Aston Villa Boss Paul Lambert politely says he hopes his young striker Christian Benteke will learn from his shock red card in Sunday’s Premier League loss to Tottenham.
But the real question in the aftermath of the wild scenes at Villa Park is: Will referee Neil Swarbrick and football officials learn from their game-changing snafu?
It really isn’t Benteke who needs to mature but instead Swarbrick and several other referees who need to look deeply within themselves and come to terms with what prejudices are really driving some of their big decisions.
Few would dispute that the 23-year-old Belgian international raised his arm to push Spurs’ Ryan Mason in the face the 64th minute leading to his early departure from the match, but Swarbrick should have thought more carefully before he reached for his back pocket to dismiss Benteke.
If Benteke was to be sent off for an immature act, then clearly his opponent, whom is also the same age, should have also been sent off for his own lack of self control.
A cautious Lambert stopped short of a direct verbal attack on Swarbrick for his decision (due to past fines for speaking out against bad refereeing) but his post-match comments really indicated the overall outcome of the incident was both tragic and comical.
“My daughter can throw a forearm harder than that,” lamented Lambert while also declaring Mason “provoked” Benteke was lucky to escape ejection.
The decision by Swarbrick was a game-changer as the visitors went on to win the match 2-1.
The call further deflated morale on a Villans team which has been struggling all season. Going into the match there had been reason for hope with its highly-prized striker returning from injury.
But those hopes were dashed midway through the second half, as Benteke appears set to miss two or three games.
Benteke was clearly in the wrong for using his hand to push Mason in the face and away from him, but why on earth did the impulsive actions of Mason go unpunished?
The referee and his assistants clearly got it wrong as the chaotic scenes quickly unfolded before a stunned audience in Birmingham and a global television audience.
Seconds after a wild battle for control of the ball at midfield, which Mason got the worst of, the former English U-20 midfielder lost his cool and rammed his opponent from behind.
Mason then aggressively approached Benteke again, got up in his face, and at that point Benteke decided to defend himself with a shoving action.
As a mass-scrum broke out at midfield, Tottenham’s Erik Lamela charged at the referee and grabbed his arm encouraging him to send Benteke off.
It still remains unclear why Lamela wasn’t booked for grabbing the match official.
Replays of the incident show that after Benteke’s initial collision with Mason in the fight for the ball, the Belgian delivered a forearm push to the mid-section (side) of his opponent who then clearly over-reacted.
From a Villa fans’ point of view Swarbrick’s red card may have seemed like more of the same biased officiating and favouritism for one of London’s big-money clubs.
But to others it also appeared as another case of a foreign import getting the worst of things.
The incident adds further fuel to the well publicized firestorm that many Premier League referees continue to unwittingly favour English-born players over foreign imports with their decisions.
The ever-present anti-foreign bias in England is a concern which former Arsenal and City legend Patrick Viera who along with current Citizens’ striker Sergio Aguero have spoken about in the past.
It should also be noted that this disturbing problem also exists in many other nations around the world and the Premiership isn’t the only league to suffer from this referee bias.
But where do we go from here?
Is this really a case of a bias against Benteke and other foreign players or just an honest mistake by Swarbrick and his crew?
Either way, a review of the incident needs to be taken by football officials. In the end, either Benteke should have his red card rescinded, or both Benteke and Mason should be suspended the same amount of time.
If the Premier League truly considers itself the best league in the world, it needs to address this incident for the good of the game.
Vote now in our poll for worst EPL referee:
Who is the worst referee in the English Premier League?
- Paul Tierney (0%, 3 Votes)
- Craig Pawson (1%, 8 Votes)
- Roger East (1%, 8 Votes)
- Robert Madley (1%, 10 Votes)
- Lee Probert (2%, 15 Votes)
- Jon Moss (2%, 22 Votes)
- Chris Foy (3%, 27 Votes)
- Lee Mason (3%, 28 Votes)
- Neil Swarbrick (3%, 30 Votes)
- Andre Marriner (3%, 30 Votes)
- Mike Dean (3%, 31 Votes)
- Phil Dowd (4%, 39 Votes)
- Michael Oliver (4%, 41 Votes)
- Mark Clattenburg (5%, 45 Votes)
- Mike Jones (6%, 54 Votes)
- Anthony Taylor (6%, 56 Votes)
- Martin Atkinson (17%, 162 Votes)
- Kevin Friend (34%, 318 Votes)
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