Early Doors

FA in the dock over decisions

Early Doors

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Early Doors expects you are aware - if you will excuse the vulgarity so early on a Wednesday morning - of the concept of the s**t sandwich. In practice this rather evocative phrase means to deliver a piece of bad news in between two slices of good.

"Mr Dalglish, you have an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to this weekend. However, neither of your first two goalkeepers are available. But hey, at least no one has been racist for a few months." That sort of thing.

Well the phrase sprung into ED's mind on Tuesday afternoon when the Football Association invited no end of ridicule and provoked no small amount of fury by quickly announcing three high-profile decisions relating disciplinary issues from the past week.

However, somebody at Wembley HQ clearly got the wrong end of the stick as football's governing body instead succeeded in pioneering the dubious concept of the inverse s**t sandwich. To be brutally honest, ED can't see it catching on.

Announcing that Branislav Ivanovic was being charged with violent conduct was the thin slice of focaccia chronologically placed between the two sloppy bricks of steaming effluent that were the decisions to let Shaun Derry's red card stand and to take no further action against Mario Balotelli.

To refuse to strike off a red card shown to a player who had been a victim of a clear dive from an opponent who was offside in any case, and then to let another player go unpunished for a reckless, late and high challenge smacked of lunacy on the part of the FA.

Certainly this entirely illogical sequence of events resulted in yet more criticism of a body that has for so long been criticised for being horribly out of touch.

This is very unfair of course. Last year the FA even appointed its first WOMAN to its board, would you believe. Whatever next from these wannabe suffragettes and paragons of modern business eh?

But still the pervading image of old white men in stuffy meeting rooms, decked out in county FA blazers, is a potent one, and Tuesday's decisions did little to cast the governing body in a progressive light, so far removed was it from any concept of justice and so out of touch was it with what the public demanded.

Both decisions also confirmed what ED has felt for some time: the FA's disciplinary process remains deeply flawed, even if it isn't all the governing body's fault.

Take Balotelli's awful challenge on Alex Song: the FA was prevented from taking any further action once referee Martin Atkinson had confirmed he or one of his assistants saw the incident as it occurred. As the governing body explained in a statement on its website: "Where at least one of the officials has seen the coming together of players retrospective action is not taken, regardless of whether they have seen the full extent of the challenge."

This watertight restriction on the FA's power to act is the result of a FIFA diktat ensuring that incidents are not re-refereed, ostensibly designed to help protect the reputation of match officials around the globe.

Never mind that in its statement the FA basically admitted the unnamed official had not seen the full incident and therefore had not been in full possession of the facts when trying to make the correct decision. Never mind the fact that anyone watching video evidence would conclude that Balotelli was guilty of a terrible challenge and should have been banned. Had he been punished, under the FA's totting up process he would have been hit with a nine-match suspension.

Far from protecting the position of Atkinson and his assistants, FIFA's system has served to undermine them: having been forced to confirm that one match official did actually witness the tackle, they have now been left open to accusations of incompetence having taken no action whatsoever against a potential leg-breaker.

ED would emphasise again that this combination of FIFA's rules and official ineptitude mean the FA's hands were rather tied on this matter. Not that it has stopped it looking stupid as a result.

Regarding the Derry incident, though, it is far more culpable.

It is quite unbelievable that on a day when video evidence was rightly used to charge Ivanovic for a sneaky punch on Wigan's Shaun Maloney (the incident was not spotted by the referee at the time), the FA could not also trust the evidence in front of their eyes when dealing with the Derry situation.

It was painfully obvious Derry should not have been dismissed by Lee Mason and that Ashley Young was guilty instead of an embarrassing piece of simulation, yet in its infinite wisdom an independent three-man panel did not feel the dismissal was a clear and obvious error.

And how do they justify this decision? They don't. A statement on the FA website merely records that QPR's appeal has failed. So much for transparency.

Technically, the FA would no doubt argue that it should not be held responsible for an independent panel. But the governing body agrees to work under such a system when disciplinary appeals are heard and ED is at a total loss to see how the panel came to the decision it did. There is not even a whiff of justice about this, and the FA must be held responsible. Either explain decisions like the Derry one or start referring incidents to panels who actually have a grasp of what kind of messages football wants to be sending.

As Gary Lineker put it on Twitter yesterday: "Who makes these decisions at the FA? Have they any feeling for the game? Beggars belief at times."

Even more galling is that while Derry will now serve a one-match ban, Young gets away with his blatant dive as the FA refuses to consider retrospective punishment for such transgressions. There is no excuse for this: FIFA doesn't prohibit such a system and Scottish football currently employs one.

So, to recap: Balotelli escapes punishment for a horror challenge and Derry's stupid red card stands as Young is rewarded for a cynical dive. Not so much a s**t sandwich, perhaps, as a poo picnic.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The supporters have been brilliant. It has been a difficult 18 months with my son passing away. That was for him and obviously for them as well for giving me the support they have. My girlfriend gave birth to a little boy [Nico Luca] recently so it has been a big week. The semi-final is not something I have been thinking about to be honest. But it's a big game and it is about preparing for that and making sure I am focused." - After saving a penalty with his first touch as a Premier League player for Liverpool, goalkeeper Brad Jones dedicates his special moment to his son, Luca, who died at the age of five in November.

FOREIGN VIEW: "On Wednesday, it's going to be a clash of footballing cultures." And a whole lot more. Yes, Wednesday night sees Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich go head-to-head in one of the most highly-anticipated matches in European football this season. Dortmund lead Bayern by three points at the top of the table ahead of the match at Singal Iduna Park and, as Dortmund boss Juergen Klopp suggests, it should make for a fascinating encounter.

COMING UP: It's another busy night of football with four Premier League games taking place. We have live text commentary on the matches between Wolves and Arsenal, Manchester City and West Brom, Wigan and Manchester United and QPR and Swansea.

We are also treating you to two La Liga games - Spain's capital divides when Atletico Madrid take on Real Madrid just after Valencia host Rayo Vallecano - and some Serie A action as title-contenders Juventus host Lazio.

Jim White also files his latest column and we have the first bit of our three-part interview with former Liverpool manager Roy Evans.

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