Football once again took the backseat yesterday, as the beautiful game turned from displaying the best it had to offer to a string of events that show the worse. Manchester United faced off against Chelsea FC on Sunday, a game that for the last decade has been savoured by every football fan as one that proves pivotal in the race to decide the championship, even at this early stage in the season. In a game that was promised to have everything, this tagline surely wasn’t an understatement.
The first hour of this clash of titans was fantastic. Goals flowing from both ends, with the attacking brilliance of both teams living up to the excited reactions everyone had when the teamsheets were first announced. Van Persie, Rooney, Young and Valencia up against Torres, Hazard, Oscar and Mata. We expected some great attacking football from a game that is usually quite conservative. In a style that has become so regular in the last few years, and to the delight of fans, teams feel more confident in going for a win and risking a loss rather than coming in defensively and sticking it out for a draw. United pushed forward and made Chelsea look almost amateur, shocking their system and gaining a 2-0 lead until Chelsea showed the true sign of champions by managing to work their way back up through a fantastic Mata freekick, as well as benefiting from some poor Man United defending to bring the game back to level pegging.
At this point in the game both teams looked comfortable going forward, Chelsea set to build on the confidence from already coming back from a two goal deficit and United having so much experience about how to finish off a match. Anything could have happened after this point in the match, and it most certainly did.
There was little complaint from anyone except perhaps the neutral, who could tell that this would surely force Chelsea to take a conservative step back and slow the game down. In truth, it was a definite red card; Ivanovic was the last man back for Chelsea and took down Young who had an obvious goal scoring opportunity If you have any complaints about this sending off, then you must do about Milner’s last week for Man City who committed the exact same foul. Within ten minutes of Chelsea’s equalizer, Young surged through on goal, with Ivanovic committing a professional foul and rightfully having to take an early bath.
What occurred five minutes later is perhaps the greatest source of controversy to come out of the game, in footballing terms at least. Torres was through on goal, with only Evans to get past when he fell to the ground in what first seemed either a slight touch from Evans or a dive from the Spaniard. Torres was already on a Yellow from an incident that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in Mr. Miyagi’s dojo, a caution that could’ve so easily been a dismissal, so when it came to this incident in the 69th minute, fans must accept that Torres was already on a very fine line, and this perceived simulation was the tiny toe out of that line that forced him off.
I’ve watched this footage back fifty times, and there is some contact between the defender and striker, a slight kick in the shin. You could argue that Torres should’ve tried harder to stay on his feet, especially in such a good position to score, or that at the speed he was running that any touch would’ve caused him to tumble.
Pundits, journalists, football fans and taxi drivers everywhere will be arguing both ways this morning, and we’ve had eighteen hours to think it through and study so many camera angles and views. Clattenburg had a matter of seconds and made the decision he deemed correct, as a United fan it’s hard to admit but I do think that looking back it was harsh to give Torres a yellow, but he did seem to go over easy. At first look I thought it a dive, but there is definitely contact. It’s a tough one for sure. There is little debate over the winning goal, Chicarito is a player that sneaks between the back line of defense and in and around defenders so much that being offside is one of his favourite hobbies, and for this goal he was most definitely offside.
United go on to win the game 3-2 against a nine man Chelsea, with an offside goal. Two red cards with serious failings by officials should do enough on its own to raise serious controversy but two incidents to come out after the game have only increased its disputation. Last night it emerged that Chelsea have lodged an official complaint to the premier league regarding Clattenburg’s apparent use of “inappropriate language” to two of their players. One of these players is John Obi Mikel, and reports suggest that the language was supposedly of a racist nature. If these allegations prove to be correct then this prolonged scandal of racism in English Football will have seriously breached into uncharted territory.
There are also claims that a steward was taken to hospital due to injuries apparently sustained from objects thrown from the crowd. Hernandez was pelted as he celebrated the winning goal, with a spokesman making claims of the apparent attacks being assumed and not yet proven: “We are looking at reports of objects that may have been thrown or incidents around the steward taking a fall. My information so far is that he slipped and fell, may have hurt his knee, and was being treated by the side of the pitch.”
In a game that was showing everything great about our beautiful game, two serious officiating errors thrust the game into disrepute once again with allegations of racism and violence. Controversy has become more and more common in English football, but perhaps not at the level we’ve becoming increasingly accustomed to.