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    5. Mikel Arteta's verdict means it's open season on Var


    Mikel Arteta's verdict means it's open season on Var

    Mikel Arteta's decision could prove to be a landmark moment for Var. Credit: Reuters/David Klein

    In the 37 pages of legal briefs clearing Mikel Arteta of misconduct charges, there is one startling, game-changing conclusion: attacking Var and all his myriad failings is now a form of protected speech. However theatrical the Spaniard's rant was after Arsenal's defeat to Newcastle last month, calling Vara “disgraceful” and “disgraceful”, an independent commission chaired by the QC found the labels entirely legitimate in the context of the system's chronic failures. The Football Association's case against Arteta could yet become a landmark case, cementing the right of managers to undermine decisions made at Stockley Park as they please.

    Essentially, the commission's verdict is this: if everyone from the Premier League to fans and pundits accepts that Ware is wrong on key decisions, how could Arteta damage the reputation of the game by saying the same thing? The timing of his diatribe was questionable: after all, the three decisions that so angered him at St James' Park were judged correct by Premier League pundits. But the content? A bold statement that the level of refereeing is “far from being at the level that allows us to call this league the best in the world”? This is now recognized as a fair comment.

    Football sends a mixed message to referees. On the one hand, there is broad consensus that abuse of officials on the pitch requires immediate action if we are not to risk a repeat of the disgusting scenes that occurred this week in Turkey, where a referee's eye socket was broken by a thug owner. But on the other hand, there is an argument that condemning Ware, even with Arteta's level of melodrama, is normal and fair.

    This is a conclusion that effectively declares open season on the Var. Arteta has vowed to continue to speak out about what he sees as poor refereeing and has just been given carte blanche to do so. Indeed, the commission's language could not have been more favorable to his cause. It highlighted that in his evidence Arteta expressed “his strong view that Var’s processes remain flawed”. He noted the work he has done with Professional Game Match Officials Limited to “ensure these processes are improved”. And it indicated that Arteta's dissatisfaction with Var, his belief that it was developing at “too slow a pace”, was reasonable.

    You can see the rationale here. Ware has been guilty of some terrible mistakes this season: take, for example, ignoring Andre Onana's terrible challenge on Sase Kalajdzic in August, denying Wolves an obvious penalty and neglecting to even send Simon Hooper to the screen for a check. Or the disallowance of Luis Diaz's goal for Liverpool against Tottenham in October for offside, which so angered Jurgen Klopp that he suggested a replay was the only fair solution. Against this backdrop, Arteta can be portrayed as a noble truth-teller, speaking out against injustices perpetrated by people neither he nor the fans even see.

    It is easy to despise Ware and all his work. What's even more difficult is allowing a manager with Arteta's influence and reach to vent his vitriol on the subject without restraint.

    It will help if, as in the case of Arsenal, you have a lawyer experienced enough to convince the panel that Arteta intended the word “disgrace” to mean, as in the Spanish “desgracia”, a misfortune or tragedy, as opposed to English meaning of this word. shame or disrespect. You can imagine how this sweet semantics was received among the already beleaguered judicial community. “I believe this is nothing more than clever spectacle on the part of the CC and not a fair outcome,” said Martin Cassidy, chief executive of Ref Support UK. “If such statements and actions are considered acceptable in the modern game, then football has a very difficult road ahead for match officials.”

    His description of the situation is convincing. Because the point of the latest twist in this saga is that Arteta did nothing wrong, that he made passionate and logical philosophical arguments against Ware without ever personalizing them. But it just doesn't wash. Arteta did not turn up in Newcastle on the evening of November 4 like some visiting professor ready to offer insightful observations on the state of the game. Anyone who listened to him that evening would have agreed that it was not a lecture but a tirade, an emotional response to what he considered unforgivable mistakes, but which now turned out to be anything but.

    Many supporters were would be this: I agree that he was right, that Var was a terrible handbrake on the natural rhythms of football and its spontaneous bursts of joy. But at that moment his focus was on the violations he believed had been committed against his team and the officials he held responsible. And now it turns out that all three of the alleged offenses were a figment of his imagination.

    Football is in disarray if Arteta deserves to be acquitted on these grounds. How can a game preach the gospel of respect for referees one minute, and then allow the head coach to make a fuss about “shame” the next and go unpunished?

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