Brendan Rodgers has delivered a scathing critique of referee Steven McLean’s performance during Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden, suggesting his lack of authority could have threatened the “lives and careers” of some of the players involved.
The Celtic manager’s startlingly forthright observations on the match in which Motherwell defeated Rangers 2-0 to book a place against his team in next month’s final also included a thinly-veiled condemnation of the robust style of play adopted by the Fir Park club under Stephen Robinson this season.
Rodgers emerged as an unlikely ally for Rangers boss Pedro Caixinha whose fury at referee McLean’s response to several challenges on his players at Hampden eventually led to him being sent to the stand along with Robinson.
Motherwell striker Ryan Bowman, whose flailing elbow inflicted a broken nose on Rangers defender Fabio Cardoso, was singled out by Rodgers, who last season condemned the same player for a knee-high challenge on Kieran Tierney at Celtic Park which was only punished by a yellow card.
“The centre-half [Cardoso] coming off the pitch on Sunday – Christ, if he’d been shot, he wouldn’t have looked worse,” said Rodgers. “It was unbelievable. It was the same player [Bowman] who tackled Kieran last season.
“You want officials with authority. They may not always get decisions right but don’t just let the game go and hope the players officiate it. That was a dangerous game on Sunday. I can see why Pedro would have been annoyed, absolutely.
“You are endangering players’ lives and careers with some of the challenges we saw. That’s not the first time up here. It’s been ongoing. As an official, you can’t be affected in any way. You have to be concise. When you have good players wanting to win, you need to be clear in your judgement.
“It got out of control at the end, because players – known professionals – were trying to avenge things. There was an incident where Bruno Alves didn’t even get spoken to and the referee was just four yards away.
“Listen, you want your team to be aggressive, to be super-competitive. But that was beyond it on Sunday. How that game on Sunday ended up with 11 against 11, I will never know. That’s a prestigious game, the League Cup semi-final on TV with kids watching, and it’s not what you want to see. It’s also the welfare of players you are looking at.”
Celtic will face Motherwell three times in one week next month, with the Hampden final on 26 November immediately followed by Premiership fixtures at Fir Park three days later and at Celtic Park on 2 December.
But Rodgers, pictured, is not concerned about the ability of his players to cope with the physical nature of the challenge Motherwell are likely to pose.
“What you will have in the final is two totally contrasting styles of football,” he added. “That’s pretty clear. We are not worried about that. We have gone away to Aberdeen, tough games, when they were direct and we’ve shown we can defend. We can deal with that.
“For me, it’s about players’ welfare. If you are endangering an opponent, his career – the players up here are not on multi-million pound deals. So if they are out with head injuries or broken legs because games have been allowed to get out of control, then I don’t think that’s very good for Scottish football.
“You don’t want to take the aggression out of the game – we play an aggressive game with how we run, how we press and how we work. Stephen [Robinson] has done a great job at Motherwell, taking over and having to change them from where they were last season.
“He kept them up and you can see the spirit of his team is strong, boys are fighting – which is great – and then they have the class act up front who has the ability to score out of nothing. Louis Moult’s record proves that.
“That’s their style, get it up to the front two as directly as possible, challenge, run and I’ve absolutely no problem with that. But referees obviously need to know that, in that type of game, when there are constant physical challenges, they have to be really firm.”
Rodgers had his own issues with the match officials at Hampden on Saturday during Celtic’s 4-2 win over Hibernian in the other semi-final. Referee Kevin Clancy awarded Hibs a highly contentious penalty on the advice of his assistant Frank Connor for a challenge by Dedryck Boyata on Martin Boyle which allowed Hibs to make the score 2-1.
Rodgers revealed that Connor sought out Boyata after the game to admit he had made the wrong call.
“In fairness, he came in and sought out Dedryck,” he said. “That takes a lot of courage to admit to the mistake. Thankfully it didn’t cost us in the end but it showed courage to admit it. That’s all you want.
“I tend to think the referees here do their very, very best. The problem now is the consequence. The officials here are not full-time and that’s not to say they are not as caring, or anything like that.
“They don’t have the finances up here to pay them full-time, but that doesn’t mean that in their own mind they aren’t.
“It’s about authority. In games like Sunday, you need a strong referee, linesmen and fourth official as a team. As I said, that game was let out of control.
“The guys in our game on Saturday, Kevin and his officials, were doing their best. But they are showpiece games.
“We talk about players being calm under pressure. It’s about ensuring the officials get that support as well, because these are big games with big decisions.”