Belfast Telegraph

Arsene Wenger wrong to cry foul this time

By Stuart McKinley

Referees, who’d be one? Nobody loves them. Even when they’re right they’re wrong and only on rare occasions are their decisions universally popular.

One incident can dog a career and they only achieve any kind of real notoriety when they get things wrong — or are at least perceived to have been wrong.

Swedish referee Martin Hansson will forever be remembered for one thing. His name is indelibly etched in the mind of every Republic of Ireland player and fan, recognising him as the man who killed their World Cup dream by missing Thierry Henry’s blatant handball as he set up the play-off winning goal for William Gallas.

He wasn’t playing on Wednesday night, but Gallas’ Arsenal team ended up on the receiving end of another moment that Hansson’s name will go alongside forever.

Arsene Wenger isn’t exactly what you would call a friend of referees, but he definitely saw the incident when Lukasz Fabianski handled Sol Campbell’s backpass, handing Porto a free-kick and Ruben Micael and Falcao combined to take the set-piece quickly and give the Portuguese side a first-leg lead in their Champions League tie.

The Gunners didn’t even get the chance to organise a defensive wall for the indirect free-kick before the ball hit the net, giving Wenger not one, but two reasons to have a moan — not that he needs any.

So was the referee right or wrong? Well, a bit of both it would seem.

“There isn’t anything hard and fast or black and white in the rules, it depends on the circumstances, but as long as there are no players down injured, the ball is in the right place and stationery then the free-kick can be taken,” said David Malcolm, one of Northern Ireland’s quartet of FIFA referees.

“The referee doesn’t even need to blow his whistle, as long as he gives an instruction that the free-kick can be taken that’s fine.

“There is a safety first approach whereby you make a team wait until everything is ready, the opposing players are the correct distance back and the referee is in the best position before play can begin, but why disadvantage the attacking team and give an advantage to the team that has just committed an offence?

“I think Martin Hansson got the decision right, but lacked common sense that would have seen things go a lot smoother and him avoid the headlines.

“I think quite regularly there is a misunderstanding of the rules by managers and players and it’s when the decision goes against them that they are up in arms.”

Malcolm’s biggest night as a whistler came when taking charge of CSKA Moscow when they were holders of the UEFA Cup, as well as matches involving Ajax and Bayern Munich — a bit different to being fourth official at Windsor Park, where he will be tomorrow.

There will be one television camera covering that game, whereas Champions League games have around ten pointing at all different angles, meaning every decision by the officials can be scrutinised over and over again.

“Referees don’t fear television cameras because replays will show that decisions are right more often than wrong,” said Malcolm.

“The evidence of that is in the Boxing Day game between Crusaders and Cliftonville when the television pictures showed that Adrian McCourt got the decisions right.

“Managers will always criticise referees because it is easier than criticising their players.”

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