Not a day or two ago I commented on the clash between Clint Dempsey (Fulham) and Phil Jones (Manchester United), that caused Jones to be taken to the hospital for further examination of his facial injury. The importance of the referee providing an environment that protects players from injury is paramount. But it appears that not everyone was paying attention, because just yesterday we had two incidents of the same sort in a single game: Liverpool vs Newcastle United. Pay attention, Lee Probert . . . !
Controversy briefly loomed when Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing was tackled horrifically by Cabaye, the Frenchman’s studs raking down the youngster’s lower leg. In truth, the Newcastle player should have been sent off.
What I saw was this: Both players went into the challenge, but it seemed to me that Spearing was going to get there first. [Nota Bene: This is a skill that every referee must develop, because without it, he will never know who fouls and who doesn't. And . . . it gives the referee the urgent opportunity to study exactly what contact is made by the player coming late.] Understand that Cabaye would also have known he was going to beaten to the ball, if only by a fraction of a second, a fraction of a second that is at the core of a good decision.
As Cabaye went in and Spearing played the ball, the Frenchman lifted his foot just a little, straightening his leg and exposing his studs. He went in hard and caught his opponent on the shin, as the newspaper said. Down went Spearing, clutching his leg exactly where he had been struck. It was a classic and malicious late hit. The commentator on the channel I was watching called the foul "cowardly" more than once as he discussed the incident, but the referee did naught, even though the replay showed that he had had a perfect angle of view, a few yards away and off to one side of the challenge. [Try and get a copy of or watch the DVD "Angle of View" of several years ago; it will change your perspective on positioning to observe fouls accurately.]
As for the referee Lee Probert, he must have a problem. He was close, had a good view but called nothing. It could be that he didn't actually see the foul and the nature of the contact. Yet he's been refereeing at this level for some time. Or it could be that he didn't think the contact was serious enough for him to intervene. That too is a problem, and if that be the case, we can fairly ask: Why is he refereeing at this level? In speaking with Ed a couple of hours ago, he wondered whether he is one of those rare people who doesn't think that people can be malicious, or be willing to injure someone else. All I have to say to that is that my twenty years of professional soccer showed me very early on that there is malice in the sport and that we had better teach ourselves to be wise to it.
About twenty minutes after that foul there was another ugly incident, when Bellamy, the scorer of two goals for Liverpool, was hit by Fabricio Coloccini, who delivered a deliberate elbow to the face that resulted in blood streaming down the side of his face. He had to leave the game, and the wound to his eyelid had later to be stitched.
At the end of the game, Bellamy confronted Alan Pardew, manager of Newcastle United, complaining about the injury. "What are you getting on to me about it for? I didn't elbow you!" was the reply, which meant that Pardew knew what had happened. Two players and one manager knew what went on. Why didn't the referee take any action?
I enjoy watching games in the Premiership, but in this case the referee ("See-no-evil") Lee Probert failed in his duty to protect the players from injury, and that is a source of disappointment. I hope that the Football Association will take retroactive action against the two players, and also give the referee a rest for a few games, or some coaching in how to study the nature of contact, and to expect retribution upon players who have the temerity to score two goals in a match. That, IMHO, is what Coloccini exacted upon Craig Bellamy.