Right or wrong Debate over Milijas's red card rages on…
The week may have passed but I think it's time for a little clarification, having spoken to various parties, on Nenad Milijas's sending-off at the Emirates Stadium.
As most Wolves' fans will have seen, Mick McCarthy took the unusual step of darkening the lights at the Sir Jack Hayward training ground in Compton to run DVD footage and talk the assembled press through the sending-off of the Serbian international.
After asking the expectant throng whether they thought a red card should have been the punishment – there was one dissenting voice from the general chorus – McCarthy set off on his own passionate musings.
Speaking out: Mick McCarthy runs through his version of events
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I'm going to re-produce it here, because I think it's important in what follows as to where I think the actual burden of blame lies for this whole incident.
McCarthy said: 'I think the fabric of the British game is based on people tackling – and I think Milijas has made a really good one.
'I don't think Stuart Attwell can see it. My point is this: Rarified atmosphere, tackle – sending-off – they are all up for it. It's 1-1 in the 74th minute and we are drawing.
'Nenad's foot is on the floor. He's not jumped. He's slid in. He's got his studs up because you cannot slide with your studs in the turf.
'If ever there is a picture of someone getting the ball – that's it. The referees' report ticks every box. It said that he came in with force with his studs up and slid in.
'My point is that no-one thinks it's reckless endangerment towards the other player. So, how can he be sent-off
'I've had a lovely text from one of my fellow managers saying: “God help us.” I sent him one back asking: “What's up” He replied: “That sending-off.” We might as all give up.
'Look, in that atmosphere anyone can make a mistake. But why then compound that mistake by agreeing with it
'Have you heard me admit to a mistake this season Have you heard me come in and say: “We were bobbins today I got that wrong”
'I generally do and what I would like is the same treatment. I said to the official at Norwich, coming off, it looks like you’ve joined a good club here (after Steven Fletcher's late strike was ruled out for offside). Somebody told me it was onside and I went and apologised to him.
'I said: “I’m sorry, I was given duff information, he was offside.” I’m more than happy to do that – and I have done – the referees would be more than happy to back that up. I’ve spoken to them or to Mike Riley when I’ve got it wrong and I’ve said: “Sorry about that.” I’m not being treated the same here.'
Turning point: Nenad Milijas was sent off for this foul on Mikel Arteta
The first point to make is that there was pretty compelling evidence from Wolves' video analyst that referee Attwell did not have a clear view of the incident.
He required the ability to see through two Arsenal players to have an unimpeded sightline.
McCarthy absolved Mikel Arteta of any blame. I don't think the player's reaction aided the situation, but that was probably the point. He was unhurt and recovered sufficiently to be able to take the resultant free-kick.
As Wolves were on the cusp of receiving clearance from Arsenal that they were able to take Emmanuel Frimpong on loan for the rest of the season, no surprises for guessing why the Gunners' midfielder escaped censure from McCarthy. But I digress.
Now we come to the appeal. The board is a three-man body, comprising one Football Association official who understands the laws and accompanying rules and regulations.
The two others are 'football experts' drawn in as and when required. They could be former managers or coaches. For example, ex-England manager Graham Taylor used to sit on them occasionally but had to give up his position when he returned to Watford.
The first thing to note is that they only judge on the incident that led to the dismissal. ie Milijas's tackle in isolation. Any whinging Mick was doing about what happened earlier, while it may have had merit, is irrelevant.
The second point is that it can only be overturned if there is a 'serious and obvious error.'
This whole appeal process was brought into English football initially to deal with cases of wrongful identity. It has been used since to argue a whole host of other 'injustices,' (such as the Sammon red card which was over-turned) but there is a natural inclination towards backing the officials.
The reason for this is that England is one of only two countries in Europe (Germany is the other, I believe) that has the ability to rescind red cards.
It has been handed special
dispensation to do so from FIFA. However, the organising body in world
football is not keen for this practice to exist. As such, the Football
Association has to tread carefully and not abuse the process.
That's the background sorted out. Now the nitty-gritty.
Attwell did not flag up anything untoward when he forwarded his report. The FA has confirmed that.
It would have been a different story
had the Nuneaton official, on reflection, decided that he had been
harsh. It would have had a major influence on the situation.
That didn't happen. So, the panel
felt that there was not a 'serious and obvious error' and upheld the
referee's initial decision, invoking McCarthy's ire.
Anger: Wolves and Arsenal players surround Stuart Attwell
Before I move on, I would also add that Wolves could have taken their appeal down one of two avenues.
The first is the wrongful dismissal appeal. The club wanted the three-match suspension overturned, full stop.
However, they could have argued that the standard sanction (ie the three-match ban) is excessive. If they had gone down that route, though, they would have been admitting that Milijas did, indeed, have a case to answer it could have led to a reduced suspension.
But McCarthy did not want to go down that path.
Having heard all sides – apart from the referee himself who I can't get near – my own personal opinion is that McCarthy has fallen victim to an unusual set of circumstances – but one that could have been avoided.
First, I don't see how Attwell has a clear view of the incident.
I agree with McCarthy that mistakes happen. But there's no doubt that Milijas's tackle carried minimal risk. It certainly carried a lot less risk to Arteta than Frank Lampard's did to Adam Hammill last Monday. The Chelsea man stayed on the pitch. (No wonder inconsistency drives managers mad.)
The appeals panel would have been helped no end by the referee admitting that, on reflection, his decision was harsh. But no, that wasn't forthcoming.
Attwell's evidence (ie that Milijas's tackle did endanger another player's safety) meant that the three-man team were effectively discussing the degree to which they thought/didn't think Milijas had risked Arteta's well-being. Therefore it wasn't a serious error. Therefore, the appeal could not be upheld.
This is, after all, the same official who made the mistake of sending-off Bolton's Gary Cahill at White Hart Lane recently.
He admitted that one. But as he's reportedly the up-and-coming golden boy, it seems that he cannot be seen to be making another mistake so quickly after his high-profile gaffe involving Spurs. He might lose a few marks from the assessor, after all.
Personally, I'm with McCarthy. To me, tackling remains an integral part of the game of football. There is an art to it.
I like clean tackles. So does any crowd. There has to be recognition however, that when a tackler goes in to win the ball, there is little risk of injury to him. That burden falls upon the player with the ball. The amendment to the laws is supposed to reflect that and offer protection.
On this occasion, I don't think Milijas showed undue disregard for Arteta. But I also don't think that the panel had any other option but to uphold the three-match ban without the referee saying he made a mistake.
In this instance, Attwell made an error and then compounded it by not being big enough to admit it in the cold light of day.
And McCarthy, Wolves and Milijas are paying for it.