Glenn Gibbons: Ref makes Spurs suffer, but retribution is sweet
Few experiences in football are as gratifying as the sight of unchecked delinquency ultimately meeting with the kind of justice that appears to have been dispensed by a particularly vengeful god.
Nor is anyone likely to witness a more stirring example of the phenomenon than that which occurred during Tottenham Hotspur's Champions League victory over Milan in Italy on Tuesday.
Whatever punishment Uefa may impose on the aberrant Rino Gattuso over his scandalous behaviour, it will not be remotely as painful or as damaging as the two blows taken by the home team in the 80th and 94th minute respectively of an otherwise uninspiring match.
Peter Crouch's rolling the ball into the bottom left-hand corner of the Milan net for the winning goal would have been sweet enough for anyone desperate to see Gattuso's side suitably "rewarded" for his obnoxiousness and the destructive lunge by his team-mate, Mathieu Flamini, that took the Spurs player, Vedran Corluka, out of the game and might easily have left him with a career-threatening injury.
But the retribution became even more delicious when the Italian side's impossibly late "equaliser" (this would traditionally have been scored by the striker, Filippo Inzaghi, from a suspiciously offside position) was disallowed because of a foul committed by the "scorer", Zlatan Ibrahimovich.
Unsurprisingly, the striker's offence was spotted and signalled by the supplementary referee's assistant behind the goal. In strict accordance with the events that had preceded it, there would have been little or no prospect of the referee himself, Stephane Lannoy of France, making a proper judgement.
Lannoy had already seen Flamini's malicious attack on Corluka and, pathetically, issued a yellow card for a crime that would have been punishable in law by jail time. He and his stand-side linesman (the latter standing no more than five yards away) had also witnessed Gattuso's first assault on the Tottenham coach, Joe Jordan, when he grabbed the Scot by the throat and pushed him backwards, and, astonishingly, neither took any action. This was a truly noble action by Gattuso, a 33-year-old, fully-conditioned professional athlete getting physical with a man who, at 59, may be older than his own father.
But, if there is a mechanism for the retrospective punishment of players, there should also be a means by which to penalise the potentially damaging injudiciousness of match officials.
But for the lameness of Lannoy, Gattuso and Flamini would have been expelled long before the event was allowed to descend into hideousness.
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