I sit here and watch Chelsea v Manchester United for the second time in four days, and fortunately enough, the entertainment value is just as good this time round, with the visitors as I write, leading thanks to a marvellously executed goal by Nani. Let us hope that all the headlines from this one are about the quality of the football.
Sadly Sunday’s game is going to be in the news for a while to come for all the wrong reasons. There was certainly some controversial moments in the game. Two red cards, both for Chelsea players, and United’s winning goal appearing to be scored by a player in an offside position. For me, the referee Mark Clattenburg made one major error in the game, and that was when he deemed that Fernando Torres had dived over Jonny Evans’ challenge, and issued the Spanish striker with a second caution. In my opinion, Evans’ tackle was rash, unnecessary when he had cover, and appeared to catch Torres’ leg. Having said that, you could understand the referee coming to the decision he made. Torres was in a 3 v 1 situation with little support, and plenty to gain from winning a free kick in the position he was in. It’s also worth remembering that Torres’ first caution was for a very poor challenge on United’s Tom Cleverley, and there would have been plenty of referees who would have deemed the challenge reckless, and worthy of a straight red card.
Come full time, Chelsea were obviously feeling aggrieved. We’ve all been there, seen our team fall foul of what we believe to be poor refereeing decisions. Then it came out that Chelsea were reporting the official for use of inappropriate language towards two of their players. As the week has gone on, the two players have been identified as John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata, and it is alleged that Clattenburg’s language was racist towards both players. The FA have launched an investigation, and following an independent complaint, the Met Police have launched an investigation as well.
Let me be clear first of all on one thing. Whoever is in the wrong here, should have the proverbial book thrown at them. If Clattenburg did use the language alleged, he should not referee again. If however this is nothing but a witch hunt from a collection of players feeling hard done by, then those players should feel the full force of disciplinary action.
Much of the information so far revealed however is paper talk, so it’s difficult to tell what actually happened during or after the game. Which is why it’s more than a little surprising that the Society of Black Lawyers, led by Peter Herbert, were responsible for making a complaint based on little more than media reports and social networks, hardly the base of water tight evidence. And since the accusations came to light, the supposed evidence appears to be springing more than a few leaks. Firstly, unlike the John Terry episode, there doesn’t appear to be any video evidence. Secondly, Clattenburg was miked up, so the other officials could hear everything he said, and they have all stood by the referee in declaring his innocence. Then things get even more shaky. Apparently, neither Mikel or Mata actually heard the referee use the alleged language, but it was overheard by David Luiz, and Ramires. Both players are of course Brazilian, and the latter’s grasp of the English language in particular is said to be limited. Given also that Clattenburg has a Durham accent, it’s difficult to believe in a loud, passionate, football ground atmosphere that either player heard anything clearly.
It’s also worth mentioning the behaviour of one of the alleged victims Mikel when he remonstrated with the referee after the game. Despite how upset someone may be, there is a way to deal with issues, and supposed aggressive behaviour towards the individual is not it – again, this is all paper talk so has probably been much exaggerated.
The involvement of the police in this incident would be understandable had the complaint come from one of the players involved. For a independent organisation to make the complaint based on nothing but rumour seems rather odd, and while I can understand the Black Lawyers Society’s determination to see proper justice when dealing with such cases in the game, I can’t help thinking that their involvement here is at the wrong time. To be seen to be backing a case where, as above, the evidence released so far is so flimsy, could do damage to their own reputation. It is also interesting to note that this comes at the same time that they are backing calls for black players to create their own union away from the PFA. They claim this is to ensure that cases involving black players get proper treatment, however creating divisions only adds to the issues involved, and will only encourage those who seek to discriminate. Such a policy in my opinion, although well intentioned is horribly misguided.
The pressure is now on the FA to deal with the issue swiftly and appropriately, to not only drive any issues of racism out of the game, but also deal with potentially, cases where individuals are using the increased awareness of the issue for their own vindictive gain. I really hope on this one it is a case of a huge misunderstanding, otherwise somewhere in the game things really have taken a turn for the worse.