It’s fair to say that Alex Ferguson was like The Godfather of English football before he skulked off into retirement. Managers such as David Moyes, Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce were like his lieutenants, always ready to back him up, and certain referees seemed to play the role of his foot soldiers, doing the dirty work for him on the ground by granting dubious decisions. Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez took on the roles as Bosses of rival families, battling for supremacy.
But if Fergie was the Premier League’s equivalent of Paul Castellano, Mourinho could well be the John Gotti figure. The younger manager first arrived on these shores and he was a massive personality with an even bigger reputation. His previous jobs had earned him respect and his brash attitude gave him an untouchable status. At least until he got too big for his boots and was sent packing by Roman Abramovich. Now Mourinho has been back for several months and, with Ferguson gone, he wants to take over at the helm of the Premier League, making Chelsea the most powerful ‘family’ in the process.
Mourinho was being very calculated at the weekend. His antics were both clever and provocative. It felt like he was trying to make a statement of intent. And like Fergie before him, he sees Suarez as one of the biggest threats to his reign. There is obviously the rise of Manchester City, who have so many big hitters in their squad that they could probably field two sides capable of challenging for the title. But in Suarez, Liverpool have the most exciting player in the league, possibly even the World at this moment in time. And with Brendan Rodgers actively seeking reinforcements, Mourinho was trying to tarnish Suarez to minimize his impact in any future turf war.
Although Mourinho never actually named Suarez when he said ‘certain players’ are making the jobs of referees difficult, he had already accused the Uruguayan of diving once this season, so it’s not a giant leap to assume that he was once again the target of Mourinho’s venom.
The fact is though, Suarez didn’t dive. I’ve watched about 20 replays of the challenge by Brad Guzan on Suarez and it was a soft penalty to concede. When I say soft, what I mean is that Suarez was going away from goal. People say he should have stayed on his feet but if the Villa keeper had stayed on his feet rather than lunging in, there would be no penalty and no danger. He would have blocked the shot of Suarez and forced him away from goal without committing a foul. Unfortunately for Guzan, he caught Suarez as he slid in. There was contact and it was a penalty. It’s irrelevant whether the Villa keeper meant to catch him. If a player jumps in and misses the ball in the centre circle it would be a foul, so it’s a foul when it’s in the area.
What I would say is there needs to be more consistency. I’m a big advocate for allowing tackling and keeping that as part of football. I always look forward to derby matches because you know there will be tackles flying in. But the referee’s decisions differ from game to game. It’s as if they aren’t quite sure what constitutes a foul. On the continent, the challenge by Guzan would’ve been a penalty nine times out of ten. In England it’s more like six or seven. In amateur football a player would be lucky to get a penalty for that on one in ten occasions. But this isn’t amateur football. It’s professional. And the standard of refereeing and decision-making needs to be professional too.
Part of the problem is that referees can’t be criticised. Managers and players receive fines the minute they question their ability. The FA will retrospectively charge a player if an official hasn’t taken action because they can hide behind the fact that they didn’t see it. But unfair punishments never get rescinded because that would effectively be the FA saying the referees have made bad decisions. There is also only so far you can go with retrospective action before the games would suffer. The FA would end up changing results if they had to overturn every wrong decision. The answer is simple – employ better, unbiased referees or introduce video technology.
It was very intelligent of Mourinho to try and cosy up to officials by defending them in the hope that his comments would gain their allegiance and buy his team favourable decisions in the future. The sad thing is – it might work. But the one good thing that came out of all this is that it appears opinion towards Suarez is changing. Certainly many of the pundits who I’ve heard speaking about the incident seemed to back the talismanic forward on this occasion and they even highlighted that if it had been any other player involved there wouldn’t be the same debate.
For Liverpool and Suarez, we just have to hope that he continues to show the same level of performance, both physically and mentally, and that he doesn’t allow this to derail him from what is a phenomenal season. At present he is surely on course for the golden boot, the PFA Player of the Year award and even a serious contender to take next year’s Ballon d’Or, while Liverpool are in a good position to return to the top four. The best way Suarez can hit back at Mourinho is by firing his team to a win against Chelsea when they visit Anfield in April.