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The Only Answer to Shoddy Officiating is Retroactive Punishment

Liverpool may have won on Saturday, but that doesn't mean the misdeeds of Norwich's Leon Barnett should be forgotten. In fact, if the FA cares at all about fair play and the integrity of their product, dealing with those misdeeds should be a priority.

Julian Finney - Getty Images

After poor refereeing performances from Mark Halsey when Liverpool played Manchester United in the league and Michael Oliver when they played West Brom in the League Cup, manager Brendan Rodgers felt he had little choice but to lodge a formal complaint with head of officiating Mike Riley. Following Saturday's match against Norwich City that again saw what appeared an easy, obvious, and blatant call go against them, he could well find himself calling Riley for another conversation today.

If the Premier League and Football Association are at all serious about the quality and integrity of their product—and the global cash cow that product represents—then it would be in their best interests to make sure mistakes like Saturday's don't continue to occur. And one of the first steps towards that goal should be retroactive punishment for Norwich's Leon Barnett, the player who first mugged Liverpool's Luis Suarez in the penalty area and then had the nerve to berate referee Mike Jones in an attempt to get Suarez carded for simulation.

Performing something of a cross between a karate chop and rugby tackle from behind on a player with the ball was a clear foul that called for a penalty and yellow card against the perpetrator, and in such situations the FA does have it within their power to retroactively hand that deserved yellow card to Barnett. It might not seem like much of a punishment—or perhaps to even matter much given Suarez and Liverpool went on to win the match—but at least such a ruling would show that the FA is watching. At least it would show that the FA are interested in making sure justice is done inasmuch as that is possible after the points have been handed out.

As bad as the foul was, though, and as much as it should have been punished at the time, what was worse was the disrespect shown for Barnett's opponents, the officials, and the game itself when after being exceptionally lucky to escape without punishment he chased after the referee and attempted to convince him that Suarez deserved yellow for simulation. If players can be fined for the poor sportsmanship of taunting fans and opponents as well as for attempts to influence officials, then it's hard to see why Barnett shouldn't be punished for his attempts to coerce the referee by making a series of impassioned statements the replays showed were patently untrue.

The chances are, or course, that the FA will do no such thing.

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In an ideal world where the FA gives Barnett a retroactive yellow along with an additional fine for his blatantly unsporting conduct, they do also need to do a better job of cracking down on diving and other uncalled infractions after the fact. If Luis Suarez—or Nani or Gareth Bale or any of the dozens of other players in the league who have on occasion been known to exaggerate their tumbling—goes over without evidence of a defender making contact, then he too should receive a card after the fact.

In isolation it might not mean much, but over a season players could end up missing matches due to an accumulation of cards in part thanks to such retroactive punishment. And beyond that, there would be a measure of humiliation for any player who found himself trotted out in a Monday or Tuesday morning press release as one of the few—and in some weeks the only—player to be handed retroactive punishment for some misdeed or other that he had thought to have gotten away with.

Sadly, the FA is too worried that punishing players after the fact for more common, pedestrian misdeeds on the pitch—whether they be fouls or simulation—would undermine their officials. The reality, though, is that to not do so only does more damage in the longer run and makes the job of their officials more difficult over time as it encourages the mindset that says that cheating itself isn't wrong—only getting caught is.

When a player like Leon Barnett flaunts the very idea of sportsmanship by trying to get an opponent sent off for simulation after mauling him and is then allowed to go completely unpunished as he almost certainly will, it undermines any hope for fair play in the Premier League while damaging the reputation and quality of the product on offer and making it more likely that in the future other players will behave as Barnett did. And that makes the job of the referee harder than it has to be.

Retroactive punishment, both for those who simulate and those whose legitimate major fouls and misdeeds go unpunished, would at least send the message that the league is serious about fair play and that the league is watching everything a player does on the pitch. In the long run that would make it easier for referees. And it just might improve the quality of football on offer in the Premier League, too.

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