Johannesburg - I’ve long subscribed to the notion that teams and their players, including coaching staff, will do all in their power to win a game ... even if that means cheating, diving and trying to hoodwink the match officials.
The recent European Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool in Kiev, Ukraine, is a case in point. It is my opinion, and that of many fellow referees and former whistlemen to whom I’ve spoken, that the Real captain Sergio Ramos deliberately set out to marginalise the Reds’ prolific goal-scorer Mohamed Salah.
The little Egyptian was felled by a very clever manoeuvre that forced him to retire after only 30 minutes with a shoulder injury. There is no doubt the absence of Salah for the next 60 minutes was a big blow to Liverpool as he has been in devastating form all season. Likened in many ways to Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, he’s been scoring goals all season and was seen as a major threat to the Madrid side’s campaign to win their third Champions League final in a row.
Several players seem to indulge in this darker side of the game and appear to get away with it. Either the match officials are unsighted or are turning a blind eye to such goings on.
Whatever the reason, it’s a blight on the game and the referees need to take action.
The sight of players falling down at the slightest touch and getting free kicks is a sad indictment of referees who seem to pander to the big names and clubs.
Referees always appear to give the benefit of the doubt to the defending team.
Recently, I witnessed a forward being pulled to the ground, but, because of the way the defender manipulated the situation to make it look like he was the offended player, he completely fooled the referee - or so I think.
This is bad officiating and needs to be addressed. Why do referees fall for these tricks?
The simple answer, in my opinion, is that they are afraid and will always err on the side of caution.
How many times have you seen a referee give a penalty kick to the attacking player when it’s a 50/50 decision?
How many times have you seen a referee issue a red card to a defender who clearly swings his arm at the attacker, but instead gives a free kick to the defending team?
The same referees will give a free kick in the middle of the field, but fail to give a penalty kick and a red card to a defending team.
This is refereeing cowardice of the highest order and does nothing to inspire confidence in the men in black in the eyes of the watching public.
I deliberately singled out the male officials because, from what I’ve seen, the women appear to have more guts and fortitude when it comes to issuing sanctions against offending players. They are a joy to watch, not only for their correct interpretation of the FIFA Laws of the Game, but also for the respect they command from the players.
Male players continue to protest almost every decision and use some disgusting language to show their displeasure with the referee. That doesn’t happen with the women and they are to be commended for their respect for authority.
Bad behaviour will continue unless and until we stand up to the louts and thugs who sully our soccer fields masquerading as soccer players. We have to be strong and apply the laws of the game without fear or favour of any players, coaches or teams.
Only then will we get the respect we not only need, but also deserve.
Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol