The FA have announced that no retrospective action is possible on Callum McManaman’s “coming together” with Massadio Haidara in Sunday’s Wigan v Newcastle fixture which left Haidara in hospital, the extent of his injuries as yet unconfirmed. Newcastle and Haidara’s sense of injustice, though enhanced by a performance from referee Mark Halsey which could most charitably be described as incompetent, is based not on displeasure at losing the game. All teams have suffered decisions which have lost them a game here, or a game there. These things do not even themselves out over a season as goes the comfort of the soft-headed, but even so all have fallen victim at one time or another. No, the injustice arises from the tackle, from falling victim to something so evidently, demonstrably wrong and that wrong then going unpunished both on the pitch and off it.
Explaining their standpoint, the FA released a statement:
…in the summer, it was agreed that retrospective action should only be taken in respect of incidents which have not been seen by the match officials.
Where one of the officials has seen a coming together of players, no retrospective action should be taken, regardless of whether he or she witnessed the full or particular nature of the challenge. This is to avoid the re-refereeing of incidents.
In the case of McManaman, it has been confirmed that at least one of the match officials saw the coming together, though not the full extent of the challenge. In these circumstances retrospective action cannot be taken.
Their rule, and it is theirs’ alone, not FIFA’s or UEFA’s, has a gaping hole at its heart. Retrospective action cannot be taken if the match officials have seen the incident. Even if, as in this case, no official saw clearly the full extent of the challenge. In effect the officials have seen the offence enough for there to be no comeback after the event, yet not enough to deal with it at the time. As stated, this is to prevent officials’ decisions being revisited. It certainly isn’t meant to ensure justice is done, if anything this rule is designed to enable the FA to shirk away from confronting mistakes and having to correct them. In this, as in so many other things, the FA fall down in the execution of their responsibilities, and what is worse they do it by choice. They seem to believe that the authority of officials must be protected above all else, even when faced with evidence that this authority has been used incorrectly.
A lot has been said in defence of the tackle itself. There have been a few main threads of this defence. Firstly, McManaman got the ball first before following through into Haidara. Secondly, there was no intent to harm him. Thirdly, McManaman’s youth, the fact he was making his full debut and his fine personal qualities mean we should give him some leeway on this. Finally, these things happen in football and we should all move on.
Any contact with the ball before striking Haidara was fleeting and incidental. Haidara’s only chance of escaping injury was to leap out of the way, something he was unable to do. McManaman was always going to fly into his opponent whether he got the ball or not. The factors which turn a foul deserving of a booking into a straight red are recklessness in endangering your opponent, and the use of undue force in the tackle. I’d argue both those criteria were met in the tackle on Haidara, and that means it doesn’t matter how much of the ball he got.
The arguments regarding the intent in the tackle are puzzling. How can anyone know the intent in McManaman’s mind as he decided to make the challenge? It looked to me like he meant to leave his mark on his opponent at the very least, but that’s my opinion, one I know many will disagree with in the North-West. More importantly his intent and my or anyone else’s opinion on it doesn’t really matter. A footballer has a duty of care, one not to endanger an opponent. By hurling himself into the challenge in this way, McManaman did endanger Haidara. Whether the harm was premeditated or not, it might as well have been because he chose to ignore his duty not to risk the health of his opponent. I’d compare it to drink-driving (obviously not in the scale of its effects). When you choose to drink and drive you relinquish your right to claim you didn’t mean to harm anyone should the worst happen and this is the same.
McManaman’s youth and the fact it was his first Premier League appearance is neither here nor there. He could easily have made it Haidara’s last. Yes, his circumstances will have made him more excited than others on the pitch, but every single player on that pitch at one time made their debut as a youngster and not many of them will have done anything like this. I’m sure he’s full of remorse now, and no doubt helps old ladies across the road when he can. The idea that his character is somehow divorced from his actions is bizarre. He is that kind of player. We have nothing else to go on but what he has done, and 1 hospitalization per Premier League start is one hell of a ratio.
These things do, of course, periodically occur in football. That’s no reason not to criticize and to punish when it does. Much of this might come across as an attack on McManaman himself, but that’s not the purpose of this. He made a bad decision, and should have been punished for it. That’s it as far as he goes. The arguments made here are more against the crass excuses made for him and for everyone who ever finds themselves in his situation. For the part of the FA, does anyone think their governance and disciplinary procedures are anything other than chaotic? Every time a question is asked of the FA they come up short, on any subject it seems. If change is provoked by this then maybe something of worth can be salvaged from a situation which up to now has had nothing to redeem it.
Author: Mark Brophy
Website: http://markbrophy.wordpress.com/ for a back catalogue of Mark’s writing.
Follow Mark on Twitter @mark_brophy
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