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Ferguson's mind games


Hutch

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Excellent piece from Martin Samuel that should be force fed to each and every Man U supporting d**khead who has the audacity to claim that they don't get the rub of the green when it comes to refereeing decisions. Not that it'll make any difference to those morons, but still.

Sir Alex Ferguson's partisan agenda ahead of crucial clash insults referees

When Manchester United lost an important game at Arsenal on Sunday, Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager, instantly began his preparations for the next one, with Chelsea. Did he review the central midfield partnership of Michael Carrick and Anderson that had been thoroughly outclassed? No.

Did he ponder whether the young Javier Hernandez, so exceptional in his first season at the club, may be approaching the point of burn-out and benefit from a rest, perhaps against Schalke 04 tonight? Not publicly. Did he consider a quiet word with his captain, Nemanja Vidic, who in certain big matches has demonstrated a degree of recklessness that could have proved costly? Apparently not.

Ferguson instead addressed the man most likely to have an influence over matches between elite clubs this season: the referee. 'Obviously it gives Chelsea a major chance now and that's what happens,' Ferguson said. 'They got great decisions on Saturday. We never seem to get these kinds of decisions, but they do. They got one to win the league at Old Trafford last season, so that's a worry.'

Turning his attention to a penalty that should have been given to United, late in the game at the Emirates, Ferguson added: 'It was clear but we're not going to get decisions like that in a major game. It's too big a game.'

See what he did there? Jose Mourinho might be the only coach UEFA regard as an enemy of football for his Machiavellian pre-match antics, but he is working from a very well established manuscript.

Chelsea did get the breaks against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, but it is not as if the good fairy of fortune never sprinkles her magic dust on United, either. On the final day of the 2007-08 season, United were extraordinarily lucky against Wigan, when Rio Ferdinand should have given away a first-half penalty and Paul Scholes should have been sent off.

Chelsea failed to win that afternoon, and ended up losing the league by two points anyway, but they might have had a bit more wind in their sails if, at half-time, instead of knowing United were 1-0 up, they heard the score was 1-1 with United down to 10 men.

Most weekends, Ferguson does not need to visit the subconscious of the referee because his team are superior, but when the elite meet it is different. The reason the games between the top clubs so often turn on a controversial call, is that the two sides are perfectly matched. The midfields collide and cancel out each other, defence smothers attack; in these circumstances all that separates the teams is a random event, a single moment of pure genius as provided by Lionel Messi, a mistake of utter foolishness, such as that of Heurelho Gomes, or more often than not, the human error of a match official.

Over everything else, an elite manager has control. He deploys the best defenders to reduce Messi's impact, he buys the best goalkeeper so the chances of a fumble are slim, but he can do nothing about a referee who misses a blatant handball, or a linesman who puts his flag up having failed to spot the far side full back playing everybody on by inches.

These are the factors Ferguson worked on the minute the Arsenal game ended. He might not have known who the referee was at that stage - it is Howard Webb - but he wanted to lead an early invasion of his psyche.

Ferguson would argue that all he wishes for is fairness but, in sport, the concept is subjective. Arsenal were denied a penalty, too, on Sunday, but even in admitting this, Ferguson attempted to argue that Vidic's handball was harder to spot than Gael Clichy's foul on Michael Owen, as if this made it less of an injustice that the offence went undetected.

Webb would not be human if he had not now registered that any mistaken decision, however understandable, that goes Chelsea's way will be seized upon and added to United's big list of grievances. Similarly, the insistence that United do not get the decisions in big matches is now a challenge, a win-win for Ferguson.

If Webb proves him wrong by giving United, say, a soft penalty, the trophy is as good as on display at Old Trafford and if he does not, if he finds for Chelsea in any marginal call, it heightens a misplaced sense of maltreatment, and the pressure increases.

One imagines, if Ferguson's words have the desired effect, Didier Drogba would need to be bludgeoned to the ground with a rusty pickaxe before Webb awarded a penalty to Chelsea.

Some would argue that even the appointment of Webb signals first blood to United, after the fall-out following his handling of their FA Cup third round victory over Liverpool on January 9. Webb sent off Steven Gerrard and gave a penalty for Daniel Agger's first-minute challenge on Dimitar Berbatov.

To these eyes, Webb did little wrong - Gerrard's tackle was reckless, Berbatov was fouled, and United could have had another penalty, for a foul on Ryan Giggs, which was not given - but that did not stop Ryan Babel posting a photoshopped image of Webb in a United shirt on his Twitter page. The FA fined him £10,000.

Webb is a good referee, but if his handling of that match had ended with United players accusing him of bias towards Liverpool, would he be present at Old Trafford on Sunday? Probably not, in the current climate.

Football is no stranger to paranoia (at the weekend, an Arsenal fan outside the Emirates accused me of saying his club had poisoned Tottenham players to gain entry into the Champions League in 2006-07), but what Ferguson did travels beyond that.

Discussing a referee, or his decisions, before a game is considerably more reprehensible than a throwaway comment made in its immediate aftermath. Yet, while the FA banned Ferguson for five matches for saying Martin Atkinson had a rotten game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in March - which he did - no action will be taken for the more insidious approach to Sunday's encounter.

Yet which is worse? A manager, minutes after the match has ended, his emotions high, questioning a decision he knows to be incorrect; or a manager seeking to influence the decision-making process before a ball is kicked?

Banning Ferguson, the FA said he called the integrity of referee Atkinson into question, although his outburst seemed little different from previous statements that have been ignored. 'You want a fair referee, or a strong referee anyway, and we didn't get that,' said Ferguson. 'When I saw who the referee was, I feared the worst.'

Was Atkinson's integrity being questioned; or was Ferguson saying he is a weak official and therefore his judgments lack fairness? Either way - and knowing Atkinson did make a serious mistake in allowing David Luiz, the Chelsea centre half, to remain on the field - is this truly a greater offence than attempting to set a partisan agenda before the game?

In August 2009, Roy Keane, then manager of Ipswich, was warned by the FA after comments made about referee Keith Hill before Crystal Palace played at Portman Road. Palace had received a horrid decision at Bristol City days earlier when a Freddie Sears goal had been given as a goal-kick, after freakishly rebounding into play from the bottom of the net.

Keane intimated that Hill could be aware of the controversy and favour Palace out of sympathy. 'We might have to remind the officials that it is a new game,' Keane said, which sounds innocuous enough. The FA, however, saw it differently and sent Keane a warning letter with a reminder not to discuss the official prior to the match. It is to be hoped the authorities will at least take the same approach with Ferguson, although the damage is already done.

There is a lot of injustice in football because referees are human and humans are fallible. All that makes it even half fair and tolerable is that so random is the process that there is considered to be an absurd, unquantifiable form of levelling out.

So: United should have had Gary Neville sent off twice this season, and should have gone 3-0 down at Blackpool, but Jamie Carragher should have been sent off against them during Liverpool's win in March and the booking Hernandez received for diving against Newcastle may well have been a legitimate penalty instead.

It is not a perfect world, and at times its inconsistencies are maddening, but taken as a whole there is a screwy sense of logic to it, an acceptable level of wrongness. Just as mutually assured destruction made some cockamamie contribution to world peace, so mutually assured dissatisfaction with the ref keeps football harmonious. And it is this delicate fabric that Ferguson is trying to alter.

He wants to ensure United receive less than their rightful share of inaccuracy and unfairness; and by doing that, he really isn't playing fair at all.

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Ferguson would argue that all he wishes for is fairness but, in sport, the concept is subjective. Arsenal were denied a penalty, too, on Sunday, but even in admitting this, Ferguson attempted to argue that Vidic's handball was harder to spot than Gael Clichy's foul on Michael Owen, as if this made it less of an injustice that the offence went undetected.

God I hate Ferguson, I really do.

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Did he ponder whether the young Javier Hernandez, so exceptional in his first season at the club, may be approaching the point of burn-out and benefit from a rest, perhaps against Schalke 04 tonight? Not publicly. Did he consider a quiet word with his captain, Nemanja Vidic, who in certain big matches has demonstrated a degree of recklessness that could have proved costly? Apparently not.

This is the crux of the issue. We just don't know what he tells his players or how he's going to line up.

Mind games and influencing referees and opposition via PR is a skill like any other and it is one that has been proven time and again (and not just by Man Utd) extremely effective. I'm surprised we haven't learnt this lesson yet. We all appreciate Carlo's honesty and gentlemanly nature, but I remember a time when he would tell the press days in advance what our lineup would be.

We can complain about how much of a prick Ferguson is, or how we disapprove of his ethics, but at the end of the day the only real consequence is that he racks up more trophies while the purists, more often than not, are left languishing in the dirt dreaming of what might have been.

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Guess no one pointed out to bacon face that with competent officiating Vidic would be suspended for Sunday's match and Rooney wouldn't have been on the pitch to be fouled by Luiz had he had not gotten away with a blatant elbow four days earlier. He won't stop this for as long as the punishments are pathetic and when it clearly works. He spent the entire week before the CL matches bleating about how United never get any decisions. End result, we're denied a clear penalty, have a man harshly sent off and they get an offside goal. Can't wait to see his face when Shrek and Vidic get sent off in the CL final and Messi scores an offside winner.

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This is the crux of the issue. We just don't know what he tells his players or how he's going to line up.

Mind games and influencing referees and opposition via PR is a skill like any other and it is one that has been proven time and again (and not just by Man Utd) extremely effective. I'm surprised we haven't learnt this lesson yet. We all appreciate Carlo's honesty and gentlemanly nature, but I remember a time when he would tell the press days in advance what our lineup would be.

We can complain about how much of a prick Ferguson is, or how we disapprove of his ethics, but at the end of the day the only real consequence is that he racks up more trophies while the purists, more often than not, are left languishing in the dirt dreaming of what might have been.

I totally agree about the dangers of being too open, but what Ferguson does isn't PR, it's sly it's insidious, it's deliberate and it's dishonest. This article at Vital Football puts it even more explicitly:

CHEAT

Cheating.

No I'm not talking about Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, Pedro or anyone else in the Barca (or Real) team who feigns injury, dives with a triple pike somersault or who begs Referees to book/send off opposing players. That is for another SOTN.

I'm talking about Sir Alex Ferguson.

He is a cheat.

Fergie's 'mind games' in the papers this week is cheating - plain and simple. It is an attempt to influence the Referees by claiming United never get decisions for them in big games, which is myopia of staggering, Wenger-esque proportions.

The fact is - he knows that next time there is a huge 50/50 decision to make, the Ref will feel pressured to go with United, lest he face criticism of his decisions from Fergie and the press as if there is some sort of bias.

The fact is, this is a deliberate and calculated attempt to cheat. What else could an attempt to influence a Referee be called?

The fact is - because Fergie is Sir Alex Ferguson, darling of the media and the greatest football manager who ever lived - he can cheat with impunity. Carlo Ancelotti doesn't do it because he has too much class and because he knows he'd get absolutely destroyed by the FA who would fine him back to the stone age. The papers would be filled with hysterical screaming, harking back to Jose Mourinho era times, that we are the enemy of football, and that we are ruining the integrity of the game and should be docked a lot of points.

But because Fergie does it, everyone puts it down to 'mind games' and applauds him for his savvy and will to win, when had Jose done the same thing he'd have been called a cheat.

Now we at Chelsea have never really been blessed with the rub of the green in big games, but these things do even out. As Martin Samuel pointed out in his excellent editorial this morning, you have to accept that mistakes will be made and that generally mistakes even themselves out. Fergie's blustering is made all the more ridiculous because he completely fails to take account of all the decisions that have gone in favour of United this season. There have been many. Yes we got a break at the Bridge, but how many times this season have we had goals ruled out for offside when they were not, how many perfectly good penalties have been mystifyingly ruled out for no apparent reason, and how many times have we had opposing midfielders run riot in their ultra-defensive games with us to absolutely no censure at all? We can moan about it all we want but it evens out.

Look at United's game at Arsenal at the weekend. Vidic clearly cleared the ball from off Van Persie's head with an outstretched arm - one of the most blatant attempts to cheat you will ever see, and if Lee Mason had seen in then Vidic would have gone and the Arsenal would have had a penalty. He didn't, so they went in level at the break. Yet all Fergie wants to talk about is Owen's clumsy tackle which should also have resulted in a penalty. This not being given is clear evidence that United are not favoured by the officials.

Why should they be favoured? Because of Fergie's spoilt brat antics?

I can only hope that Howard Webb - surely one of the best and strongest officials this country has - can see through it, and give officiate the game as fairly as possible. That's all we're asking for, but it seems parity and fairness is not what Fergie wants - he wants favours, he wants decisions to go United's way, and is trying to interfere with the officialdom to ensure it happens.

If that's not tantamount to trying to fix a game or unfairly influence Refs with bribes etc, then I do not know what is.

Will he be censured? I fervently hope so, but what good is a £10,000 fine when the damage has been done, and the seeds of doubt have already been placed in Howard Webb's mind?

Money well spent for Fergie - you bet it is.

CAREFREE!!!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Agree with all above sentiments.

Apart from Chelsea/football I also keep tabs on Rugby, Rugby League, NBA/Basketball and the NFL. Without a doubt Ferguson is the least sporting, cheating prick of a coach in ANY sport that I follow, he is a c**t of the highest order and the fact that he has a knighthood (knights = chivalry, honour, decency) is like salt in the f**king wound.

I struggle to think of anyone that I hate as much as that c**t.

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