Did Newcastle honestly expect a McManaman ban?

The FA yesterday announced that Callum McManaman would not face an FA charge over his challenge on Massadio Haïdara at the weekend, following the daily replays and image stills in the media. Whilst some fans have expressed their outrage, the decision should have come as no surprise, as the FA aren’t about to break their own rules when it comes to retrospective punishments. One of the officials saw the “coming together” and therefore no action can be taken. Some may argue this is a silly rule to have in place but it would be unmanageable for the FA to review every possible red card decision. How many times a weekend do you see a challenge that is dealt with by the awarding of a freekick or by dishing out a caution, when hindsight suggests that the player was actually guilty of a sending off offence?

The Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan, was asked for his thoughts on the latest HORROR CHALLENGE but claimed that there was nothing wrong with it. “The referee was only 10 yards away and didn’t even give the foul – it was a fair challenge, you have to see it all – our lad went for the ball, and they collided, it is football. It is tough game but it was an accident.”

The Newcastle manager, Alan Pardew, understandably saw the challenge differently. “It is an awful challenge,” he said. “The pictures speak for themselves. I thought it was a bad challenge and I was 60 yards from the incident. The players knew because they were on top of it and there was a lot of bad feeling about that incident when it goes unpunished. He (Halsey) said ‘If I’ve missed it I apologise’ – that was at half-time.”

Still, for all the apparent shock from Newcastle and neutral fans alike, we should remember we’ve been here before, when Wayne Rooney elbowed Wigan’s James McCarthy in the head out of sight of Mark Clattenburg. The referee reportedly asked Rooney what happened, to which he lied, and claimed he caught him by accident. Clattenburg then asked McCarthy who responded by saying he didn’t know. Clattenburg then awarded a freekick, meaning the challenge had been dealt with and no retrospective punishment could be made (although the FA did get their own back a few weeks later when making Rooney the only player to face a two game ban for swearing).

Despite McCarthy choosing not to tell the referee he had been elbowed, Whelan went on the attack, claiming the reason why the FA hadn’t broken their own rule to punish Rooney was because he played for Manchester United.

“Something is wrong when a top international like Rooney is seen doing something like this, as clear as day, and is allowed to get away without being punished,” he said. “If it was any other club or player, you can bet your life he would have been sent off. But officials seem intimidated by the words ‘Rooney’ and ‘United’. Manchester United are allowed to get away with things the rest of us get pulled up for. And you can’t have one set of rules for one club and another for the rest. I don’t care what the FA say about the matter being dealt with at the time by us getting a free-kick. They, and everyone else in football, know justice isn’t being served here. The FA will be delighted they can hide behind their rules.”

I believe Whelan is now the one who is delighted that the FA have this rule to hide behind, as McManaman has been allowed to get away without being punished. Turns out you don’t have to be a Manchester United player after all.

Two weeks after the Wigan game United went to Anfield to suffer the humiliation of a Dirk Kuyt hattrick and one of our players getting cut open by Jamie Carragher. The Liverpool man went in on Nani similarly to how McManaman did on Haïdara, leaving Nani with a deep gash in his leg, but Phil Dowd opted just to caution him. It was clearly a red card offence but there was no retrospective punishment on offer.

James Lawton, The Independent, wrote at the time: At the end of a week of refereeing controversy it was that Jamie Carragher was merely given a yellow card for a tackle on Nani so sickening, so dangerous, that it rendered more farcical than ever the insistence of the football authorities that they cannot revisit extreme cases of negligence, irresponsibility or – let’s not fail to explore the full range of possibilities in this case – outright failure of nerve by a match official.

Phil Dowd was close at hand, was surrounded by protesting United players and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard – who appeared to be suggesting that his team-mate was not guilty of one of the worst fouls to disfigure any ground in recent memory – and then administered two yellow cards, one to Carragher, still protesting his innocence, and the other to Edwin van der Sar, incredulous that a tackle of such crude violence could elicit such a mild punishment.

We all know what a sterling professional Carragher has been down the years but you had to be living on another planet not to be revolted by this piece of action. Nani wasn’t tackled – he was, in effect, assaulted – and we can re-run the film a thousands times without a softening of that verdict.

The issue is that every week referees make the wrong decision and if the FA can overrule them, not only will the officials be totally undermined, but the FA will be inundated with red card appeals. The only occasion when the FA have diverted from this rule was when Ben Thatcher took out Pedro Mendes and it was deemed that a yellow card wasn’t punishment enough. Referee Dermot Gallagher failed to spot that Thatcher smashed his forearm in to Mendes’ head, leading the FA to retrospectively ban the Manchester City player for eight games.

So, did the FA open a can of worms with this decision? You could argue that the fact Mendes was knocked unconscious and suffered with seizures on the way to hospital meant that this was an extraordinary case. Whilst there’s no denying that challenges like McManaman’s should not be a part of the game, it certainly wasn’t life-threatening in the way that Thatcher’s could have been. The FA and referees tend to act as a result of the damage done, which is why in challenges like the Jonny Evans-Student Holden of a couple of seasons ago, it was Evans that got sent off, despite Holden going in over the ball. Holden got his leg broken though so Evans got a red card. Had Haïdara’s leg broken in a few places and he went in to shock, there might have been more chance of McManaman becoming an exception to the rule and facing a ban, but it was never likely.

Something must be done about this though, fans keep saying, it can’t be right that players get away with such shocking challenges. We can all agree on that but it’s hard to see what the solution might be.