There has already been much written and much said about the sending off of Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano yesterday in the ‘Grand Slam Sunday’ game against Manchester United. He was dismissed for two yellow cards and with his departure went any hopes Liverpool had of getting something from the game and any outside hopes they had of staying in the race for the title.
At half time in the game, and afterwards, Sky Sports ‘voice of football’ Andy Gray declared that the sending off was a ridiculous piece of refereeing by an incompetent referee, or words to that effect. He expressed concern as to where the game is going if players are no longer able to speak to the referee.
I am no great fan of Steve Bennett’s as an official and his old style school master type of approach to refereeing is not one that I particularly enjoy. Having said that, I strongly believe that the action he took yesterday was correct and that Mascherano, and more particularly, Andy Gray, were completely in the wrong.
During the week Ashley Cole had shamed himself and the whole image of Premier League football with his petulant, childish and arrogant display when being lucky not to be sent off in Chelsea’s game at Tottenham. To be fair to Cole, he has apologised for the original tackle and the lack of respect he showed to referee Mike Riley.
As a result of that incident the whole English football industry have been discussing the FA’s respect agenda and the element of nastiness creeping into the Premier League games. Everyone, without exception, agreed that things needed to change. Steve Bennett himself was the fourth official in the Ashley Cole incident and came in for some criticism for not dealing better with it.
So it was against this background that the big game at Old Trafford took place yesterday. If I, a pleb supporter, was aware that dissent was going to be clamped down on, Bennett had been recently criticised and he always referees in a school master type way, then surely the players and the managers would be aware as well? Mascherano’s behaviour was poor, and the way he acted begs a huge question mark over his intelligence.
Mascherano is a great player and has performed exceptionally well for Liverpool this season. He doesn’t normally seem to be a ‘mouthy’ player and that made his performance yesterday even more surprising.
Steve Bennett had no choice but to give out the first yellow card. It was a reckless lunge early in the game, and in a high pressured local derby like this the referee has to take control early. Following his yellow card, Mascherano walked towards Bennett repeatedly saying, “F**k off.” It was clear and unacceptable, but Bennett showed leniency by booking him and warning him.
Mascherano then proceeded to commit two further fouls, either of which could arguably have been carded, and hurl abuse towards the referee when the free kicks were given. The warning Steve Bennett gave Mascherano could not have been clearer.
Then Steve Bennett decided to yellow card Fernando Torres. Now, this yellow card did seem harsh but we couldn’t see or hear what Torres actually said to the referee. Nor, of course, could Mascherano who decided to run fully twenty yards to remonstrate with Bennett.
Watching the game, I said, “He’s going to get sent off.” Alonso tried to grab his teammate and stop him from being foolish because he knew he would be sent off. Arbeloa looked skywards and annoyed because he knew his teammate was making a big mistake. Steve Bennett told Mascherano to go away or he would send him off. He continued to stand there and argue. He was sent off. Shock!
It is clear from the TV pictures that Mascherano was simply repeatedly saying “What’s happening.” He wasn’t swearing and he wasn’t, on that occasion, being particularly aggressive. In itself, maybe the yellow card in those circumstances would have been a little harsh. However, this was far from an isolated incident and Steve Bennett had already showed patience with the player and could have sent him off before he did. The fact that he ran so far and fought off a teammate to carry on the argument meant that Bennett had little choice.
The Liverpool players knew it, the Liverpool staff knew it and millions of people watching on television knew it.
At half time we were taken to the Sky Sports Studio studio where Richard Keys was talking to Jamie Redknapp and Andy Gray. Redknapp, a Liverpool fan and ex-player said what we were all thinking. Mascherano was stupid in the extreme and gave Steve Bennett no choice in the current climate.
Then Andy Gray, who I think has grown to believe his own publicity, starts to rant on about the referee losing control, the player simply asking a question, football going down the pan and it not being a ‘man’s game’ anymore. Total and utter rubbish Mr Gray. In your position, you should show a more responsible attitude.
The FA respect agenda is all about treating referees with respect. Commentators, fans, players and managers had all spoken out in the days prior to this game in support of the initiative. Even Sir Alex Ferguson and John Terry, two of the worst offenders over the years, spoke about how the harrassment of the officials has got to stop now.
Andy Gray said that the referees have a responsibility to take control. He said they should be ‘big enough’ to deal with situations. He suggested that Steve Bennett had lost control and ‘bottled’ the situation. Surely Bennett did quite the opposite? He repeatedly warned a player who was showing him no respect over a period of minutes and took control by sending him off and sending a strong message to players that this behaviour will no longer be tolerated.
Instead of taking the opportunity to reinforce the point that the whole football world has been making, as Jamie Redknapp and Tony Adams did on Sky, Andy Gray decided to fly in the face of common sense and criticise the referee and defend the player.
Later on I watched BBC’s Match of the Day, and whilst Alan Hansen and Gavin Peacok agreed that Mr Bennett’s style of refereeing is not to everyone’s taste, they both agreed that Mascherano had been asking to be sent off.
I was terribly disappointed with Sky Sports’ ‘Voice of football’. I think he did himself, Sky Sports and the Premier League generally a disservice with his, ‘it’s a man’s game’ attitude. Constant fouling, swearing at the referee and constant harrassment of the officials. Fighting off teammates who know you are being stupid. Which of these actions are the one’s that Andy Gray defines as ‘manly’ and which of them are the ones that he defends?
Graham writes at Views of a fan