Two weeks ago, in response to the altercation between Emmerson Boyce and James McArthur, I called for Wigan to focus their anger on the opposition. I didn’t mean quite as literally as Callum McManaman’s infamous tackle on Sunday, but it was closer to the mark.
I was delighted to see McManaman start after his well taken goal at Everton last week, I’m a firm believer in the old philosophy of ‘never change a winning team’ and Roberto Martinez thought it was a decent idea too. The decision to leave regulars Ali Al-Habsi and Franco Di Santo on the bench was at the risk of a media and supporter backlash had the Latics lost. The fact Wigan won means it can be considered as a shrewd piece of management.
The McManaman incident however is at risk over overshadowing the whole afternoon, indeed, today’s media has been focused strongly on that. Although I may be contradicting myself by discussing it now, I think it’s crucial that we appreciate that this was an impressive team performance and a vital result, and we haven’t had enough of either this season.
Today I’ve read and heard about how Callum’s challenge was ‘one of the worst ever’ and ‘an absolute disgrace’. I can’t help but reject these notions. Although I can’t deny it was an ugly challenge which was very dangerous and deserved a red card, I think people must consider the context of the incident.
As Martinez expressed after the game, this is a boy who was making his Premier League debut; he was desperate to impress and had just played a key part in the opening goal. His adrenaline levels therefore were bound to be sky high, this is a player who gets nervous before games unless his manager lies to him and denies that he’s playing until the last minute, remember.
I’m not making excuses for such a clumsy challenge, but it wasn’t not as bad as people are branding it. I’ve heard people compare it to Roy Keane’s career ending challenge on Alfe Inge Haaland. To draw comparisons between the two tackles is preposterous. Keane’s was a premeditated attack of revenge which was nothing short of pure evil. Clearly, McManaman never had intentions to hurt Massadio Haidara and was just too over zealous in his challenge, which did incidentally make contact with the ball first. I’m not saying that makes it a good tackle, but it does demonstrate McManaman’s fair intentions.
I’m glad Martinez defended his player in the situation, not only by substituting him but by verbally fighting his corner in his post-match interview. Whelan’s comments however I fear will only add fire to the flames in terms of a media uproar. The best thing for McManaman to do now is serve whatever punishment he is given with little fuss and keep a low profile, I don’t think Martinez will start him again this season after that. His confidence may be shot at now and the media will be gunning for him. If that happens, it’ll be a crying shame because he was looking increasingly dangerous and confident the more he played.
In response to Newcastle fans though, I can’t quite believe some of the things I’ve read. Remember, this is a team whose players once fought eachother on the pitch, disgracing themselves and the club; the fans themselves preach to a hero who hardly went five minutes without elbowing a defender in the face, and I’m not on about Kevin Davies.
If Newcastle fans had slightly longer and less selective memories, they might remember a tackle by Kevin Nolan on Victor Anichebe (right) which was worse than McManaman’s. To suggest that Callum ‘deserves to die’ and such like makes them nothing short of hypocrites. Personally, I think Callum should serve the same two match ban Alan Pardew did for assaulting a linesman earlier in the season.
Of course, that wasn’t the only controversial moment of the match. The very final seconds of normal time brought a huge dose of luck Wigan’s way, after Maynor Figueroa’s handball led to Arouna Kone’s vital late winner and went unnoticed by the officials.
Although the goal clearly should have been ruled out, I’m not complaining. After all of the outrageous refereeing decisions that have gone against us over the years, I’m delighted one (or two) have finally gone our way.
Who remembers Emile Heskey being brought down in the Emirates in 2007 and Phil Dowd failing to produce the red card and penalty it deserved? Who remembers Conor Sammon’s ridiculous sending off at Old Trafford last season, for laying a finger on Michael Carrick’s chest? Who remembers Rio Ferdinand blatantly handling the ball in the penalty area at the JJB in 2008 and United getting a generous penalty later in the half?
For us to finally be given a decision a ‘big club’ would usually get against us gives me great satisfaction, Newcastle: now it’s your turn to moan about referees, I’m bored of it.
To those criticising Figueroa for the handball I must send my feelings of disagreement. To support my case I’ll paraphrase Gary Neville, a very knowledgeable and also regular winner, who said that those who don’t agree with players bending the rules to gain an advantage should play the recorder or violin instead. Football is a highly competitive sport and often, players do try to gain an unfair advantage. As a player, If you don’t join in and do it yourself, you’ll simply be the victim of defeat. Fact.
Okay, Figueroa may have broken the rules rather than bent them, but it’s only illegal if the referee spots it. As much as I’d love to disagree and preach pretentiously about how the game should be played in a gentlemanly spirit where both teams swear their allegiance to the bastions of rule making before each match, it’s much more realistic to face the facts.
Anybody who reads this who, like myself, plays football will know what I mean. I’ve had similar conversations with fans who have never played football and they simply disagree with me. However, if you do play football you’ll know that players try and shuffle forwards in a wall to gain a few yards; stand on the keeper’s toes off corner kicks and will boldly appeal for a decision they know is blatantly incorrect. Why? This is because they want to win, plain and simply. I’m not advocating cheating but to win you need to be street-smart and give yourself a helping hand where you can (quite literally sometimes).
To those who still aren’t satisfied, ask yourself whether you’d have preferred Figueroa to let the ball sail over his head, Newcastle to clear the ball and the game to finish in a draw, meaning two less points on Wigan’s tally which could prove pivotal in the final standings.
In the position we found ourselves, we need to beg, borrow and steal all the points we can, and I don’t care how many rules we break on the way to survival, just as long as we do survive.