So Wigan gaffer Roberto Martinez is facing a fine of £10k after accusing Michael Oliver of being bias towards Man United during the Red’s 4-0 win a few weeks ago. This is hardly the first time a manager/player/bloke down the pub has called some bias towards Man U, Fergie, and Old Trafford, and it won’t be the last.
For a long while now there has been a conspiracy theory surrounding Ferguson and Man United’s influence within the game. From ‘Fergie Time’ to United Chief Executive David Gill being a board member of the Football Associations, it seems everyone knows that the deck is rigged in the Red’s favour.
But what possible evidence does anyone have for this? Let’s debunk some myths…
Stop. It’s Fergie Time
It’s 1993, mid-April, and United are top of the table by mere points as Norwich keep the pressure on. Trailing by a goal to Sheffield Wednesday at Old Trafford, captain Steve Bruce scored a header on 86 minutes and then again to win it… ten minutes later. Wednesday were stunned, watches were checked, Brian Kidd did a knee slide.
The press were on it and ‘Fergie Time’ was born as United cruised to the first of many Premier League titles. Ferguson tapping his watch became a symbol of conspiracy and Man U became the masters of the last-minute goal: from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at 92 minutes in Barcelona to win the 1999 Champions League, to Michael Owen’s 96th minute winner over Man City to pull three points clear in 2009.
So What’s The Deal?
Isn’t it clear? Ferguson’s Man United team play until the final whistle. They play with a belief and aggression that ensures they get one, or three, points. As the matches at Old Trafford go on teams concede more possession, United create more chances, and the chance of a Red goal plays on the opposition’s mind. But the core of it really is the belief, the confidence that the points are always up for grabs.
Want more? Well how about Old Trafford in 2004 as United came up against Mourinho’s Porto in the Champions League? Costinha’s injury time equaliser meant United went out of the Tournament on aggregate, and prompted a different touchline celebration…
Surprise Surprise, Penalty to Old Trafford.
So your team are at the Theater of Dreams and doing alright, they’re battling away and all the while it’s 0-0 you stand a chance of leaving with some points but then disaster strikes – United get a debatable penalty. And after all those totally not ambitious calls your team had! Who’s the ref? Oh Howard Webb, well that explains it.
I don’t know exactly where this one came from, probably some SkySports statistics, but it’s yet another piece of received knowledge – United win lots of penalties at home and certain refs always award them. This one does have a bit of weight behind it too:
As you can see, these referees have an average penalty award rate of just under a third towards Man United – what an injustice! Why don’t they jut wear their United kits out?
So What’s The Deal?
You’re stupid, that’s what. It’s not surprising to know that the above infographic comes from IQ vacuum Talksport at the beginning of the year, and is made by idiots for idiots. Statistics are incredibly misleading and often designed not to inform people, but to give them a way to confirm what they already thought. Hell, 47% of stats are made up!
But the figures are still there and still factual, so what do they tell us? Well, whether we like it or not certain games need different calibers of referee. Factors such as the importance of the game (e.g title battle), the speed of the team (e.g Man U), and the atmosphere of the ground (e.g Old Trafford) all come into play when selecting the officials. Howard Webb is a European Championship final ref, Mike Dean is a F.A Cup finalist ref, and Mike Jones is an up and coming ref who has just broken into domestic cup final officiating.
It makes sense that these referees would be involved in the bigger games of the season due to their ability and experience, and it happens to be that Man United are often also in these big games, there is no David Gill influence.
As for the penalty ratio? Well, you’re looking for it. I’m sure some of those weren’t the right call, but I’m also sure those stats won’t be drastically different when compared to other teams. Simply, United have more of the ball at home, so the opposition give away more free kicks. It’s hardly a certainty either, take the weekend’s game against Tottenham – United could have had a penalty or two there but didn’t and lost.
On top of Martinez there have been a whole host of conspirators that claim that United are favoured, or benefit from bias. Famous accusers include Patrick Vieira and Jose Mourinho, who both said that Man United get an advantage from referees. All these big names are saying the same thing. They must have a point, right?
So What’s The Deal?
Wrong, well they have a point, but it’s just baseless. According to OPTA (the dons of stats) in data taken since 2006, you are more likely to get a penalty at Old Trafford as the away team, than you are at Stamford Bridge or Anfield, to name a few. In fact, on most statistics Man United come up pretty average – except for one: title wins.
Man United are the most successful team of the Premier League era and as such, have beaten many teams many times. So let’s look at the aforementioned accusers again; Patrick Vieira – saw Man U win the title five times while at Arsenal, finishing second to them four of those times. The ‘Special One’ did enjoy reasonable success during his stint as Chelsea manager, but all the while Sir Alex is in the game, he isn’t the greatest manager in the world, something that no doubt damages his ego. And as for Martinez, the tackles he criticized weren’t great but hardly affected the result as Wigan were performing dreadfully in defence.
All three suffer at the hands of Man U, professionally, personally, or managerially (sure, it’s a word). And like so many fans in the pubs and ground who have been defeated by United, they look for an answer to their misery. It’s called denial.
Sure, United sometimes get lucky, sometimes their players dive, sometimes they get penalties at O.T, and sometimes they score right at the end, but they only ever really cheat as much as the next team.
However if you think this’ll stop me shouting ‘here comes nine minutes of injury time’ at the tele you’re wrong. These are the things that make football fun, just don’t get carried away with them. Now all together: ‘He’s bald, he’s red, he sleeps in Fergie’s bed, Howard Webb, Howard Webb…’