Bad Calls and Thuggish Tackles in EPL – Maybe MLS Ain’t Quite So Bad


Maybe it’s time to suspend the whining about MLS referees. They have nothing controversy wise on Sunday’s high profile matches in the English Premier League.

Ashley Young was at the centre of controversy/ Photo: Scott Marsh

At Old Trafford title chasing Manchester United hosted relegation threatened Queens Park Rangers. QPR are coached by combative former United striker Mark Hughes.

The controversy surrounded the sending off of QPR’s Sean Derry in the 13th minute.

Most fans and managers will concur that early red cards are the single most influential factor on the outcome of a game.

You can ask Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis whose side suffered from them inordinately in 2011. One thing compounds the irritation. That would be if the card was wrongly awarded.

13 minutes had elapsed when QPR defender Shaun Derry found himself the wrong side of United’s Ashley Young inside the QPR penalty box. The contact can be described as negligible, minimal or worse. One observed commented that Young left his trailing leg out there looking for contact, which he is entitled to do. There is mostly unanimity that it was always Young’s intention to fall regardless of the severity of the contact.

In the end Derry barely touched Young who was closer to goal. Young indeed collapse theatrically. It was a poor decision by referee Lee Mason but not by any means the worst penalty call ever given.

The extraneous factors are what compounded it and why it has risen to the top of England water cooler conversational topics.

The reason why Young got so easily goalside of the QPR defender in the first place was not any dereliction of duty on Derry’s part. It was because he was standing a yard offside. Instead of a free kick to QPR, United were awarded a penalty which Rooney converted. Young wasn’t just offside. He was very offside.

To compound the error, QPR were forced to play 77 minutes with ten men when Mason sent Derry off.

Now officials, like players and journalists make mistakes. So do coaches, linesmen, fans and every person in any line of work, when forced to make split second judgments. Armed with the benefit of replays, we are all wiser. Mason was rather dumped in it by his linesman.

On the same day, Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli displayed the kind of on field thuggery that – if you only read the internet and never watch games – you would believe is commonplace in Major League Soccer.

His tackle on Alex Song in the first half against Arsenal was sickening and potentially season ending. It most certainly is not the first of these in the EPL this year but the tackle was so bad that his own manager Roberto Mancini urged the FA to look at it on video.

He escaped sanction for it at the time, although the authorities there will surely examine it. He did not escape sanction for two further offences; individually less ugly than the assault on Song, but reckless all the same.

In this mood, Balotelli is a danger to his fellow professionals. His ban will be lengthy. It should include some behavioural counselling. Last July, we wrote an article about Balotelli entitled Seeing Talent go to Waste is the Saddest Part. Nothing seems to have moved in the psyche of this young man.

While it is important to remember that we all have a vested interest in seeing talented players remain on the pitch entertaining us, we also have one to protect those professionals who play broadly by the rules, not just the skillful players but all professionals. Defenders have mortgages too.

MLS Referee Chris Penso could be forgiven a chortle this morning, if referees are biologically capable of chortling. / Photo: John May

Here is the point of bringing this to an American audience.

Mason’s calls and Balotelli’s tackle were made in the EPL. Had these calls and that tackle been made in Major League Soccer, the comments sections of many sites would be overflowing with condemnations of MLS referees in general.

Individual incidents would be cited to back up the generalisations. With them, you would also read condemnations of MLS in general as a physical league, where creative players aren’t protected.

These claims are admittedly often being made by fans who believe their side consists of angels in a league where other sides select eleven monsters. Although occasionally motivated by partisanship, they are nonetheless very genuinely held beliefs.

This is not to say that MLS cannot be improved.

Later on this week, we will produce a new and we innovative idea to address the issue of high profile injuries in Major League Soccer. It doesn’t involve calling anyone a thug, extending bans, arguing the semantic difference between ‘physical’ and ‘athletic’, or trotting out the mantra ‘MLS needs better referees’ and hoping that fixes everything.

Until then, MLS referees and our hard tacklers, may take some comfort in the fact that, the ‘best league in the World’ has plenty of poor calls and disgraceful tackles. And unlike MLS, there is little sign the EPL is improving if you look at the leagues represented in the closing stages of European competition.

So let’s put a moratorium on generalisations about MLS based on the most recent incident affecting a high profile player or match.

Generalisations, as we know, are bad things and can get us in trouble.



  1. Good article. I’ll have to watch the highlights.
    FYI, link for Mancini quote is dead.

    Editor: Thanks on both points LL. Link now fixed.

  2. Who would want to be a referee? What’s to gain? At least when you reach the top level of other professions you get paid more and you get respect. A top level referee, you’re a criminal, and it doesn’t matter how hard you work for too little pay, you’re worthless. Again, who would want to be a referee…you must be F’n insane.