I spent much of my Saturday here in NZ trying to toss up whether or not I’d be getting up at 4am on Sunday morning to watch the match between Man United and Arsenal. Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t resist watching such a mouth watering tie, especially as I felt – as I hinted in my Predictions – that Arsenal would outplay United in a cracking match. And they did.
That United came away with the points then, is a bit surprising. I was very impressed with Arsenal, they played good football (though the pressure of the occasion affected both sides at times) and played with great attacking intent. United were disappointing, and looked aimless going forward. There’s one reason and one reason only that in this match, the better side didn’t win, and that reason is called Mike Dean.
As a complete neutral watching this game – I wouldn’t have minded particularly who won, so long as come May one of them finishes higher than Liverpool – I was astounded at just how biased Mike Dean was towards Manchester United. Of course, we all know that at Old Trafford, United enjoy the favour of all the Premier League referees, but throughout the game Dean gave everything he could to United.
Naturally the big talking point will be the penalty that was awarded to United, and frankly you know, and I know, and all the Man Utd fans know, it was never a penalty in a million years. Rooney raced to get a touch to the ball and in his haste he smashed it off the pitch – it didn’t even bounce inside the touchline – and then crumbled to the ground, eventually clinching some contact with the unfortunate Almunia.
It was never a penalty because there was no active contact from Almunia but even more so because Rooney could never have retrieved the ball and so even if there had been contact, there was no denial of a goals coring opportunity, or indeed any opportunity. No, Rooney is as guilty of deceiving the referee in order to gain a penalty as Eduardo was against Celtic in midweek.
The difference is that Arsenal would have beaten Celtic anyway. They were busy outplaying them when Eduardo took his tumble, whereas Man Utd looked completely toothless up until the point when Rooney spied an opportunity to cheat his way into another Premier League goal. Arsenal fans still can’t complain – given Eduardo’s precedent setting crime – but I hope Rooney will suffer a fate similar to Eduardo’s.
Eduardo’s dive took place in the Champions League and so UEFA, the governing body of the competition, have taken the unusual step of charging Eduardo and banning him. Initially I thought this was ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I hate diving with a passion and encourage the game’s ruling bodies to do anything they can to stamp it out, but I agreed with Wenger when he declared it a witch-hunt driven by the Scottish media.
That’s exactly what it was, and still is. However, if it sets a precedent and UEFA continue to ban players who dive to win free-kicks and penalties in their competitions, then I applaud them. It is, as far as I can see, one of the best ways that we could enforce to get rid of diving. However, consistency is required, not only within the Champions League, but across all football.
The English FA need to take heed of the example set by UEFA and ban Wayne Rooney for his crime. It was an appalling decision from Mike Dean, but on occasion every referee will be conned by a cunning dive, and so to have the guts to step in and punish players who have successfully conned the on-pitch officials is an important step.
Referees are after all, only human, and there are limits to their perception, even when not being blatantly biased, and if we have to step in post-match to enforce the rules then so be it. However, consistency has to go both ways, and if we are to ban Eduardo and Rooney for cheating then we should also ban Mike Dean for the same crime.
If you get the chance to watch the match over again, I encourage you to do so, and watch carefully at every decision he makes. I don’t have the memory capacity to remember every single incident that seemed to be wrong, and to list them all would seem to be pedantic anyway. But watching the game as a neutral, it was clear that Arsenal weren’t getting a fair rub of the green.
The penalty decision was clearly wrong, as were various other little ones, like when Bacary Sagna was booked for protesting a throw-in awarded to United that quite clearly came of the foot of Nani. It was these little things that ultimately made it nearly impossible for Arsenal to press home their dominance. When every little decision goes against you, it’s really difficult to maintain your calm and focus on your football.
What’s more was that Dean was useless enough to give Rooney a penalty that so clearly wasn’t a foul but had denied Andrey Arshavin a stone-wall one just 30 seconds before his goal. Arsenal fans would have been furious had the Russian not forced the ball into the net moments later, because Arshavin turned on a sixpence and flicked the ball past Fletcher before being unceremoniously dumped to the ground by the Scot.
The icing on the cake though was when the referee was stupid enough to try and send Arsene Wenger to the stands after he kicked out at a water bottle in frustration when his side had a late equaliser ruled out. Gallas was offside, there’s no dispute there, but why can’t Wenger show his disappointment? He didn’t hurt anyone (water bottles don’t have feelings), and just showed how much he cared about the game. I can see nothing wrong with that but the referee had to wade in and have his say.
This is the thing for me. When I look back over the game and try to think who I would pick as my man of the match, no one really stands out. Nemanja Vidic would be a contender, he put himself about in his usual ferocious fashion and Abou Diaby also had an excellent game – excluding the mysterious and ultimately costly own goal.
However, the man who had the most impact on the game as a whole was, unfortunately, Mike Dean. It was his influence that shone through most strongly, not giving a clear penalty, awarding United a penalty for nothing, and ultimately giving United the advantage wherever he possibly could. I’m not saying that this was done purposefully, it probably wasn’t, but if that’s the case, then Dean is simply a quite terrible referee.
That’s worrying, given that one would assume that the man in charge of such a high profile game would be the man in whom the FA have the most confidence. After such a terrible display though, I hope that the FA reconsider their confidence in a man who gave out more bookings and penalties than any other official last season, and send him where he belongs – to the lower leagues.
Because ultimately, I gave up two hours of sleep in the early hours of Sunday morning to watch a game of football that I thought would be exciting and entertaining. I’m suffering for it now, because I’m knackered, and I’m not sure now if it was entirely worth it.
Yes, at times the game was entertaining and exciting, and Arsenal in particular played some good football. But when my enduring memory of a game of football is not a stunning goal from Andrey Arshavin or a bizarre own goal from Abou Diaby but the ridiculous exploits of the referee, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed and disillusioned.
A good referee doing his job properly should be almost invisible. You shouldn’t hear his whistle all the time and the main talking point certainly should not be whether or not he made the right decisions. I don’t expect referees to be perfect, but at this level I think it’s fair to expect that a referee should be skilled enough to officiate a match without ruining it.
Unfortunately, Mike Dean was far too incompetent to achieve that and so he has ruined a perfectly good game of football. Arsenal fans have every right to feel robbed by Dean, and I certainly can sympathise with them, but at the end of the day, football is the real loser here. A match between Manchester United and Arsenal should be a showcase of some of the best football in the world. Instead, we got an exhibition of the worst refereeing in the world, and that’s a terrible shame.
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