Neil Lennon to continue Uefa referee pursuit

Victor Wanyama was in good spirits at Lennoxtown yesterday as he prepared for tonight's trip to St Johnstone. Picture: SNS
Victor Wanyama was in good spirits at Lennoxtown yesterday as he prepared for tonight's trip to St Johnstone. Picture: SNS
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CELTIC manager Neil Lennon is refusing to back down in his quest for clarification from Uefa over the performance of Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco in last week’s Champions League defeat by Juventus.

European football’s governing body have made it known they are “irritated” by Lennon’s declaration he would send them a DVD package highlighting the man-handling at set pieces by Juventus defenders which went largely unpunished by Mallenco as Celtic lost the first leg of the last 16 tie 3-0 at Parkhead.

But Lennon remains adamant he will pursue his case and revealed he intends to request the assistance of SFA refereeing chief John Fleming in obtaining guidance from Uefa on the laws of the game he believes Juventus were allowed to flout last week.

“We need to make our voice heard and we will pursue this until I get an answer,” insisted Lennon. “It’s not the club that’s asking for one, it’s me.

“It’s me, for the way I approach a game. It’s for me with regards to what I tell my players to do in those situations.

“It seems to be that the game is different here than it is in some other countries and that shouldn’t be the case.

“Some people may feel I’m prattling on about this, but I’ve never seen it so blatant at every set-piece as it was last week.

“I’ll be speaking to (chief executive) Peter Lawwell about it today on whether we write to Uefa or just make a phone call. All I want is clarity from them on whether what happened is allowed in the game.

“I want to know if they were happy with the referee’s performance. It’s nothing to do with Juventus, the result, or anything like that. There were contentious issues in the game that we would like to find the answers to.

“I’m going to ring John Fleming at the SFA. He may or may not be able to have some influence over the issue with Uefa but I will ask. Anyone with a same sort of outlook on the game will know what went on was wrong.”

Lennon is keen to obtain a response from Uefa before the second leg against Juventus in Turin on 6 March in order to inform his own tactics for the match.

“I would just like some answers before we go into the game in Turin on what’s allowed and what’s not,” he added. “I don’t think we’re asking too much. If Uefa are saying that sort of thing is in the rules, then it could affect my approach to man-marking in the second leg. We tend to do a bit of both, zonal and man-marking. But we may be a bit more physical in future.

“What if my players don’t get away with it in the second leg? Where does that leave us? Where does it leave the game and the hypocrisy of the rules then?

“It would put Uefa in a very difficult position. That’s why I want the situation clarified before we go into the second game.

“If you set your team up to do something in particular, knowing how the opposition defends – and we knew that’s how they defended – you flag it up, knowing it’s illegal and still nothing gets done about it, then that is disappointing.

“I don’t want to bang on about it in interview after interview but I do feel it’s a real contentious issue in a big game. At the first corner kick, after a minute and 20 seconds, Gary Hooper got bundled into the net.

“I know (former referee) Stuart Dougal has said nothing can be done when the ball isn’t in play, but it was. I’ve seen photographs where the grappling is still going on when the ball 
is in the box. In any other British game, if that went on we’d all be crying ‘penalty’.

“I’ve seen the quotes from everyone and even Gianluca Vialli, who is probably on the Juventus side of things, said we should have at least had one penalty.

“It’s obstruction. We sent Gary into the box not to really do anything, just stand in an area. He doesn’t back into the goalkeeper, he just makes an obstacle for him to come for the cross.

“He’s entitled to do that but Stephan Lichsteiner was leaning on him with his arms around him constantly.

“If you do that anywhere else on the pitch, it would be a foul straight away.

“Put it this way, if you can do that when the ball is not in play, can we do that at throw-ins? Can we hold players until the ball is thrown into play?

“Can Victor Wanyama put his arms around Claudio Marchisio and then let him go off him as soon as the ball is thrown? The way I look at it is, if that’s the interpretation of what went on the other night then that’s the way it’s going to be.

“I’ve watched a lot of European games this past week, Europa League and Champions League, and none of that went on. None of it. If it did, it was minimal. I’m all for physical contact. If players are man-marking then they put their arms up, that happens.

“But what happened last week was blatant and so obvious. It was right in front of the referee.

“I looked at his position and compared it to the penalty we got with Chris Sutton against Juventus a few years back, which was a lot tamer, and the French referee was right there.

“The Spanish ref was away at the back post last week and can’t see anything that’s going on, really. Whether he left it for his other officials to keep an eye on things, I don’t know. But all I want is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ on what’s allowed.”