Chelsea have one more pointless annoyance in the final days of the season, as the FA charged the club with failure to control the players. The FA must apply similarly strict rigor to its own referees to regain their credibility and protect the players.
The standard of Premier League officiating throughout the 2017/18 season has been a uniquely unifying force across fan bases. Chelsea fans could barely conjure up their usual #campaign as their bitter rivals fell victim to poor calls, non-calls and double standards. If there was any consolation, it was that the calls were so prevalent and so uniform that no team suffered a unique advantage or disadvantage. All were punished.
Including the Football Association, not that they seem to notice or care. FIFA did not select any English referees for the 2018 World Cup. If a top-tier club fails to qualify for the Champions League or Europa League, sacking and transfers ensue. If a powerhouse nation fails to qualify for the World Cup or Euros, the national federation cleans house and embarks on a full-pyramid rebuild.* But the FA is not undergoing any such soul-searching regarding their officials.
Pep Guardiola put the FA on notice on New Year’s Eve. After losing Gabriel Jesus and Kevin de Bruyne to injury in the same game, Guardiola said “I like the physicality of the Premier League but the referee has to protect the players. Not the best players. All the players.” He pointed out other recent examples of Manchester City players suffering dangerous tackles. Fans and even some managers chimed in with their own cases in the press or on social media.
But no new directives issued forth from the FA. No press flack released a statement or response. Unsurprisingly, then, the quality of officiating – the attentiveness, accuracy and consistency – remained unchanged.
Well, actually, the FA did have a public message for Pep Guardiola: Remove the yellow flower.
The poor officiating and game management continued through the spring, and extended into the Champions League. Michael Oliver became a household name in Madrid and Turin after his controversial and sub-par work in the second leg of Real Madrid vs. Juventus. The game was well out of his control before he awarded Real Madrid a last-kick penalty along with a red card to Gianluigi Buffon.
Unless Mark Clattenburg returns in triumph, the FA should not expect any calls from UEFA for next season’s later-round matches.
The FA is now charging Chelsea because several players and Antonio Conte confronted referee Anthony Taylor after he blew the whistle for half-time. Taylor awarded Chelsea a corner kick approximately 45 seconds into the one minute of stoppage time. Before Chelsea could even set the ball for the corner kick, Taylor ended the half. We have yet to find anyone who has ever seen this happen before, in England or otherwise.
Marcos Alonso expressed another element of Chelsea’s frustration with Taylor. Huddersfield goalkeeper Jonas Lossl milked every goal kick from the first minute of the game. He did not wait for the second half, the last substitution or a Huddersfield lead to start wasting time. For 85 minutes, Anthony Taylor did not say a word to Lossl or Huddersfield’s captain. Lossl got away with it, so he kept doing it.
Willian nearly saw yellow for trying to shepherd Huddersfield players off the pitch when their numbers appeared in red on the board. Shuffling off is a time-honoured and universal technique for winding down the clock. On its own, it would have been another frustrating part of the game, like Huddersfield’s rigid defending. In the context of the rest of Huddersfield’s time-wasting and Taylor’s premature end to the first half, it was another part of the inconsistent management and officiating by Premier League referees this season.
Officiating is a difficult job performed by fallible humans. They will never be perfect to everyone’s satisfaction. But neither will the players, who are nevertheless held to a standard of perfection.
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Mark Clattenburg once said the officials are the third team on the pitch. If either of the “actual” teams performed at the level the officials have this season, the fans would revolt, the media would have their daggers out, the owner would be sacking everyone in sight and the club would be en route to relegation. The FA must find ways to train, motivate and – if necessary – remediate or punish their Premier League officials. Perhaps a spell in the Championship or time learning abroad would help them hone their craft and recognize the level of performance expected of anyone bearing the words “Premier League” on their kit.
*Unless you’re the United States, in which case you send Bruce Arena on a book tour and direct your efforts to convincing Wayne Rooney to join Major League Soccer.