Sir Alex Ferguson's 'typical Germans' remark has, understandably, stirred up a bit of a commotion and led many to suggest it is the behaviour of a sore loser.
Simon Barnes in the Times, though, asks whether the Manchester United manager is right to feel let down by refs.
It was the referee’s fault that Manchester United went out of the Champions League on Wednesday night. Nicola Rizzoli showed insufficient resolve when surrounded by the Bayern Munich players. “Typical Germans. The referee has got to handle it.”
Rafael Da Silva was sent off for two obvious fouls. “With 11 men, no problem, we would have won the game. They got him sent off. Everyone sprinted towards the referee.”
But come, let us ignore the breathtaking hypocrisy of a manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, whose team perpetrated the finest massed, bulging-veined referee harangues of all time, with Andy D’Urso their victim in January 2000. Let us keep our minds on those naughty referees.
When was the last time the referee cost United the result they so clearly deserved? Last weekend, actually. Mike Dean turned down two appeals for penalties as they lost 2-1 to Chelsea and Simon Beck, one of the assistants, ruled that Didier Drogba was onside for Chelsea’s second goal. “A game of that magnitude, you really need quality officials and we didn’t get them today. It was a poor, poor performance.”
Referees have done many other terrible things this season. Alan Wiley was “unfit” when United drew 2-2 with Sunderland in October. The same month, when United lost 2-0 against Liverpool, it was because the referee, Andre Marriner, did not “have the experience”.
When Chelsea beat United 1-0 in November, it was Martin Atkinson’s fault. “The referee’s position to make the decision was absolutely ridiculous. The goal shouldn’t have been allowed. You lose faith in refereeing sometimes.”
And on, and on, back into history. Atkinson’s performance was “unacceptable” when Portsmouth put United out of the FA Cup in 2008. That sort of thing “should not be accepted in our game”. Against Hull City that same year, Dean “failed in his duty”. And United actually won that one 4-3.
In 2007 Howard Webb “at times favoured Arsenal” in a 2-2 draw. That same year, Ferguson was sent to the stands for a half-time rant at Mark Clattenburg: “I told him how bad he was and he didn’t like it.”
In his consistency, Ferguson is absurd, pathetic, a figure of fun. But he carries on doing it. Some believe there is method in it — over the course of time he intimidates referees into giving pro-United decisions and, anyway, ref-bashing takes attention away from his players’ — and his own — failings. Without the latest rants, we might all be talking about the unprofessional behaviour of Rafael or United’s overreliance on Wayne Rooney.
But we’re talking about those things anyway. Meanwhile, referees continue to make decisions that go against United as well as decisions that go in their favour. So if referee-ranting is a Cunning Plan, it isn’t one that actually works.
We must consider, then, the possibility that Ferguson says these things because he honestly believes them. I think he does. He really believes that one of the most powerful and successful clubs in the world are singularly ill favoured by match officials and are consistently and unfairly discriminated against.
This sense of persecution has always been a part of Ferguson’s technique. He sees United as a group of good men besieged by the unfairness of a cruel world. That has been a potent source of their success and it is based on a strange illusion.
These matches are worth incomprehensible sums of money. And yet the refereeing refereeing of them is based on the system used for amateur games, when everyone was there for fun. Fairly serious fun, but fun nonetheless, and at the end of the match you all shake hands and go back to real life. You take bad luck with the decisions in your stride. Part of the game. Character-building.
Fifa, notoriously conservative, maintains that human error is an essential part of the game. That implies an endorsement of the lesson Ferguson teaches us: that the best way to deal with personal misfortune is to find the person least capable of defending himself and heap the blame on him.
Errors by officials are inescapable, and errors cannot help but have a huge impact on matches. It’s not referees that are at fault here. They are being used in a system that is inadequate for dealing with modern football. The problem is not referees but football.
Meanwhile, it's the FA Cup semi-finals this weekend and Tottenham take on Portsmouth at Wembley. Jermain Defoe, one of several Spurs players to face his old club, talks in the Mirror about the abuse he has faced from the Pompey fans.
A lot of our players will have mixed feelings about playing them again because of the divided loyalties and the situation the club is in.
I have to say that I, too, wouldn’t be human if I didn’t still have feelings for Pompey.
I was sold by them because of the perilous financial situation that the club was in. I had no choice in the matter.
Yet you wouldn’t believe the number of abusive phone calls and messages I got from Portsmouth fans angry at the way they thought I was treating them. Some of them very, very nasty indeed.
I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it – not only because of the things that they were saying but also the fact they had animosity towards me over a situation that wasn’t of my making.
The truth was that my departure from Fratton Park wasn’t up to me. Pompey had to cash in on me.
Subsequent events have borne that out, with virtually the whole of the team that lifted the FA Cup two years ago now at other clubs.
The chairman at the time, Peter Storrie, has since admitted that. But that didn’t stop people getting hold of my mobile phone number and bombarding me with angry calls.
They just didn’t – or wouldn’t – understand and I had to change my number quite a few times because they just wouldn’t let up.
I’d like to think that was the feeling of only a minority of their supporters but the number who felt that way appeared to be more than that and it’s a shame. Surely they will have seen the way Pompey sold off anything they could get a good price for and realised what was going on.
In the short time I was there I’d like to think I did a good job for them and, to be fair, while I was at the club they treated me really well.
I just hope our relationship can improve because all of the players that left did so in order to help the club. So to get abuse of the kind that I had to take was not nice.