After Manchester United drew with Everton at the weekend, Sir Alex Ferguson had a few words for Alan Wiley. The whistle had blown for a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo, but as he struggled to get to his feet, the ball out of his reach, Neville lunged in with two feet, kicking the ball out of play with one foot, planting his studs in Ronaldo’s knee with the other. After letting this dreadful challenge go with just a yellow card, the atmosphere changed. The home fans woke up and they were baying for blood.
When Wayne Rooney got booked for pulling out of a challenge with Mikel Arteta, after we’d conceded a goal, you had to wonder about Rooney’s temperament. After kissing our badge, the referee came over for a word. “Off! Off! Off!” shouted the Everton fans, as if kissing a badge is a bookable offence.
Moments later, Rooney was taken off. This was fairly alarming, considering I don’t think we should ever sub him off the park, but it was for his own good. After the match, Ferguson pointed the finger at the referee.
“The referee was to blame, and the crowd was egging him on and there was every chance he may have been sent off, and not for anything he did in the game,” said Ferguson. “You get a booking for nothing and then you wonder what the referee is going to do next.”
However, when a referee is at fault, the blame can go higher up, all the way to Keith Hackett. If referees are allowing two-footed challenges, with studs making contact, to go as a yellow card, then the man at the top, Hackett, isn’t doing his job.
Ferguson has directed criticism at Hackett on a number of occasions, wanting the man who is dishing out the rules and guidelines to take responsibility for the wrong-doings that go on.
Last November, Fergie claimed there were slipping standards in the quality of refereeing that season. After Patrice Evra received a kicking from Kevin Davies, including a tackle from behind, our manager wanted to know what was going on.
“At the summer conference, Keith Hackett was on about tackling from behind,” he said. “He made a promise to the managers that tackles with raised feet off the ground would be a red card and that tackles from the back would be a red card. Standards must be slipping because there have been some bad tackles recently, not just in our games but in quite a few others. And what happens then is that if someone gets seriously injured? Who gets the blame? The referee gets the blame.”
After United were robbed against Portsmouth in the Cup last season, Ferguson let rip on Hackett again. Ronaldo had been kicked and shoved all over the park, including an occasion in the opening few minutes in the penalty area, yet the referee did nothing to stop it.
“Keith Hackett has got a lot to answer for because he is not doing his job properly,” Fergie said after the game. “He has to be assessed. I am assessed as a manager, the players are assessed and the referees should be assessed. That kind of performance (by the referee) should not be accepted. The standards are not good enough.”
According to reports at the time, Fergie didn’t leave it there, and rang Hackett to give him a piece of his mind, seeking answers to questions on the incompetency of referees.
The story doesn’t stop there though, with Fergie intent on making Hackett be answerable for the poor performances of referees. When John Terry’s red card for a rugby tackle was rescinded, our manager started again.
“From what I have heard, Keith Hackett has told the referee to rescind the red card and he wouldn’t do it,” said Ferguson. “If it had been a Manchester United player, Keith Hackett wouldn’t have done this.”
So finally, after dragging his name through the dirt for the past year, Ferguson has got what he wanted, a meeting with Hackett himself. After these comments claiming that Hackett would be biased against Manchester United (let’s be honest, if Wayne Rooney had rugby tackled someone, an appeal to have his punishment rescinded would have been laughed out!), the referee’s chief has arranged a meeting with our manager.
A spokesperson called Ferguson’s comments ‘inappropriate’, but have saved him from FA punishment. “Keith Hackett has no involvement with the claims-for-wrongful-dismissal process and we reiterated this to Sir Alex,” they said. “Alex and Keith Hackett have agreed to meet privately to discuss this and other issues. In view of this we have decided not to take any formal disciplinary action in relation to this matter.”
So, maybe things can be resolved once and for all? I very much doubt it.