Patrick Vieira started a firestorm when he claimed that Man Utd get preferential treatment from referees. He was referring to referee Michael Oliver’s decision not to award a penalty to Fulham when Michael Carrick brought down Danny Murphy in the 89th minute during their weekend encounter. Replays showed Carrick clearly made contact with Murphy’s leg and not the ball. Two dropped points would have suited City very nicely in their race for the Premiership title.
Vieira had to couch it in the larger context of favouritism benefiting the top dogs in their home turf. It wasn’t just Utd, it was Madrid, Milan, and Barcelona.
Now, these arguments are merely specious. Has there been a conspiracy amongst referees to award Man Utd their 12 titles. A monumental Calciopoli that we are unaware of? Do penalties wrongfully awarded or turned down constitute a major part in Utd’s winning narrative? If we factor in Vieira’s contention into a regression model of Utd’s success it will pale into insignificance. Even “bottle” has a bigger and better chance of explaining that variance.
Clubs with a winning mentality demand more from their players, not the referees. They are far more apt at letting less to chance and human vagaries. That is not to say they don’t indulge in mind games or pre-emptive strikes like the ones Sir Alex Ferguson engages in against referees like Martin Atkinson or Phil Dowd. But if Sir Alex knows how to tweak the system, it is only to help what has already been established at Utd, a clear idea of what constitutes success and equal clarity on how to go about achieving it.
This season has been defined by Utd exceeding expectations domestically and City buckling just when they looked like they were running away with their first Premiership title. That is not Michael Oliver’s fault. He did not send Carlos Tevez into purgatory or ask Mario Balotelli to disrupt the press conference of Inter’s new coach on yet another self destructive impulse. He also did not ask Paul Scholes to come back or give Antonio Valencia his groove. Or keep faith in David De Gea or rotate Javier Hernandez’s head at the right time and right place to score those goals.
Vieira should be asking why City have underachieved. That should be his obsession. Not a 27 year old referee.