Imagine if referees spoke about managers the way some managers speak about referees.
Take Neil Lennon, for instance. Picture a scene that has Willie Collum taking questions from journalists after this season’s League Cup final:
“Willie, your decision to deny Celtic a penalty has been described as ‘criminal’ by Neil Lennon. How do you respond?”
“Criminal? From the man who thought it was a good idea to start Kelvin Wilson at centre-half? Aye, right.”
“But didn’t you get it wrong?”
“Not as wrong as Lenny got it. He was up against a team with a tiny fraction of Celtic’s budget today and he failed.”
“He says that decision was the key moment and you stuffed it up...”
“Right. Nothing to do with Gary Hooper’s miss or all the other misses? He doesn’t blame anybody but the referee? Maybe he should look in the mirror.”
“He says you cost him a treble...”
“I say that’s a pretty arrogant statement.”
Revenge of the whistlers’. Oh what fun we would have if they could trade insults with managers. Sunday would have been incredible if the officials were given the right to reply. We’d still be there now transcribing the tit-for-tat. Lennon comes in and blasts Calum Murray and Iain Brines and then the two boys are afforded an opportunity to respond? Wow.
“Iain, we’ve just had Lenny in here and he says that during the first half you came over to have ‘a word’ with him...”
“It was more than “a word” to be fair. I warned him about his behaviour. He’s not exactly telling the whole truth there.”
“Calum, he says that your decision to send off Cha Du-Ri was a joke...”
“It was a decision I had to make in a split-second. Neil had a week to pick his team and he still made a mistake putting Ki in his midfield. We’re not perfect, any of us.”
The point of this sketch is that Lennon has demanded a level of precision from officials these past weeks while at the same time apparently refusing to apply the same lofty standards to himself and his team. Referees are the easiest scapegoats sometimes. A manager knows they have to soak up criticism without responding to it. For some bosses it’s a handy deflection tactic. The tactics are wrong and the result is bad? Let’s hammer the ref and change the headlines.
Lennon talks witheringly – and correctly – of the ridiculous suggestion that their title, when it comes, will be tainted because of Rangers’ ten-point deduction but at the same time he sees no problem in calling Rangers’ victory on Sunday “soured” while stating that “there are mitigating circumstances in the way they’ve won.” He was talking about the red cards and the second Rangers goal, which he thought was offside, but any reasonable analysis of the game would have to mention that even before Cha was dismissed Celtic were being over-run and out-played, an admission we have not heard from Lennon as yet.
Most managers view their football world through one eye. Lennon and his contemporaries don’t want consistency from referees, they want decisions, good or bad, in their favour. If this was about integrity and fairness, where were Lennon’s condemnatory words for the officials when Lee Wallace’s header in the Old Firm game in December was not given despite pictures showing that it was probably a goal? Where was his criticism of refereeing standards when Hearts were denied a perfectly legitimate goal against Celtic last month? Why did he not protest when Georgios Samaras collapsed in a heap under a non-challenge from Inverness’ Greg Tansey earlier in the season? Tansey got sent off unfairly and Celtic went on to win.
Referees are imperfect, just like players and just like managers. If the guy with the whistle made a mistake last Sunday then Lennon should have the good grace to admit that he wasn’t the only one.