. It was eerily reminiscent of the Ashley Cole, Mike Riley incident last year that supposedly sparked the whole “Respect” campaign and yet here we are, in the midst of this “Respect” campaign and the league’s best official is chronically incapable of keeping the respect of even one player, much less the whole Manchester United team. Respect, my ass.

Those two instances sum up the problems with officiating in the league: we see it every weekend and everyone knows that the games are not called fairly. As Rafa Bentiez would say “It’s a fact.” When Javier Mascherano can be sent off for his petulant display against the referees while Wayne Rooney gets away with it in every game there are clearly different rules being applied. Does anyone think for a second that Gael Clichy would be allowed to disrespect Howard Webb by turning his back on him and waving him off in the “go fuck yourself” manner? No, of course not.

And back to Lampard’s yellow, I’m no Chelsea fan, in fact I think they are a bunch of cheating scumbags, but that was not the old dirty Chelsea out there by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly not the kind of Chelsea team that deserved 5 yellow cards. And more to my point, if Lampard gets a yellow straight away for that tackle, then how on earth did Kevin Davies escape a yellow against Arsenal for either of his first two fouls?  Both of those fouls are straight red cards if I’m officiating because they are intentional dangerous play. Both the “oops, I was jumping” elbow to the face and the “I’m going for the ball” stamp on your opponent’s foot intend harm in order to “soften up” your opponent —  red card, end of story. The point is, unless the official wants to say “I’m in charge” fouls are treated differently depending on who is committing them and/or at what point in the game they are committed.

If the league wants fans and players and managers to respect the officials then these officials will need to do something to earn our respect because right now the only time anyone respects the officials is when their club is on the receiving end of beneficial treatment. The danger of that culture, where we all just expect poor decisions or see one team being treated differently than another is that we become inured to that discrepancy between the rules and how they are called and when that happens, you get the referee scandal that hit Serie A and the referee scandal that hit the NBA.

Dirty officials can’t get away with making bad calls if we all expect games to be called fairly. To that end, I’d like to see a couple changes. First, instant replay: there is no reason on earth that penalty claims, goal claims, straight red cards, and the like can’t be challenged using video evidence. A sensible system by which managers and fans can get some satisfaction by challenging a decision is absolutely needed and would lead to my second change. Second, no talking to the officials by managers and players. Apart from asking the fourth official to challenge a call, managers should not be in their technical area disgracing themselves by squawking at the officials. I’m looking at you Mr. Wenger. Moreover, players and managers should not be allowed to follow the official down the tunnel and ask them questions during half-time. I’m looking at you Mr. EveryEnglishManager. Third, displays like the ones that Wayne Rooney acts out in every Premier League match should be punished, every time.

True respect cannot be mandated. However, by cleaning up the big calls using video replay, scrubbing the taint of collusion by keeping managers and players away from the referees during breaks, and by punishing players when they show disrespect the league could clean up its image quite a bit and get things back on the right track. If they don’t, the cloud of impropriety will continue to hang over the league.

Because right now, if Man U was paying off the officials, would anybody notice the difference?

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22
Dec
08

Arsenal 1-1 Liverpool; The Good, Bad, and Ugly

webb-1-0-arsenal

Match Reports

ESPNSoccernet: Ten Men Gunners Hang On.

BBC Sport: Robbie Keane struck a stunning equaliser as Liverpool remained top of the Premier League and maintained an eight-point advantage over Arsenal.

Lee Dixon’s Tactical View: Arsenal have a problem in defence that I have noticed in a few games this season – and it was particularly evident during Sunday’s draw with Liverpool

Quotes

Today was Be A Gooner, Be A Giver, but you cannot say the referee was a Gooner, he was a giver, giving yellow cards that we didn’t deserve. Every week when we play away from home, we are told people get in our faces and we cant cope. I should show you our players after some games we play away from home; it is a joke. Neither of the bookings were justified. It is just an unbelievable decision; if Adebayor goes off, then Keane has to go off in the first minute. It seems we have different rules. The decision cost us two-points today, and I do not agree with it all. — Arsene Wenger vents some spleen during a post match interview.

The Good

I’m in the vast minority here but I felt like Song had his best game in an Arsenal shirt and put in the kind of performance that could cement him as the first choice holding midfielder. It remains to be seen if he can do that week in and week out, but his workrate was absolutely stunning, his passing was decent, and I felt like more than any other player he lifted the team emotionally in the second half after Adebayor was sent off: pushing forward when they needed and tracking back on every play. I accept that you won’t believe me so please have a look at his heatmap. In addition to his constant hard work, he completed 83% of his passes, won the ball 5 times (on 5 attempts) and made no fouls. You can compare him to any other player either from the ESPN link above or through the Telegraph’s player stats. They both show Song in a favorable light, though he only scored 5 or so on the player rater.

If I had any criticism of Song it’s that he didn’t make any fouls. Lucas Leiva in comparison had a better passing percentage, won more balls and committed more fouls. Part of that position’s craft is to learn how to make hard fouls and get away with it. Song won’t be a complete player until he learns how to be a bit of a cunt, like Lucas was yesterday.

Chocolate Thunder scored a superb goal off a superb assist from Nasri. With both teams playing a 4-5-1 (well, Liverpool was playing a 4-2-3-1 and technically Arsenal played a 4-4-2 though van Persie was dropping deep and defending like a midfielder) the midfield was very crowded so it should be no surprise that both goals came by bypassing the midfield. That said, it was an unusual goal for Arsenal and did a lot to cement my feeling that we played more like the visiting team. Despite it’s unusual nature, it was a good goal and Arsenal would do well to have a try at those types of goals more often.

After a poor first half where Liverpool dominated possession, shots, fouls and injuring Arsenal players, Arsenal found themselves down a man and suddenly decided to play like the home team. Song found another gear, a gear I wish he would just keep switched on, Denilson got forward and I thought for sure van Persie would get a second, but it wasn’t to be.

What I’d like to see is that sometimes, matches like these can galvanize a team. When you feel like everyone is against you (which clearly it was 12 on 10 for the last 35 minutes) it’s easy to look to people who feel the same way you do for comfort. This has its own problems — “group think” can be problematic if they don’t want to face reality — but it can be a very powerful group dynamic. I think we saw some of that budding yesterday. I haven’t seen this Arsenal team play with as much heart as they did after losing Cesc and Ade.

The Bad

Xavi Alonso and Cesc went in on a 50-50 challenge and Cesc came out with some kind of knee ligament damage. I am certain that Alonso didn’t intend to hurt Cesc, but regardless, Cesc will be out for at least a month. Clearly Arsenal will need to “replace” Cesc during that period. Please, don’t everyone say “Arsene needs to buy” at the same time, so doing might cause a rift in the fabric of reality and Arsene might actually buy a player.

Or he might just bring in King Ramsey I because when he was asked after the match if he was looking at buying someone like Arshavin he answered “No. No. No.” For the record, I only mention that because it affords me the chance to mention Arshavin and get some free hits.

I also hated having to watch Robbie Keane score a goal against Arsenal, it made me sad, but worse was how he scored the goal. It was off a very poor display of defense from the back 4 and especially Gallas. Yes, Gallas. Watch the replays… Keane is playing between Gallas and Djourou and actually closer to Djourou so it’s easy to blame Johan because it looks like it’s “his man” but, as Lee Dixon points out, there are several things that led to that goal: poor pressure from the midfielders allowed Liverpool to pick out that pass, the god damned frustratingly stupid ass insane high line (they were at the midfield circle for f*ck’s sake) gave Keane acres of space to run into, poor communication at the back led to confusion, and Gallas didn’t cut Keane off because he was in the wrong position. Watch the video again and you can see what I’m talking about.

It’s frustrating because these are some simple changes that would make a huge difference to Arsenal’s defense. Why can’t Wenger make them?

The Ugly

Obviously, Howard Webb is the focus of our collective ire. It was good to hear so many pundits after the match say “I believe Howard Webb is a good referee but he’s had a very poor game today.” That’s a good because this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Webb have a poor game against Arsenal and had to sit through those same pundits blather on about how we’re just a bunch of whiners and that Webb shits gold-plated whistles  — at least now some doubt is starting to creep in.

Webb needs to be investigated for bias against Arsenal. There are a lot of very unusual things that happen when Webb refs an Arsenal match: the Rumble at Wembley,  3 of Arsenal’s 5 losses last year, awarding dubious free kicks in great positions against Arsenal (which he did time and again yesterday), awarding 2 penalties against Arsenal in 5 matches last year, and now this Adebayor incident.

If I break down the whole Ade/Webb face off, I think the first foul was for a “high tackle.” Webb saw Adebayor step over the ball to claim it from Carragher and deemed that an “over the top – studs up” challenge. He did make contact and so fair enough for the first yellow.

On the second yellow, no one is quite sure what the foul was given for. Some people think it was for the same move that earned him his first yellow — the problem with that is that he NEVER MADE CONTACT and there was certainly no intent. Some people think it was for the “elbow” to the face of Arbeloa. That was as clear a dive as I have seen all season, if Webb gave Adebayor a yellow for that then he’s the most easily fooled ref in the EPL. And there is some speculation that Ade earned a yellow for dribbling on and having a shot after the whistle went. If that’s the case then Webb clearly has something against Adebayor, maybe stemming from Ade’s disgraceful display in the Carling Cup final (where he refused to leave the pitch when Webb wrongly sent him off for Eboue’s “foul.”) Moreover, if those two tackles are yellow card tackles then Keane’s over the top lunge that actually left Clichy limping, has to be a red card and Sagna’s over the top, rash challenge should have been a red card as well. There has to be some equivalence in tackling: it’s not fair for Arsenal to get players sent off for slight or even no contact and for opponents to get warnings for heavy contact.

I suppose we’ll hear more from the FA about the incident as Adebayor and  Wenger have both spoken out against it.  I expect that Wenger will receive a touchline ban and Adebayor will get a few extra matches tacked on for asking the ref to apologize. It’s a mess and probably did no good to take Webb to task, but I’m sure it felt better to have a go at him. I know it made me laugh to hear Wenger call Webb a “giver.”

Final Thoughts

Well, Arsenal haven’t moved up nor down in the league and though three points would have been a beautiful way to go to Villa I have to say that I am very proud of this team and getting the draw. Everyone is writing them off, referees are calling matches against them, and 4 of their most talented players are injured, yet they are in 5th place and only 8 points off the title race. More importantly, they showed what kind of team they could be after reduced to 10 men. Should they take that commitment to Villa park on Boxing day they will surely come away with three points.

Right, the weather is seriously insane here and we’ve had work canceled again (thus the late blog — I was waiting for news about Cesc’s injury) so I might head down to Doyle’s to watch Everton beat Chelsea. Drop me a line if you think you might be able to make it.

It’s good to be a Goonah!




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