Mike Dean VAR error highlights where big refereeing problem lies

Reaction to the VAR decision that cost Wolves a penalty against Man Utd | Football Digest

Mike Dean hurled a custard pie into his own face this week. In openly admitting he failed to direct on-field referee Anthony Taylor to go to the pitch-side screen to correct a mistake in a Premier League game last season to spare him the grief, he threw himself wide open.

The first and only requirement of a match official is to judge what is in front of them honestly and impartially and in letting off Spurs defender Cristian Romero for his hair tug on Chelsea’s Marc Cucurella, for a quiet life for Taylor, Dean did not do that. With play allowed to continue, Harry Kane equalised for Spurs, Dean was stood down from VAR duties for two months and has now retired.

‌He was unprofessional in his actions but there is a wider point to his tawdry tale which has largely gone unnoticed. Why did Dean feel it necessary to act as he did? In any other sport, the TV official would simply have done their job as required without any thought to the consequences.

Football though is a unique – and uniquely challenging environment. It has an inherent cultural problem around referee respect. In essence there isn’t any. Or very little anyway. Dean was trying to protect his colleague from the turbulence which routinely accompanies any contentious decision these days.

Taylor had already booked both managers, Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte, in the match for a touchline altercation. Dean knew that, with tempers running hot, a visit to the monitor for the referee would be a walk on the wild side. So he thought he would spare his friend the hassle. It was a foolish move and one he regrets but a reflection of the warped world the officials inhabit.

Leeds United manager Jesse March spoke interestingly last season about why he was booked by referees so regularly. His explanation was that when he thought the calls were not going his side’s way he would deliberately rage at the official. His behaviour was not instinctive, he claimed; it was a deliberate tactic calculed to prompt the referee into balancing the decision-making scales.

‌It obviously did not balance them well enough because Marsch was sacked and Leeds were relegated but the point was an instructive one. Influencing the referee through intimidation and abuse is viewed as being a legitimate part of a manager’s toolkit.

‌The pitch-side monitor Taylor was spared from is a honeypot for this sort of hysteria. There is an argument for carting it off down the tunnel and away from yelling distance of the technical area. Except then someone would probably chase the referee and remonstrate out of public view instead.

‌The monitor is not the problem, it is the attitude. This season’s kick-off was preceded by the announcement of a clampdown on poor behaviour towards officials. Clubs were warned and players and coaches lectured over the improvement that was expected.

But such is the deep-rooted scale of the problem that over the first two weekends of the Premier League, a staggering 18 yellow cards were handed out to players and six to managers for dissent.

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Like water, what starts at the top of the mountain, filters down. The end game is the routine mistreatment of officials in grassroots football which drives them out of the game. And without a ref there is no game.

Tuchel who, like Conte, was eventually sent off at Stamford Bridge following an altercation at the handshake, asked after the match that Taylor never referee another Chelsea game, a request which earned him a £20,000 fine from the FA. The now-Bayern Munich manager’s insinuation was that Taylor was biased when it turns out he had actually been inadequately served by his VAR.

‌However much every club’s conspiracy theorists may like to think so, Premier League referees aren’t bent. They are, however, human beings. If football began to treat them as such – as opposed to punchbags – unfortunate episodes like Dean’s would never happen.

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Good week – Mary, Queen of Stops

Lionesses goalkeeper Mary Earps had her wish granted when England’s kit supplier Nike belatedly agreed to put replicas of her jersey on sale.

The World Cup golden glove winner had called out Nike ahead of the tournament over their refusal to treat goalkeepers in the same way as England’s outfield players but they finally bowed to public demand after a petition which attracted more than 150,000 signatures.

A women’s replica goalkeeping top will now be made available by Nike. Likewise for the USA, France and the Netherlands. It’s a bit late given the tournament is over but better late than never.

Earps’s club jersey is the second best-selling women’s top at Manchester United behind that of England teammate Ella Toone. It will be interesting to see how many ‘Earps 1’ England jerseys will be on show when the Lionesses reappear against Scotland at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light next month.

Bad week – Holly Bradshaw

Britain’s Olympic medal-winning pole vaulter questioned her future in the sport after failing to qualify for the final at the world championships. Bradshaw, 31, is retiring after the Paris Games next year but was left thinking aloud whether to bring that date forward after her Budapest flop which followed a vomiting bug.

‌The fates certainly seem to be conspiring against her. Her world championships last year in Oregon also went up in smoke when her pole snapped. But Bradshaw should take a breath and draw strength from Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s example.

KJT was equally disillusioned after her injury issues led to her pulling out of the heptathlon at the Tokyo Olympics but her triumphant comeback to take gold in the heptathlon was one of the highlights of an engaging world championships.

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