Date:Saturday March 22 2008
All right, the boss tried to play his usual mind games, too when he repeatedly called for officials to protect Ronaldo and the other skilful players. Going into a massive clash with Liverpool, these kind of comments are pretty much expected - but I do not doubt that underneath the usual array of 'big-game mouthing', he is genuinely concerned by the prospect of Ronaldo getting kicked off the park by some brutes.
The fact that Steve Bennett is appointed as referee for Sunday's game is even more cause for concern and though Benitez expressed his hope that man in the middle will not be influenced by Fergie's comments, he needn't have worried. Steve Bennett is probably the last man who you would ever accuse of leaning in favour of United.
'Ferguson is clever, that is clear,' Benitez said. 'After a difficult game, he was talking about referees and before an important game he is talking about protecting Ronaldo.
'The referees, though, have experience and they will know Ferguson. This kind of treatment must be the same for all the teams and all the players.
'I wasn't surprised last week to hear what he was saying. I just want to go into the game with the same situation as the other team.'
That's all good dear Rafa but you won't. By all means of probability you'll have an advantage because of the referee. Steve Bennett hates, simply and obviously hates Ronaldo and therefore nullifying our main attacking threat will be easy: just kick him off the park. He will send Ronald off before punishing any of his assassins - games at City in 2006 and at Portsmouth this autumn could serve to highlight his inclination to give the benefit of the doubt to those trying to inflict grievous body harm on the best player in the Premier League. In that sense, Rafa can be very, very happy with the appointment of him.
And if we assume that he forgets his hatred of Ronaldo and United, there's still a major problem with Steve Bennett - THE major problem, I'd say. It's the fact that he's incompetent. Just watch the 2007 FA Cup final again. Giggs got the ball behind the goalline by pushing the goalkeeper Cech into the net while Essien kicked him from behind.
Bennett had to make a decision: he could have awarded a penalty, he could have given the goal or could have blown for a free-kick for Chelsea (the latter decision would probably have been the correct one) - yet he waved play on which left me wondering whether does he really think that Giggs did not commit a foul AND that the ball did not cross the line?
It was just one a of a series of bewildering decisions that, perhaps fortunately, favoured neither team but made life more difficult for both. But then what can we do? Let's not moan about referees any more, leave that to Arsene Wenger and trust our players to do their job whoever is making the big decisions with a whistle in his mouth.
Date:Saturday March 22 2008
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