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Tuesday Cannon Fodder: mistakes

Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Good morning, y’all. By now, we’ve established that Tuesdays are the worst, although the possibility of Arsenal Champions League matches a month from now greatly improves the potential of future Tuesdays.

The only thing I can talk about today is the horrible refereeing and VAR mistake in yesterday’s 1-0 Manchester United win over Wolverhampton. Wolves should have a penalty deep in added time when Andre Onana came charging off his line, leapt into Sasa Kalajdžić after the ball was already beyond the substitute, and

Referee Simon Hooper did not award a penalty on the pitch. VAR official Michael Salisbury decided it was not a clear and obvious error to trigger an on-field review. The words “clear and obvious error” have no useful meaning. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the football so united in agreement that an incident was a penalty.

It was so clearly a foul, even with the (undeserved and incorrect) deference given to keepers in the air. Onana was nowhere near the ball, he crashed into an opponent in the air, AND he bopped him with his hands / arms. Kalajdžić was going straight up for the ball. Onana launched into him, moving much more horizontally than vertically.

If a player jumps into an opponent like that anywhere else on the pitch, it’s a foul. If the roles were reversed and Kalajdžić had collided with Onana like that, it’s a foul. If Onana wasn’t wearing a red kit and playing at Old Trafford, it’s a foul.

Within an hour of the match, reports filtered out that Jon Moss spoke with Wolves manager Gary O’Neil to apologize for the missed call. This morning, the PGMOL announced that the three referees responsible for not awarding Wolves a penalty, were not assigned to matches this weekend (the two mentioned above along with assistant VAR Richard West).

Cool.

What, exactly, does giving those officials a week off accomplish? As far as we know, there is no “strike” system with more significant repercussions for repeated blown calls nor any remedial referee training required to help them improve. It’s all part of Howard Webb’s push for “greater accountability” for Premier League referees, which is fine. But accountability has a tenuous (at best) relationship with actually improving the quality and standards of refereeing. The existence of consequences does not ensure that referees will make fewer match outcome determinative mistakes.

Last season, Wolves spent most of the season around the relegation zone before finishing seven points clear. Everton stayed up by two points. There have been seasons where a solitary point kept a club from going down. The point Wolves likely would have earned from being correctly awarded a penalty could be the difference between safety and relegation.

Likewise, they tell me Manchester United are title contenders. I’m skeptical of that designation after they were convincingly outplayed at home by Wolves, but Erik Ten Hag’s side will at least be around the Champions League places. What is two more points worth at the top of the table? It could make the difference between a Champions League finish and a Europa League place.

The PGMOL and Premier League officials couldn’t make it one week without making a mistake so clear and egregious they had to apologize to an aggrieved club. How many more of those mistakes will we see this season? How many decisions will we have that are consensus mistakes but don’t garner an apology because the PGMOL decides it can hide behind the flimsy protection of “clear and obvious error” or some other unsatisfactory, contrived explanation?

It undermines the confidence in the entire Premier League and the integrity of the competition. The mistake in the Manchester United - Wolves match could be worth tens, if not hundreds, of millions of pounds at the end of the season.

But make sure you don’t have too many players around the referee, wave an imaginary card, or be mean to an official in any way because that will get you booked. The unmitigated gall of them. They know they consistently make horrendous mistakes, and they spent the entire summer developing ways to punish people for expressing justified anger. It’s an infuriating display of an arrogance that comes from knowing you’re untouchable. That no matter how awful you are at your job, there will not be any meaningful consequences for it.

Every apology brings us closer to a reckoning, and I welcome it. The officiating system in the Premier League is no longer fit for purpose. Burn it down and rebuild it from scratch.