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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Javier Mascherano could not have contributed more to Manchester United’s victory without latching onto a Paul Scholes through-ball and rocketing it past Pepe Reina. So far this season, the Argentine midfielder has been the perfect example of a modern, defensive midfielder, but this weekend he was just the perfect example of a spoilt toddler. Rafa Benitez, a handful of pundits and a disturbingly high number of Liverpool fans have leapt to his defence and poured the blame on referee Steve Bennett, but for the life of me I can’t see why. Bennett almost single-handedly relegated Southend United last season when he mysteriously sent two of our players off in the local derby with Colchester, so let me assure you that I never miss an opportunity to criticise him. Not today though.

The counter-argument appears to be that Mascherano was simply asking the referee, in a non-threatening manner, for the logic behind his latest fussy decision. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time that he’d weighed in with some words of advice. I’m not even sure that he was going to be booked for his first offence until he turned to the official and repeatedly swore at him. The only positive that Liverpool fans can take from this sorry episode is that Mascherano’s command of the English language appears to have come on in leaps and bounds. I’m no lip-reading expert, but he was either telling him where to go or he was passing on a message from the kitchen that the, “Duck’s off.”

He then proceeded to shout and swear his way through his ever-diminishing time on the pitch. At one point he ran to Bennett to wave his finger in the referee’s face, which is threatening behaviour and entirely uncalled for. The critical moment came after Fernando Torres was booked for dissent. Mascherano ran twenty yards to remonstrate with the referee, squirming out of Xabi Alonso’s arms like a greasy ferret. This is the point where, surely, no rational human being can defend him.

If we work on the rather flimsy premise that Mascherano wasn’t persistently swearing and arguing with Bennett and that, I don’t know, perhaps he had run twenty yards to compliment him on his choice of aftershave, then perhaps a yellow card for stupidity is in order. There are a few simple guidelines in football. When you’ve been booked in a crunch game with your local rivals, you hide from the referee. You don’t talk to him, you don’t shout at him, you don’t confront him. You just get on with your game and hope that he doesn’t notice you.

For Mascherano to behave in the way he did against Manchester United in a stadium full of hostile home fans, in such an important fixture, defies belief. In a week that has seen Ashley Cole rightly pilloried for his attitude, a week that has seen all of football rise up as one and say, ‘enough is enough’, a week where the referees have been encouraged to stamp out disrespect, you simply don’t chase the officials around like a whining child. It should be simple, shouldn’t it?

The most annoying thing is that it was all so avoidable and pointless. Liverpool were playing well, taking the game to United and, even with Reina’s howler, I thought that they were well worth a point. Now Manchester United have a five point lead, the title race is unbalanced and Liverpool are suddenly looking nervously at a Merseyside derby that they have to play without one of their best midfielders.

Dissent is pointless. Brian Clough, the legendary Derby and Nottingham Forest manager, ordered his players to keep their mouths shut and it worked. Tony Woodcock, in the forthcoming book ‘Football Fables’, by…ahem…someone you might have heard of, describes the policy well.

“We were under instructions never to argue with referees and it was so clever. You're never going to make them change their minds so we must have ended up getting them on our side. Everyone in football knew that Cloughie's teams were respectful and they didn't moan and complain all the time. Over the course of time, that probably meant that we got decisions we wouldn't ordinarily get. Referees are only human, aren't they?”

Let’s hope someone suggests the theory to Mascherano.