More power to the elbow of Roberto Martinez. That should be the sentiment of all football supporters after his comments following Wigan’s loss at Old Trafford produced the predictable, yet utterly unhelpful, £10,000 punishment levied on him by the FA last week.
It’s sadly outside the realm of possibility that Manchester United fans would join any throng in his support, but that’s no surprise.
Martinez is no Neil Warnock or of the managerial style that favours touchline dancing or orchestral air-conducting during matches.
Nor is he of the family that habitually spits vitriol or wails persecution during the Sky or ESPN post-match interviews. No. None of that. He’s a reasoned, cerebral and measured boss who did nothing but give an opinion about a culture which all but the most myopic have seen grow steadily to its current Leviathan proportions.
Referring to the early and familiar award of a penalty to the home side after Danny Welbeck’s acrobatics in the box, Martinez honed in not on the refereeing error but on the conditions that caused it.
Here’s the issue: Maybe since the day of the Roy Keane-led pack hunting down Andy D’Urso, or even before, visitors without exception believe all officials on duty at the "Theatre of Dream (farce?)" go with the Old Trafford flow.
Though the clearly fanciful penalty awarded against his side was thankfully saved, Martinez was not sounding a clarion blast at official Michael Oliver. Nor indeed, as the FA lazily claimed, was he hurling brickbats of individual referee pro-club bias.
No. The Wigan boss was addressing a long-standing elephant in the room.
By and large it reads thus: United player goes down in the box at Old Trafford no matter the context—penalty. Opposition player does the same: no penalty and frequently a yellow card for simulation. A 50-50 challenge—high odds on a United free-kick and frequently a yellow for the opposition player.
And yet, even a passing reference to any of this from visiting managers brings the virtual FA gag of fine and censure.
In addition there’s the oft-quoted but scarcely inaccurate concept of “Fergie Time"—when Manchester United needs a goal, the manager appears from the dugout jabbing his forefinger at a sun dial-sized watch to make his point.
That point is well illustrated in their recent 3-2 home defeat by Spurs. Four extra minutes were added, and Spurs still won. But still, there was the Teflon-clad Sir Alex effectively telling any and all media that his side only lost because there should have been nearly double the added time.
Arguably, the officials were colluding with Spurs to deny his side the time required to gain a point or three. But was the footballing Knight immediately rained down upon by FA charges and punishments?
Once again, not.
While all referees obviously feel a weekly degree of home-crowd pressure, the issue highlighted by Martinez runs much deeper than that. It’s as if officials stepping out of their cars at Old Trafford feel, at least subliminally, the Old Trafford "default" will come into play at some point.
United have recently felt themselves on the wrong end of another "culture cauldron." That’s when Luis Suarez was denied a clear penalty in their recent game with Liverpool at Anfield.
If managers make enough bad mistakes they get fired, players get dropped, but referees?
Wrapped in a cotton wool cocoon by the authorities, immune from having to explain their decisions, or having them questioned.
Roberto Martinez is the manager to speak out, precisely because he’s not a loud mouth. This isn’t a case of an ill-mannered school child caught insulting the head teacher, but a committed, intelligent student of the game in search of the consistency of officiating for which all supporters thirst on every match day that comes around.
Worthy of a £10,000 fine? I would rather contend their remarks deserving a far more profound and pro-active response from the footballing powers that be, before someone dubs the FA "Fergie’s Allies."
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