This week saw more poor refereeing calls with officials coming under increased pressure and the Premier League must consider looking overseas to fix the problem
In the cold, dying light of a July day, the truth was as painful as the impact of Bruno Fernandes’ studs on the right ankle of Ezri Konsa. Premier League referees are in danger of becoming unfit for purpose.
Maybe that is why not a single one was selected for World Cup 2018. FIFA got something right for a change.
There were few people inside Villa Park on Thursday night, but, even before the benefit of televisual evidence, only one thought the outcome of a coming-together of Konsa and Fernandes should result in a penalty kick. And that individual was Jonathan Moss. Even visiting players and staff looked a touch bemused.
Manchester United’s penalty in their win against Aston Villa was seen as the most compelling piece of evidence that VAR, as utilised by the Premier League, is a joke.
Fair enough. But let us not overlook what is no laughing matter – and that is Moss messed up. VAR is between a rock and hard place.
Had Moss not found the ‘challenge’ from Konsa illegal, there was no way VAR would have overruled him and awarded a penalty. The incident wouldn’t even have been given a second look.
But the overriding ethos of VAR right now is to avoid undermining the on-field referee and that is why the inexplicably erroneous decision of Moss stood. So never mind VAR and its inadequacies. The bigger inadequacies belong to our referees. Which begs a simple question.
If the Premier League acclaims itself the best domestic club competition in the world, attracting the best footballers in the world, why isn’t it getting help from the best referees – or best refereeing executives – in the world?
It is a delicate situation, sure.
A landscape where the richest league could just go around buying up a national association’s best referees would not go down well with either those associations or UEFA and FIFA, I am sure. But the possibility of getting help from overseas must be explored properly.
Top flight refereeing in this country is some sort of private members’ club, the lack of diversity in its ranks is as alarming as the lack of diversity in football’s boardrooms and dug-outs. As for the dearth of quality, that has been a given for some time.
For a long, long while, I have had no sympathy for players and managers who have seen themselves as victims of refereeing injustices. Why? Because they spend so much of their time trying to con referees. They reap what they sow.
But even allowing for the deception of the devious modern-day professional – and you can count Fernandes as one of those – the basic errors have become too frequent. Sorry to pick on Moss, but he has been unforgivably hoodwinked by Fernandes twice.
And no one was even trying to con referee Paul Tierney, who refused to give a penalty for Josh King’s blatant push on Harry Kane in Tottenham’s game at Bournemouth.
Premier League referees are an honest, hard-working lot, and no one can question their integrity. They have a lot to put up with, and the more highly-skilled the divers and feigners become, the tougher the referee’s job. Accepted.
But it is hard to remember a time when the standard was this questionable. And it is about time the closed shop for referees was declared open.
The Premier League needs help. Why not ask the best in the world if they are willing to provide it?