Football matches are rarely short of talking points but Saturday’s match against Manchester United had more than most. United are probably the best team in England at the moment and look likely to win the Premier league title, but the game highlighted some disturbing decision-making by the match officials, the United staff and subsequently by the FA.
Wigan started the game briskly and put United on the back foot. Only eight minutes into the game and the petulant Wayne Rooney committed a very serious offence. James McCarthy stepped into Rooney’s path and as he did so Rooney lashed out with his elbow into the side of McCarthy’s head.
The Referee Mark Clattenburg saw the offence and those who had seen it expected Rooney to be sent off. However Clattenburg inexplicably, did not send off or even book Rooney, but just put his arm around him and said some ‘kind’ words.
If Clattenburg really saw ‘Rooney’s elbow’ then under the rules of the game it is a straight red card offence. If he didn’t see it, he should have consulted his linesman or the fourth official, and if no official saw it he should have re-started the game with a drop ball.
Subsequent TV and photographic evidence clearly shows the incident and Rooney clearly commits a red card offence. Most independent viewers have agreed that Rooney should have been sent off. However, following the game Mike Phelan was interviewed on Match of the Day and refused to accept that Rooney had dangerously used his elbow. He even suggested that there was a witch hunt against Rooney by the media. When will managers and their assistants admit that there players have committed serious offences especially when they can be as dangerous as the Rooney’s assault on James McCarthy? Why do they defend the indefensible?
The incident wasn’t the only time that the referee protected Manchester United, there were several fouls that Clattenburg preferred to ignore and one in particular by Paul Scholes, once again on James McCarthy, that deserved at least a booking. From my seat in the centre of the West Stand it seemed to me that Clattenburg was constantly looking to the United bench and Alex Ferguson in particular for approval of his decisions. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but it did seem that Clattenburg was very concerned not to upset Fergy.
The final frustration in this affair is that the FA have subsequently failed to punish Rooney with a ban. All the TV and photographic evidence shows that Rooney was guilty. Roberto Martinez has said, if it was a Wigan player he would have been sent off and facing a long suspension. What message does this send to the other clubs, supporters and the public at large?
By the way, United went on to win the game 4-0, Rooney created the first two goals and scored the third.