x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Premier League referees need more card accountability

There were two red cards over the Premier League weekend, but they went to the wrong players. More transparency from referees would create an environment more conducive to good decision-making from the refs, writes Jonathan Wilson.

Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie was dubiously given a red card by referee Anthony Taylor on Sunday. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie was dubiously given a red card by referee Anthony Taylor on Sunday. Michael Regan / Getty Images

There were two obvious red-card offences in the Premier League this weekend and two red cards were shown. Which sounds fine, except that the two red cards were shown to different players in different matches than the ones in which the offences occurred.

Sunderland’s Wes Brown was sent off for firmly sidefooting a ball away as Stoke City’s Charlie Adam approached. He slipped as he did so and went to ground, but there was no contact with Adam.

If anything, the ball was closer to Brown as he went to play it, and any contact was initiated by Adam, who kept playing and seemed as mystified as anybody when Kevin Friend showed the red card.

Crystal Palace’s Yannick Bolasie at least made clear contact with Hull City’s Jake Livermore as the two players stretched for the ball on the edge of the box, but it seemed it was his thigh that made the majority of the impact and the challenge was neither high nor made with excessive force.

Some fans shrug and think that a couple of harsh cards are worth it if it helps create an environment free from reckless, injury-causing challenges. Perhaps that’s even the case; referees have a hugely difficult job and some errors are inevitable. But then you look at the disgraceful foul by Everton’s Kevin Mirallas on Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney kicking out at Cardiff City’s Jordon Mutch and wonder how on earth neither was sent off.

That Rooney got away with it will only add to the widespread – though difficult to prove – perception that the big teams tend to get away with it; that referees hesitate before sending off players from the top sides because they know what a stink will be caused if they get it wrong.

Easier to assess are the referees involved. Friend has had a poor season, notably helping Chelsea to a win over Aston Villa by failing to send off Branislav Ivanovic for an elbow and not giving a penalty for a John Terry handball.

Yet he has been better than Anthony Taylor, who sent off Bolasie. He has shown five red cards in the Premier League in the past year.

Two were overturned on appeal and while Bolasie is unlikely to see his rescinded, he can join Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny, sent off for two yellow cards against Aston Villa, in feeling a bit persecuted.

Arsene Wenger criticised the “spirit” in which that game was refereed and it was easy to see what he meant. Long before the second yellow, there had been a sense that Taylor was waiting to send somebody off.

Anybody can make a mistake and it helps nobody if referees live in perpetual fear that they will be dropped from the Premier League list for one error, but equally, repeat offenders can’t expect impunity.

Taylor in particular seems a guarantee of bizarre decisions. The issue really is one of accountability. Even if referees don’t give interviews after games, it surely would help if their chief, Mike Riley, rather than simply ringing wronged managers to apologise, gave some sort of explanation of key decisions.

It wouldn’t help Brown or Bolasie, but hearing officials admit an error – or talk through a controversy – might at least lead to better understanding and create a less-hostile environment in which it is easier for them to make good decisions.


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