Ref should at least admit mistake says Rafa

Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez finds his Liverpool side have been the victim of poor, sub-standard refereeing leading to incorrect red cards for the second time since the turn of the year and isn’t happy. Five weeks ago Chelsea’s Oscar-nominated winger Arjen Robben’s play-acting fooled referee Alan Wiley into sending off the Reds goalkeeper Pepe Reina. Wiley was too embarrassed by his mistake to review his decision and although the sending off meant little in the context of the game itself, it did mean Liverpool had to lose their goalkeeper for three games. The play-acting from Robben was widely condemned by just about everyone except Chelsea and the referee. Back in the capital again on Sunday and it was the turn of a referee from Kent to make a big mistake and send a Reds player off unjustly. Steve Bennett wasn’t even looking at an incident he said was deserving of a second yellow card for Xabi Alonso. He didn’t speak to his linesman, and video evidence proves he wasn’t looking. Again he’s either too embarrassed or too arrogant to review his decision and this decision did cost Liverpool the game. It also costs Liverpool the use of Xabi Alonso for tomorrow’s clash with Fulham.  

FIFA rules say the decision can’t be changed unless there was a case of mistaken identity, but there are no rules governing a referee having the decency to apologise or at least give an explanation. Rather than do either of those things, Bennett also reported Alonso to the FA for not leaving the field promptly after his dismissal. The FA decided not to act on this, clearly ashamed of the poor standards of their official. It was in the FA’s powers to give Xabi an extended suspension, but they chose not to do so. Rafa sent his coach Alex Miller to speak to the referee after the game, but Bennett was too full of self-importance to admit his huge mistake. Rafa explained the response Miller was given was that it wasn’t a slip, it was a foul: “He said it was a tackle and that he didn’t want to change his decision. Why is this? Maybe you ask the supervisor of the referees.”

Rafa is annoyed on a number of levels. The decision on Sunday was clearly wrong, and clearly made without the referee seeing what had happened. Although we don’t believe for one minute that Bennett is a corrupt referee, why will he not admit that he should not have acted in this way? It cost Liverpool the game, and it deprives them of a midfielder when they’ve already got Bolo Zenden and Momo Sissoko out through injury. Rafa doesn’t feel that it’s fair that Liverpool suffer in so many ways yet Bennett can arrogantly brush aside any questions about his performance: “A mistake can be very serious. We lost Xabi against Arsenal and lost. But why should we also lose him for another game?”

Rafa would like to see a higher authority able to overturn decisions in
these cases, because a referee can make a mistake and then bury his
head in the sand rather than admit it. Unless the referee admits his
error there is never anything that can be done: “He said it was a
tackle and he doesn’t want to change his mind. You can’t do anything
else. We talked to the supervisor of the referees and he said the
referee needs to change his decision. What can be done? Maybe it is a
question you can put to the supervisor of the referees. Maybe he can
explain to you why this happens when things are so clear. At the end we
lose Xabi Alonso and two points in the race to finish in the top four.
That means big money.”

Rafa accepts the referees have a tough job and knows it can be
difficult to make the right decision on the spot, but he just can’t
believe the mistake isn’t being acknowledged by the one who made it: “I
can accept mistakes because it is not easy. But after you watch the
video I can’t understand why you continue to say the same thing. When
you are talking about big money, the difference between finishing in
the top four or not is so important.”

The frustration over incorrect refereeing decisions hits every side at
some point, to the extent that FIFA are investigating how to bring
technology into use to help the officials. Until then human error has
to be accepted, but surely should be followed by an admission of that
error when TV replays show it so clearly. Rafa says: “If someone can
say, okay I made a mistake you can understand. You can’t change now
that you lost two points against a direct rival. It was so clear. It
was not a yellow card, but Xabi can’t play against Fulham on Wednesday.”

In Spain referees are reviewed and potentially punished. Bennett could
well have been subject to a one-month ban under Spanish practice, but
with a shortage of referees in the English game nobody is willing to
question the officials too closely. Maybe that’s why Rafa won’t get his
way which is to see the use of video evidence after a game to correct
errors that lead to suspensions. Video is already used to punish
players who commit an offence unseen by the referee (most referees only
make decisions on what they saw, not what they guessed they might have
seen had they been facing the right way). Rafa wants that video
evidence used to downgrade punishments too if appropriate: “For me the
video is really important for disciplinary matters – if you talk about
a player kicking someone or maybe punching someone. It can support the
referees. To change decisions during the game you will change the
spirit of the game, but in this case you are not changing the final
score, you are changing a decision that has been a mistake. I don’t
understand why something so clear cannot be changed.”
The sending off in the game meant Liverpool had to change from trying
to win the game to trying to waste time and hold out for a point.
Steven Gerrard was then caught out trying to send a back-pass to Pepe
Reina when Henry pounced on it for the winner. Alonso is going to be
missing tomorrow, maybe he would have been rested in any case, but
Gerrard now wants to see his time bounce back from two disappointing
defeats: “It has been a disappointing week. We need a big reaction now
– two defeats on the spin is something we haven’t experienced for a
while so we need to bounce back on Wednesday. At this level you can’t
take defeat into the next game or you will suffer for a long time.”

Gerrard is now planning that he and his team-mates forget about things
and move on into the clash with Fulham with some of that confidence
back that’s deserted them recently: “You have got to make sure you get
it out of your system so that will be the idea for me and the team to
get this experience out of the system before Wednesday.”

So perhaps for the last time, Gerrard relived the moment when he
realised the back-pass was a huge mistake to make: “We were gutted. It
was my fault – I will take all the blame. I hold my hand up. We were in
a position to rob a point at Highbury; I don’t think we deserved
anything more. I’ve made a stupid mistake and will take all the blame.”

Liverpool’s performance on Sunday wasn’t up to the standards they’ve
shown this season, but overall they should have at least taken a point
from the game. Gerrard says: “I thought we played a lot better in the
second half but I don’t think that over the 90 minutes we deserved to
win the match.” Liverpool were beaten at Craven Cottage by tomorrow
night’s opponents earlier in the season and with Fulham’s boss Chris
Coleman under fire for a run of defeats, this match promises to be
another tough one for the Reds. Liverpool hope it’s a match where
mistakes don’t cost them the points again, from referees or their own