Sweet FA for Rafa?

The news that Rafa Benitez intends to seek an “audience” with Referee’s chief Keith Hackett over The Maschernao sending off incident made me shake my head.

Personally I think Rafa’s time would be more constructively spent preparing for Sunday’s game against Everton rather than concerning himself with distractions or fights he simply will not win.

Rightly or wrongly, the latter in my view, the dice of opinion has already been cast and it isn’t in favour of Xavier Mascherano. Keith Hackett and his cronies are hardly likely to go against the tide of opinion. They will be under pressure to be seen to do something so it is likely that Mascherano will be made a scapegoat. It is a cheap easy way of dealing with the situation which glosses over addressing the longer term, deeper rooted issues over how the rules of the game are enforced, their effect on player discipline and consequently respect for referees

I applaud Rafa’s eagerness to defend his player and his club’s honour but he might also do well to consider that although Mascherano’s sending off is a blow, these things have a habit of evening themselves out over the course of the season. On the opening day, at Aston Villa, we were awarded a dubious free kick from which Gerrard crashed home the winner. Later in the local derby game referee Mark Clattenberg might as well of turned up in the red shirt when two claims for Everton penalties were ignored and a kamikaze red card tackle by Dirk Kuyt only saw yellow. Against Arsenal and Blackburn Jamie Carragher was lucky not give away a penalty in each game. Against Fulham were awarded a penalty for a tackle on Peter Crouch that was clearly outside the box. Finally I think it’s fair to say that we benefited from the two sending offs in the Inter Milan games?

What Sunday did bring home to me is that surely we must consider alternative ways of dealing with incidents like the one involving Mascherano.

My immediate thought when Steve Bennett waved red was “silly b*stard” but “that’s it, we’re not going to win now” I guess the game might as well have ended there and then once he received his matching orders. How many other games have been ruined by a sending off? Once this happens the side with ten men usually adopts damage limitation tactics and tries to defend, a substitution is made and it’s usually a forward that is sacrificed. This isn’t good for the crowd or, to put it in a way seemingly closer to the Premiership’s wallet, the TV companies who want audiences to see an entertaining game. Referees were told to clamp down on tackles from behind and the like to allow players to play. However, the resulting over zealousness has lead to more red cards and and, as result, a match that can become a boring cautious spectacle. The very outcome the rules were trying to prevent!

One wonders if there’s scope for introducing a “sin bin” for say 15 minutes for some minor red card offences. That way Liverpool would be punished but the game as a spectacle wouldn’t suffer right to the end? Many will say this is a reactionary suggestion and that one should not meddle with the rules of the game that has survived under its current format for over 100 years. The FA and FIFA are slow ponderous beasts. Changes are not made overnight partly because the product is so popular so if ain’t broke…? But they can do it. What about the yellow and red cards? What about the offside rule? What about the various penalty shoot outs or golden goals? The new rules concerning back passes or offside? These are all rule changes that have been experimented with, some have worked and are now part and parcel of the game others haven’t but whatever the outcome the game hasn’t suffered badly as a result and at the least the authorities have tried. Surely now is the time to try something different re punishing players?.

Perhaps we might follow the example of other sports? For ages Cricket and Rugby were regarded a stuffy, poor relations of football however, they have realised this and have tried to make the game more attractive. We now have sin bins into rugby, and video referees in cricket and rugby. Are these game any worse off as spectacles for having these rules? But in the meantime the likes of Mascherano and, as a result, the paying fans will continue to suffer at the hands of antiquated rules and outright complacency.

Mind you “complacency” is a dangerous word for me to bandy about. Had Mascherano not been sent off would I have written this piece?

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