Cana the lionheart yes. Bent for his tireless running and for his goal. Da Silva’s unbeatable defending. Henderson for the maturity he displayed in sticking to his task and to Fabregas. McCartney and Bardsley for their best performances in memory. And, says
Colin Randall, don’t forget Alan Wiley …
It is not hard to see what it is about Alan Wiley that so annoys Sir Alex Ferguson. Here is a referee who makes players take throw ins and free kicks from the right place, doesn’t point automatically to the penalty spot when a big four striker falls over, allows robust but fair challenges and applies common sense judgement in incidents involving both sets of players all over the pitch.
After Sunderland’s 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, the reasonable response from the United manager would have been along the lines of: “I’ve got to be honest. Sunderland will feel disappointed. They played well. But our late spell of intense pressure probably produced a fair result in the end.”
As we all know, Sir Alex chose another course: he insulted Alan Wiley, suggesting he was not not fit enough to referee in the Premier League.
A half-apology and half-punishment later, Sir Alex would have been well advised to precede Man Utd’s late kick off against Everton by watching us play Arsenal on some dodgy internet stream.
He would have witnessed as fine a display of Premier refereeing as I can remember.
My view is echoed by the passionate but articulate and fair-minded Sunderland supporters to be found at the Blackcats list. Wiley positively encouraged the game to flow; and it was a good game, not a case of lucky also-rans taking advantage of a bad day at the office for the favourites.
Of course, it is easy for fans of the winning team to praise the ref. But I formed an admiring view of Wiley’s performance early in the game and doubt if it would have changed whatever the outcome.
Even the way he produced Bardsley’s yellow card, for idiotically kicking the ball away after conceding a free kick, combined firmness and a sardonic sense of humour. You could almost hear him saying: “How the hell did you think I’d respond to that? Weren’t we all together at Old Trafford when Kieran did it?”
Oddly enough, the distraction caused by Bardsley’s gesture led to the only case I recall of a player pinching a couple of yards when placing a free kick or taking a throw.
When I checked Arsene Wenger’s post-match comments, I initially thought he was taking defeat on the chin, registering only the most half-hearted of complaints about a stoppage time incident which he thought should have won Arsenal a penalty. Then I saw a fuller version of the quote in which he said referees should be “more honest”.
I known only too well how easy it is for an Englishman speaking French to reach for a word and get it wrong, and I also know it works both ways. Let us hope Arsene, for whom I have frequently expressed sincere admiration, got it wrong and didn’t mean for a second to imply dishonesty. Irrespective of the way this game ended, nearly 45,000 people witnessed a class act from the referee and his linesmen.
* See also: Soapbox: outshooting the Gunners