We can’t be tribal about cheating.

Published: Monday, 22 February 2021

Is it really only a week ago that Harry Maguire was complaining that VAR gave United nothing at West Brom? He was annoyed that he didn’t ‘win’ a pen for one of the season’s clumsiest dives. Never mind that he was off-side and VAR missed that - as I tried to explain to his agent - who happens to be a very good friend of mine. Cue abuse. Forget it - it’s like water off a ducks back.

Well VAR was certainly kind enough this weekend eh Harry? How did VAR   miss you smashing Lascelles in the face with your arm? And you had a look to make sure of your target! That’s a pen - and could easily have been a red. It was a denial. Whatever happened to retrospective action?

At the other end Marcus Rashford was at it again - winning a ‘modern’ pen. He’s learned well from the man who gave us that description - Jose Mourinho. That was never a pen. Sure - there’s a tiny bit of contact - but it’s a con. It’s not enough to send Rashford to his knees. Refs - both on the pitch and at Stockley Park have got to do better than this.

I thought we were making progress - but we took a step back this weekend.  
When I nail United for doing it, of course abuse from their fans - based on tribal lines - usually follows. And the very same people are immediately screaming about Salah and Mane. I agree with you. They’re both as bad. And I’m happy to throw Harry Kane’s name in there. He nicked one earlier in the season after making a back on the edge of the box and then falling into it. And Raheem Sterling is a serial offender. There are so many of them - Fernandes, Rashford and Maguire!

And that’s the point - we can’t be screaming at Salah if Martial keeps doing it. Or vice-versa. Either we agree we want it stopped - and call it out when we see it - or there’s no point complaining when our own team is undone by it.

One little twist that I’d like to see - and this might just persuade some to stay on their feet. I’d like to see the player ‘fouled’ get up and take the pen. Not everybody enjoys that experience. I’ve argued for this little change since seeing Warren Barton take off in the box at Coventry. He won a pen. There was no way he was going to take it so, of course, Shearer smashed it in. It’s not a cure, but it would certainly make one or two think. The cure is with the players themselves - better refereeing and all of us calling it out. And again - the FA taking retrospective action.

I always smile when discussing this subject thinking about Robbie Fowler going over as if a sniper had got him at Highbury. Do you remember? He realised what he’d done when big David Seaman stared him down - so he jumped up and admitted it wasn’t a pen. That didn’t stop him trying to score with the kick, which was saved and then cracked in by Jason McAteer - but as I’ve said to Robbie many times - why didn’t his honestly lead to him rolling the ball wide - or to Seaman? They can’t help themselves!

On the credit side - we’ll done Chris Kavanagh. He knew what he’d seen at Anfield. He saw Alexander-Arnold bring down Calvert-Lewin. He first tried to trip him but it was his head that sent the Everton man tumbling. Intentional? No. But it doesn’t matter. Calvert-Lewin was scoring with his next touch. So it was a pen and AA was lucky not to go for a denial. That would’ve been harsh, but on a point of law, correct.

Kavanagh was asked to go to the monitor. Why? It wasn’t a clear and obvious error. You could see how annoyed he was by the little time he spent there. It was a pen. End of.

So VAR missed Maguire’s assault, but saw something that Kavanagh didn’t. Why didn’t it also see that there was a clear handball at Burnley? I don’t blame Mike Dean for not seeing the       Ajayi handball (he was on the wrong side) but there was one in the box at the other end. Kyle Bartley handled. That was a pen. Stockley Park saw it but didn’t think Dean had made a ‘clear and obvious error’. Come on. Of course he had. If VAR is to be used for the purposes that it was introduced it’s simply got to correct errors. Never mind ‘clear and obvious’. Then we might be making some progress. That, in conjunction with Mike Riley’s removal.

I can also see why Chris Wilder was furious that he didn’t get a pen v Fulham. Wow. The challenge by Areola on Bogle was worse then Pickford v van Dijk. Jobs are on the line when things like that happen. Martin Atkinson and Peter Bankes should be made to pay for such a calamitous non-decision.

What about Moyesey?  Brilliant David. I’m so pleased. I also hope that Hammers’ fans now realise I was right. British coaches are just as good as their foreign counterparts. Everyone needs time and support. Moyes has got the support now and, at last, Mssrs Sullivan, Gold and Brady are back in their box. That was Moyes biggest battle and he’s won it. Sullivan and Barry Silkman aren’t buying the players anymore. He is. And what a difference in the recruitment policy.

I ended last week by asking ‘what’s wrong at Anfield?’ I said I didn’t like the smell. I’m ending the same way this week. Something isn’t right. What’s happening on the pitch is a reflection of much bigger issues behind the scenes. We’ll have to wait for developments it seems.