PAT NEVIN: BIG CALLS

With an important week of matches commencing this evening, former player Pat Nevin looks back at the most recent game before turning his attention ahead in his latest column…

Sport can have an incredible effect on all the emotions. From happiness and joy, all the way to sadness and even despair. Each are frequent companions of the true fans and participants.

Sometimes however it is other emotions that overcome these more direct feelings, such as anger and extreme frustration. I am guessing you are possibly slightly ahead of me already here, in that the match officials on Saturday evening seemed to frustrate and infuriate the Chelsea team, management and of course the fan base throughout.

Officials can get things wrong, we all understand this, they are human and it is an incredibly tough job. Making these lightning quick decisions, on the hoof, under stress, in the public eye, without yielding to the pressures surrounding them is sometimes asking for the impossible.

In the midst of the match at Villa Park there were some strong decisions made by the officials that were brave and very astute, the ‘handball’ call when Matic ‘scored’ (pictured below) may well have been the right one and they called it. The Ramires sending off will not illicit an appeal by the club I suspect, and again a big decision, but that still leaves more than a few questionable moments, moments with huge possible ramifications.

Villa v Chelsea

Before the first 45 minutes had passed the assistant referee had incorrectly denied Chelsea two clear one and one chances, the most obvious being when Fernando Torres sprung their offside trap and was through on goal. The flag went up for a monumentally poor decision that almost certainly stopped our striker scoring. You make 50 of those runs knowing that eventually one works perfectly. When you finally get it exactly right, you expect that the officials should be on to it. With Fernando’s it wasn’t even that close a call. Stopping Chelsea going ahead with such an error should have been enough to rein in the team of officials but they seemed to me to be imbued with something bordering on arrogance. This is not an official Chelsea party line, just how I saw it as an ex-player and a pundit as it unfolded in front of me.

As the second half progressed and Chelsea slowly but surely increased the intensity, we became totally dominant and looked very likely to score, certainly far more likely than the home side. Then it happened, Willian was sent off for the most innocuous challenge on Delph in the middle of the park. I say innocuous challenge because I do not even think it was a free-kick, never mind a booking, but the referee reached for his pocket and with a disdainful and dismissive flourish, sent off Willian. It changed the course of the game and quite possibly the league title race. It was an awful misjudgement by the official which considering the massive impact it might have, I suspect he will not now apologise for or rescind, even though he clearly should do.

So far so frustrating, they got some big calls wrong and have had more effect on the game than they should have. As I said it happens, it isn’t an easy job. By this point I am not angry, but I am getting there because of the officials’ apparent attitude.

The thing that annoyed me more than anything else as a player was not a big full-back trying to break my leg, oddly I accepted that as part of the game. It wasn’t the refereeing errors, I knew deep down they were generally doing their best, but in actual fact it was the dismissive, unresponsive and in some cases downright arrogance of one or two officials at the time. Being treated like a naughty three-year-old, by someone who appeared to be more set on building his personal reputation than doing his job, used to drive me nuts.

I thought the actions and attitude of the officials, from the referee’s condescension when incorrectly sending off Willian, to the fourth official’s method of talking to Jose at the end, repeatedly saying, ‘Get off,’ in an inappropriate manner, were unacceptable. Maybe Jose said something to them, I do not know. Football folk themselves are not always paragons of virtue and good behaviour on the field, indeed very far from it. This is not however an excuse for officials to be quite so supercilious.

This attitude has crept further into the mannerisms of some, and I stress only some, officials over the past few years. I have my suspicions that television and the media using ex-officials more these days is tempting some into prepping for that possible future in their performances during their current careers. The idea of the good referee being the one who is not noticed has largely been binned in many circles, this may have been partly due to the influence of the famous Italian whistler Collina, who became a personality through his style, but he was a one off and generally a great referee.

I hope, but suspect we will not, start reconsidering and re-evaluating the vast majority of referees who go about their business in a quiet, un-showy, professional, communicative and respectful way with the players and staff. Chelsea have had their problems with refs in the past, a certain game against Barcelona (you know the one I mean), still makes my blood boil but at least we can hope that this time, unlike then, the gross mistakes of the officials do not absolutely decide the final outcome of the competition.

I repeat, these are my personal opinions on the matter I am sharing here, not those of Chelsea Football Club.

As it is there is little time to sit and simmer, there is a Champions League tie to be won against Galatasaray and it will be anything but easy. Mancini’s men showed in the second half in Istanbul that they are capable of going toe to toe with us if given the chance. And with scarcely any rest Arsenal will be on the doorstep come Saturday morning, ready and willing to ruin our entire weekend. I was at White Hart Lane to see them beat Spurs on Sunday and it was a long way from being an impressive performance by the Gunners. As ever, at our best we should win his one.

So we are feeling a little downtrodden at the moment, but I suspect that if we can somehow manage to win the next two games the positivity will be back with a vengeance. One loss, having played well and been unfairly penalised may well be recoverable, I hope so. There is nothing worse than bad decisions helping to decide who wins championships; it is the antithesis of what competitive sport should be about.

So last week I asked, what was the record win by Chelsea in a Premier League match. Well since the competitions inception in 1992 we have twice won 8-0, against Aston Villa and against Wigan. I’ll not mention the dates, as I got it wrong last week, even if the player and the opponent were right. Thanks for letting me know everyone! Anyway there is only one winner allowed and this week it is Stephanie Post from Dundee in Scotland, well done.

To have a chance of winning a prize signed by one of the players this week, can you tell me who was the first player ever to score a Champions League goal for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge (not including qualifiers)? Answers as usual to me at pat.nevin@chelseafc.com

Good luck, and to the team in a week when we could see it go either way in our last two challenges for silverware this season.

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