‘Best League in the world - with the worst officials’.

Published: Monday, 01 April 2019

Neil Warnock is right. There’s something I didn’t think I’d ever write. 😂. I jest. I like him, although I understand that he’s not everybody’s favourite. How I wish he’d gone to Coventry when we were still a Championship club. They decided he was too expensive - but as I told them - not as expensive as life in the lower leagues is going to be.

Anyway, he’s right. We’ve got the best league in the world, with the worst officials. How did Eddie Smart get it so wrong at Cardiff? I sit 3500 miles from PL games now - and I saw that Azpilicueta was off-side from here in Qatar. It’s the most basic requirement of an Assistant - to call off-side correctly. When the ball is in front of you - and so is the play - it’s not hard. It really isn’t.

‘VAR will sort everything out’, I can hear you say. No. It won’t. And I’ll come back to that.

Granted, it would’ve been useful on Sunday - but for something as basic as that call, we shouldn’t need VAR. It was shoddy work on Smart’s behalf. And I’ve no problem in naming him. That information is available to everybody. He fucked up. Simple.

But he’ll move onto the next job - while Warnock and his team now scramble for their very futures in the PL. And it’s no good arguing that the second goal buried them - as we all know, the chances are Chelsea wouldn’t have got the second if they hadn't got their tales up.

I haven’t got the time to mention all the big calls that have been incorrect this season. It’s far too many, but Mike Riley, the head of the PGMOL, will come out with the same nonsense that he always does come the end of the season - trying to convince us that they’ve got 97/98% of the decisions they’ve made this season correct. I’m told he stands up at LMA meetings and delivers the same nonsense. It’s laughable. And managers laugh!

Officials should get the majority of the decisions they make correct. Most are easy for experts. It’s the percentage of the ‘big’ decisions that matter. And they get nowhere near enough of those correct.

Riley was appointed - and subsequently protected - by Richard Scudamore - the ‘slowly’ retiring boss of the PL. While Scudamore was in position, Riley was as safe as houses. But Scudamore has gone now - so somebody has got to call Riley to account - sooner rather than later.

Here’s one very good reason why VAR won’t help us next season - because the planning is a shambles.

Tell me - why is it - that contrary to IFAB protocol - our refs won’t be allowed to check decisions at a pitch side monitor? I’ve been banging on about this all season because there haven’t been pitchside monitors used in either of the Cup competitions that have been trialling VAR. No other league on the world operates like this. If we’re to introduce VAR then the match ref MUST have the final decision. If not - the true ref is sitting in front of a bank of monitors in West London making decisions in slow motion. Again, I’m told that at a recent refs meeting Martin Atkinson was furious that his decision to show Victor Lindelof red (in the Fa Cup toe at Wolves) was overturned by Chris Kavanagh, a ref he considers junior to himself. And he’s right - Kavanagh has only been on the elite list two seasons. Atkinson didn’t get the chance to look at his decision again. He was simply told from VAR HQ that he was wrong! Its incredible. If he had - Atkinson has said he would’ve correctly stood by his original decision. Incidentally, I still don’t know why it was referred to VAR. Did Atkinson make a ‘clear and obvious’ error? No. It’s madness, but it gets worse.

Because there aren’t enough refs on that elite list, Championship refs will be making decisions in the VAR bunker. That’s right - refs not deemed good enough for the PL - but good enough, it seems, to analyse decisions of better officials than themselves and have the final say on them. THIS CAN NOT BE RIGHT.

I don’t like VAR. Football is not a game that it sits well with. Where are the natural breaks that occur in cricket, rugby or tennis? There aren’t any. And when it’s been used has it cleared confusion or created it? In the WC Final they managed to get every big decision wrong. In the recent CL game in Paris, again involving United, they again got it wrong. Why was the decision ever referred anyway? Are we talking about that handball being a matter of fact - or opinion? That’s right - it was a matter of opinion. The same at Atkinson’s decision to send off Lindelof. Matters of fact become a matter of opinion in the blink of an eye - and NEVER should a game be reffed in slow-mo.  

I know it’s coming. But if it’s coming we HAVE to be better at the implementation. And officials like Eddie Smart have to be better than they are now.

I do have sympathy for officials. None of them sets out to make mistakes - but there are too many of them. I’m actually arguing on their behalf. If any of them were allowed to comment, trust me, they’d tell you I’m right. Mike Riley has strangled the life out of them with mechanical demands and crushing punishments. They’re scared. And that will be the case to a far greater degree next year when decisions will be made in the ‘office’ - not on the field of play.

Riley was a weak ref. He was never cut out to be a leader. He shouldn’t be a leader. With Scudamore gone Riley should go now too before things get even worse.

It was negligent in the extreme that Riley lost both Howard Webb - a WC final ref and Mark Clattenburg - a CL and Euro Championship ref. Ask yourself why they left. Ask yourself why we didn’t have any officials at the last WC. The answer is that our officials aren’t good enough. And the man to blame for that is Mike Riley. As Neil Warnock said ‘it’s the best league in the world, with the worst officials’.