FA farce sees Balotelli escape as Derry receives ban
English football reacted with surprise and dismay yesterday when Mario Balotelli was given a reprieve for his stamp on Alex Song, meaning he will face no retrospective action for the foul but Shaun Derry's soft red card against Manchester United was allowed to stand.
On a difficult day for the Football Association's disciplinary department, referee Martin Atkinson said that he saw enough of Balotelli's lunge at Song on Sunday that the governing body could not go back on the foul, under Fifa guidelines. That was despite Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, urging the FA to review the foul.
In the separate case of Derry, dismissed by Lee Mason for the faintest of touches on Ashley Young in Queen's Park Rangers' defeat to United the same day, a three-man independent panel ruled that the decision should stand. The panel had to decide whether it was a "serious and obvious" error by Mason and judged that it was not. QPR had lodged an appeal against the Derry red card but the one-match ban stands – the Rangers captain will have to serve it against Swansea City tonight.
The third major decision of the day saw the Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic charged with violent conduct for an off-the-ball punch landed on Wigan Athletic's Shaun Maloney during the two clubs' Premier League game on Saturday.
Chelsea are yet to indicate whether they will appeal against the judgment but if they do not do so by the deadline of 6pm today, the Serbian defender will miss Sunday's FA Cup semi-final against Spurs as well as league games against Arsenal and QPR.
The Balotelli case could not face retrospective action once Atkinson told the FA that he had some sight of the incident. As with all major incidents that go unpunished during a game, the FA contacted the referee to ask Atkinson whether he saw Balotelli's studs make contact with Song.
The usual procedure is that if an official answers that he did not see the incident, the FA then ask what punishment he would have applied had he done so. Atkinson said that he, his assistant on that side, Peter Kirkup, and fourth official Andre Marriner, who was nearby, got some sight of the incident. Even though they did not see the full severity of the foul, that prevents the FA from acting retrospectively.
Balotelli was facing a potential nine-match ban, as reported in The Independent yesterday. He had already received a three-game ban for his red card at the end of the match for two bookable offences (one game for the two yellows and two further games for it being his third red card of the season). Had he also been punished for the Song incident he would have been banned for three games for violent conduct and a further three for it being his fourth red card of the season.
As it stands, Balotelli will be banned for three matches which means his potential comeback game will be the Manchester derby at the Etihad against Manchester United on 30 April.
In a statement the FA said that it was prevented from taking action. "Where at least one of the officials has seen the coming together of players, retrospective action is not taken, regardless of whether they have seen the full extent of the challenge.
"Retrospective action can only be taken in scenarios where none of the match officials saw the players coming together. The normal scenarios in which retrospective action is taken are for 'off-the-ball' incidents."
The FA is restricted by Fifa in its scope to punish players retrospectively. While other European nations have different systems and, in some cases, impose greater penalties on players for red cards, all of them work under the same restrictions on retrospective action.
Fifa militates against any re-refereeing of games. Only in special circumstances can the FA go back on a referee's decision and impose a much more severe punishment. Ben Thatcher was given an eight-match ban for his elbow on Pedro Mendes in 2006, even though referee Dermot Gallagher only booked him at the time and effectively saw the incident.