A week is a long time in football. Cast your minds back to Sunday, when Wayne Rooney’s elbow was claiming the coveted back page of most papers. Having directed his elbow into the jaw of Wigan’s James McCarthy, Sir Alex Ferguson was quick to defend his player.
Fergie asked that the world accept the referee’s decision and move on, defending Rooney in the process, claiming “there was nothing in it”, and claiming the press would seek Rooney’s execution for his actions.
As the referee saw the incident at the time, and deemed after the game he would not have changed his decision, Rooney and his elbow were excused.
While it seems that Wayne Rooney has usurped Ashley Cole as public enemy number one in the tabloid press (a status that Cole seems intent on recapturing, having shot a work experience student with an air rifle in the week), to claim there was "nothing in it" seemed a little off the mark.
Even more surprising was Ferguson’s call for the world to accept a refereeing decision; he’s hardly known for his support for referees after all.
On Tuesday night, normality resumed.
While playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, referee Martin Atkinson booked David Luiz just the once. In reality, Luiz could, and should, have been booked three times, and Ferguson was right in that assessment. The United boss was even more incredulous when Chelsea scored in the same move that should have seen Luiz sent off for a foul on Rooney.
So, would we all accept the referee’s decision and move on?
Err. Not exactly. Instead, Ferguson told everyone what he thought of the decision, and the referee in question.
Hypocritical? Just a bit.
But he is completely right to be, and he knows it.
Let’s not go into the ins and outs of whether Rooney meant to elbow McCarthy, he did elbow him. Therefore, we are assuming that the referees did both make mistakes with Rooney and Luiz; both should have been punished harsher.
However, the difference between the two incidents is that one worked against United, and the other benefited them.
It is a manager’s duty to defend his players, and to help his team win.
When was the last time a manager admitted his player did wrong after a game and helped him get a ban? The truth is, if he avoids punishment on the pitch, it is absurd to suggest that he should not fight his player’s corner.
Fergie admitted after Rooney was cleared that the England striker might have been a tad fortunate to escape punishment; what more can you ask of him? That he seeks a suspension for one of his star players? Really?
Would Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola or Arsene Wenger admit his player did wrong and see him collect a ban? Not likely.
Mourinho once made up a story about referees colluding with an opposition manager when he felt his team did not get enough decisions. Guardiola stands by his players regardless of their behaviour. Wenger, well, he didn’t see it.
Managers should fight their players’ corners regardless. Ferguson knew Rooney did wrong, and he certainly will have told him in private, but why tell the world? Why get Rooney a ban?
Just last month, Wenger failed to see Alex Song pushing Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan, an offence he was sent off for. Did he see the tackle from Barton on Song just one second before Song’s reaction? You’re damn right he did, and he was certain that Barton should have been sent off for it.
Did Wenger see the multiple red-card offences that Patrick Vieira committed in an Arsenal shirt? Of course not, he missed at least six of the eight. Does he see a possible red-card offence committed by an opponent on one of his players? Of course; I’m not sure he’s ever missed one.
That isn’t a slant on Mr Wenger either. It isn’t about being right, or saying the right thing. It’s about looking after your team. Wenger and Ferguson know it. Nearly all other manager’s do it too; just they aren’t in quite so much media spotlight.
With regards to Atkinson, Ferguson believes he cost United the game, and he may well have done. Would Chelsea have pressed United with 10 men if the score was 1-1? Not so likely. The point United lost could cost them the League too.
Atkinson’s mistake was the turning point in the game, and as a result United were angry with him for his decision, just like many other manager’s have been angry about decisions that have gone for Manchester United. They have a right to be angry if a referee fails to do his job properly, which they consistently do, and therein lies the problem. Referees make too many mistakes.
So, is it right to moan about a referee? If you believe he made a mistake which cost you the game, then why not? It could cost your team massively in the future.
Is it right to say the ref was not fair, as in the case of Ferguson-Atkinson? Simply put, no; and Ferguson has rightfully been charged for his comments. You can’t question a referee’s impartiality; that is libelous. It’s a much safer bet to question his competency; more people will agree with you too.
David Moyes, Steve Bruce, Kenny Dalglaish, Tony Pulis and Alex McLeish are just a few other manager’s who spring to mind when it comes to moaning about refs. Mark Hughes once moaned about a referee in his pre-match interview when he was manager at Man City. Maybe he felt this qualified his complaints about the ref when City failed to win the match.
The point is that all managers complain about referees. Some are charged, some are not, and some should be, but aren’t. It happens on a weekly basis.
All managers have to defend their players, unless there is really no question over their guilt. Then you claim you can’t see it.
So, Ferguson is accused of hypocrisy for his comments, and he’d probably be the first to admit to his hypocrisy once he retires. For now though, expect him to continue in his ways and defend his players at any cost; and expect the same from every other manager.
After all, it’s their job.