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Clattenburg should have let Chelsea’s Torres off with a final warning | David Lacey

2nd November 2012

Card-happy referees should have some empathy with the nature of a contest and mood of a match

As the racial repercussions of Chelsea’s game against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on Sunday rumble on, the original point at issue is in danger of becoming lost. The questionable decision of the referee, Mark Clattenburg, to show Fernando Torres a second yellow card for diving, followed by the inevitable red, left Chelsea with nine men and ruined what had promised to become by far the best Premier League match of the season to date.

Clattenburg, who had dismissed Branislav Ivanovic for a professional foul that brooked no argument, acted in good faith, and the practice of players deliberately going down to win free-kicks or penalties needs to be discouraged. In Torres’s case, however, there was sufficient doubt about the alleged offence for those who had become mesmerised by the contest – the crowd at the Bridge plus millions of television viewers – to feel cheated.

It was a bit like becoming absorbed in a whodunnit, or in this instance a whodwinnit, only to find that the chapter in which all was revealed had been torn out. Having recovered from conceding two early goals to draw level at 2-2, Chelsea’s sense of injustice was not improved by a linesman’s failure to spot that Javier Hernández was offside when he scored what turned out to be United’s winner six minutes later.

What followed might have been avoided had Clattenburg merely awarded a free-kick to Chelsea when Torres went down after a challenge by Jonny Evans. Either way it is an extraordinary coincidence when, almost a year to the day after their captain, John Terry, was accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand during a match in which Chelsea were also reduced to nine men by red cards, the club should accuse the referee of a similar offence involving Mikel John Obi.

It is to be hoped that the elephantine disciplinary processes of the Football Association are up to dealing with the allegation against Clattenburg, which he strongly denies, as swiftly as possible. But the issue of matches being spoiled by dubious decisions remains.

Before he sent off Torres, Clattenburg was having a good match. He forbore to show a yellow card or two for some overenthusiastic tackles early in the game, thus avoiding becoming a hostage to fortune, and, while Torres could have seen red for a chest-high lunge at Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley, Clattenburg’s decision to limit the punishment to a caution seemed a sensible reaction in keeping with what was becoming an intriguing match.

Howard Webb, who refereed the 2010 World Cup final, was criticised for not sending off Holland’s Nigel de Jong for a similar foul on Spain’s Xabi Alonso but in that match the Dutch had set out to disrupt their opponents’ smooth rhythms through an excessively physical approach, which was not the case with Chelsea last Sunday.

Clattenburg’s refereeing was firm yet unobtrusive and he seemed to be in sympathy with the way the plot was developing until the moment when Torres went down. The extent of the disagreement among the pundits showed that the incident was far from clear cut.

Evans admitted afterwards that there had been slight contact as the Spanish striker turned away from him but felt that Torres could have stayed on his feet.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s view was that Torres “could have gone on and he chose not to. He has already been booked so it’s his own fault.” Yet Torres’s action did not appear that deliberate and would hardly have rated in the Luis Suárez Academy of Performing Arts. If players saw yellow every time they fell over in a tackle, matches would quickly resemble fields of rape seed.

Referees are there to uphold the laws of the game and not augment the entertainment, but surely they should have some empathy with the nature of the contest and the mood of a match. Considering the significance of this encounter both sides behaved well and Clattenburg would have been justified in letting Torres off with a final warning.

Had the player flung himself over an imaginary challenge near the Manchester United penalty spot there would have been nothing to argue about. But on this occasion a little leniency would not have come amiss. Chelsea’s 5-4 victory over United in Wednesday’s Capital One Cup selling‑plater did little to dispel the thought that a classic had been spoilt 72 hours earlier. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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