AND there he goes again, Andy Gray, demonstrating that an ignorance of the rules of football need not be a barrier to criticising a referee’s decision.
Gray, occasionally shutting up for long enough to allow Martin Tyler to get a word in edgeways on Sky Sports today as Portsmouth knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford, suggested that Tomasz Kuszczak should not have been sent off for his professional foul on Milan Baros.
Kuszczak wasn’t the last man, Gray suggested. Well, Andy, if you spent a bit more time checking the rules and less time picking arguments with whichever unfortunate soul happens to be commentating on a game with you, then you might realise that it doesn’t matter whether Kuszczak was the last man or not.
FIFA’s website states: “A player… is sent off and shown the red card if he… denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free-kick or a penalty-kick.”
It does not say the player has to be the last man. It says he has to deny “an obvious goalscoring opportunity”.
Kuszczak’s foul on Baros did exactly that – despite the fact that two United defenders had got back behind the goalkeeper – and referee Martin Atkinson was right to send him off in addition to awarding Portsmouth the penalty, which Sulley Muntari scored.
Gray, not for the first time in his commentary career, viewed several replays of the incident and then came down with the decisive verdict: “I’m not so sure.”
Surely the whole purpose of Gray is to offer the insight of someone has played football to a high standard? If an ex-professional footballer with access to several TV replays can come up with the wrong decision because he doesn’t know the rules, what is he doing commentating?
And here’s an interesting thing. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson vented his spleen about Atkinson’s performance in a post-match interview on Sky, claiming the referee was on Portsmouth’s side.
Yet even Ferguson had no complaints about Kuszczak’s sending off.
A footnote: I was at Blackpool’s Championship match against Southampton today. The excellent match programme contained a short Q&A with Dave Foster, who was the game’s referee.
Asked for his views about the introduction of video referees, Foster seemed broadly in favour. But he couldn’t resist the following comment:
“How many times do you see Andy Gray reviewing a borderline offside decision four or five times in a row, which takes a minute to do? An assistant has to make a decision in a split second.”
Referees and linesmen do get it wrong. But at least they know the rules. And on today’s evidence, that’s more than I can say for that opinionated Scottish chap who works for Sky.