Friday, November 10, 2006

Graham Poll, Jose Mourinho, and Making Tough Decisions

Graham Poll has recently been at the centre of media attention regarding his refereeing. Not content with booking a player three times before sending him off at the World Cup, he's provoked the ire of Chelsea, disallowing a clear goal by Didier Drogba, and becoming very card-happy, allegedly saying they "needed to be taught a lesson".

Not prepared to retreat to the quiet life, Poll then sent Everton's James McFadden off on Wednesday for foul and abusive language. McFadden denies calling Poll a "f---ing cheat", although the fact that Everton haven't appealed his suspension does give grist to Poll's mill.

This has become a far more major controversy because Poll is rated as England's best referee; he has represented us at the last two World Cups, and he would normally be in line to referee the Manchester United vs. Chelsea match later this month. What has to be questioned now, though, is whether Poll is in a position to make the tough decisions that he will be called upon to make in such a match.

He was unquestionably right to send McFadden off if he used the phrase of which he was accused. Yet such is the media storm that surrounds him (one, I might add, that may not be of his own making), that he may feel unable to make a similar decision in such a high-profile match - one, indeed, that the Premiership season may depend upon. And that is reason enough for him to be reassigned for the weekend. A referee should never be the centre of attention; he is there as an impartial arbiter rather than as a focal point of the entertainment. Yet if there is a borderline tackle in the penalty area, will he really be seen as unbiased, whichever way he gives the decision?

The answer, quite clearly, is no. If he gives the decision one way, he is biased against Chelsea. If he gives the decision the other way, he is overcompensating because of media attention. There cannot be sufficient confidence in his decisions to give him the match.