Manchester United have been fined for the 7 yellow cards the players picked up in Sunday’s 1-1 draw away to Chelsea. The number of cards would suggest there was some kind of bloodbath on show, which certainly wasn’t the case at all. United committed 22 fouls whilst Chelsea committed 18.
In the midlands derby between West Brom and Aston Villa at the weekend, the former were guilty of 22 fouls whilst the latter committed 18. Both sides were awarded 3 yellow cards each.
Of course, that isn’t a science though, because it isn’t just the frequency of fouls, but the severity of those committed. However, like Sir Alex Ferguson said after the game, there wasn’t a single bone crunching challenge, apart from arguably that of John Obi Mikel who went in with his studs on Cristiano Ronaldo outside the area.
Whilst I questioned Mike Riley’s performance after the game, I didn’t realise then what a rarity it was for so many yellow cards to be handed out to one team in a single match, particularly when you consider the generally placid nature in the game up until the final whistle.
Despite refereeing few games than his counterparts, Riley has handed out at least two more yellow cards than any other ref. When these silly cards add up and our players are missing for crucial games, poor performances from Riley will be forgotten.
In every Premiership season, 380 different matches are played. Over the past ten years then, it works out at 3,800 games of football. In that time, there have only been 6 occasions where a team has received 7 yellow cards.
The last time one side picked up so many yellow cards in a single match was in United’s game against Spurs last season, when Wes Brown, Nani, Ronaldo, Rooney, Van der Sar and Tevez were all booked.
“We had seven booked but my problem is with the referee,” Fergie said after the game. “Ronaldo is hacked down, but Jermaine Jenas gets nothing. Then Wayne Rooney is booked for diving, Tom Huddlestone dives and is not booked. It’s chaos.”
Spurs took the lead with 20 minutes played that day, with Jermaine Jenas handling the ball in the run up. Van der Sar complained to the linesman and was booked for it.
A few minutes later, a freekick is given against Ronaldo for apparent handball, which the Portuguese winger appealed. He was booked for doing so.
Brown, Nani and Vidic can have no complaints about their yellow cards though.
Dawson elbowed Van der Sar in the head before his resulting goal was disallowed. He was lucky not to be booked, as it was no less intentional than the three cards mentioned above.
United committed 12 fouls in that match, yet picked up 7 yellows, in contrast to Spurs’ 17 fouls earning them 3 yellow cards.
Let me make it clear, I’m not suggesting United are always the team to wrongly be victimised by referees, but it does suggest that it is entirely hit and miss over who receives yellow cards and who doesn’t.
Rules are rules, right? But the rules seemingly change on a weekly basis. Following John Terry’s dismissal at City, several of their players complained to the referee, crowding around him, yet none of them got their name in the book. At the weekend, Ronaldo wagged his finger at the referee and was given a yellow card.
One week we’re told to respect the ref, yet in the weekend’s games some players are punished for questioning decisions whilst others aren’t. Some players are booked for intentionally swinging out at a player whilst others just concede a freekick. There’s no consistency, yet Fergie is criticised when he highlights the poor job Keith Hackett is doing when failing to ensure all teams and players are treated the same.
Following the joke of a decision given in the Watford vs Reading game this season, the Professional Game Match Officials Board released a statement.
“Football is a human game played at a fast pace where mistakes are made by players and match officials alike,” it read. That’s the problem isn’t it? Whilst the likes of rugby and tennis can embrace technology, football shies away from it.
As far as Riley is concerned, it’s best not to forget this is the ref who was made a laughing stock out of when he was in charge of Chelsea’s game against Tottenham Hotspur last season, from which the ‘Respect the Ref’ campaign was seemingly born. Following a dreadful challenge on Alan Hutton, for which he easily could have received a red card, Cole had the balls to then abuse the referee for calling him up on it, along with team mates John Terry and Didier Drogba, before turning his back on the referee. He was given nothing more than a yellow card for both the foul and tirade of abuse.
So, did United’s players on Sunday warrant punishment that has only been seen on five previous occasions in the past ten years of football? Of course not. Is it any surprise that Riley wouldn’t even tolerate having Ronaldo’s finger wagged at him after being humiliated by Cole a few months prior? Again, no. Because he is human, and whilst humans make mistakes, we also don’t like to be embarrassed, and the decision Riley made to book so many of our players for ‘dissent’ came entirely from emotional reasons, rather than logical ones. And Keith Hackett can’t solve that problem.