When Dean Marney saw red in today's Premier League encounter between Hull City and Blackburn Rovers, the watching world saw double standards.
Marney was sent off for his reaction to a clumsy challenge by Blackburn's Norwegian midfielder, Morten Gamst Pedersen. Marney's instinctive reaction was to flick out his foot at Pedersen's ankle, making the merest of connections.
Yet, it was enough to convince Pedersen to dramatically collapse to the ground in a bid to see his opponent dismissed. It worked, and Martin Atkinson produced a straight red card for the Hull midfielder.
By the laws of the game, Martin Atkinson got the decision right. Such a reaction by Marney could be deemed to be violent conduct, punishable by a straight red card and a three match ban.
This was, after all, the medicine received by Shaun Wright-Phillips for a similar response in an altercation with Stoke's Rory Delap. Wright-Phillips was punished retrospectively and missed today's game between West Ham and Manchester City due to his ban.
I have no problem with the action taken against both Marney and Wright-Phillips, as it is correct by the laws of the game. What irritates me is the inconsistency of these decisions.
It seems that there are one set of rules for the mere mortals of the Premier League and another set of rules entirely for the reigning European, World, and PFA Players' Player of the Year. I am, of course, referring to Cristiano Ronaldo.
On three occasions this season, Ronaldo has flicked his foot out at opponents after the ball had passed—in exactly the same way Marney and Wright-Phillips acted.
We first saw Ronaldo react this way during Manchester United's visit to White Hart Lane in mid-December. Michael Dawson won the ball with a crunching challenge next to the touchline, and as he got up to jog back into position, he was caught by a Ronaldo kick.
Neither Mike Dean nor higher powers decided to punish United's No. 7.
Less than two weeks later, Ronaldo was at it again. Manchester United was struggling to break down a resolute Stoke City side at The Britannia Stadium when Andy Wilkinson gave the home crowd even more to shout about with a well-timed challenge on their pantomime villain.
Once again, Ronaldo flicked out, and once again, he escaped any form of punishment. A few minutes later, referee Chris Foy sent Wilkinson off for his second bookable offence—a foul on Ronaldo.
Exhibit C comes from the recent meeting between Manchester United and Blackburn at Old Trafford. David Dunn was on the receiving end of an ankle tap this time as Ronaldo lied on the floor feeling aggrieved that the Blackburn midfielder had dared to tackle him.
Ronaldo was already on a yellow card following a dive earlier in the game and went on to punish Blackburn for referee Howard Webb's mistake with a stunning free kick to win the game.
Had Ronaldo been punished for these misdemeanours in the same way as Wright-Phillips and Marney had been, he would have sat out nine matches. Instead he has escaped unscathed.
Sir Alex Ferguson's role in this situation should not be underestimated. Any straight red cards received by his players are publicly questioned and disputed by the United manager, and he even turns the heat up on the media for highlighting any wrongdoing.
His reaction to the justified media scrutiny of Wayne Rooney's nasty stamp on Kasper Risgaard is a case in point. Ferguson snarled that the media would be delighted to see Rooney banned and that they played their part in the uproar. Unsurprisingly, the United No. 10 got off.
This season saw the "respect the ref" campaign introduced.
Unless the officials start punishing every individual in the same way, harassment and abuse from players and managers will only increase. Premier League referees have to start applying rules to every player regardless of their status or the fearsome reputation of their manager.