Monday, 7 September 2015

Unwanted: Mitrovic must shake off unfair reputation

I've watched it time and again and my opinion hasn't changed since the live incident: Aleksandar Mitrovic was unfortunate to be sent off against Arsenal at St James' Park.

His eyes firmly fixed on the ball, the big striker attempted to trap the ball on its way down but it was nicked away by Francis Coquelin. A split second incident, ultimately the theft of the ball meant that there was no other outcome than Mitrovic landing on the midfielder's ankle.

Eyes on the ball: Mitrovic unfortunate to be shown red

He challenged for the ball and missed out. Mistimed, yes. Intentional? Not for me. It was certainly a physical challenge but Mitrovic is a big, physical player and last time I looked football was a contact sport.

Now I'm not saying I'm an advocate for two footed challenges, elbows, and lunges but this was none of them. Unfortunately modern football dictates that any sort of challenge can run the risk of caution and it is going to come to a point where players are not competing for the ball in fear of such reprimand.

I agree that the referee's job is difficult, having to make a lot of decisions in a split second in a high pressured arena and I understand that this can lead to poor decisions being made. But there is no doubt in my mind that Mitrovic's "reputation" came into play when Andre Marriner was making his mind up about which card to produce.

The enthusiastic frontman has certainly done himself no favours in his initial forays in Newcastle colours with his rash bookings against Southampton and Swansea in the season's opening exchanges. His early indiscipline was gold-dust for pundits and the media who thrive on absolutely anything to fuel their sensationalism.

Unwanted attention: Striker has brought trouble to his own door at times

He can deny it all he wants but Andre Marriner was instantly reminded of Mitrovic's indiscretions as soon as that challenge was made. Would he have made the same decision if it was Santi Carzola or Alexis Sanchez making that challenge on a Newcastle player?

He almost proved that he wouldn't have made that decision with almost any other player, booking Moussa Sissoko minutes before with what looked in my view a naughtier challenge. That is what is frustrating with Premier League officiating; consistency. Week in, week out we are seeing a lack of consistency throughout the game - referees failing to keep controversy from their door.

If Mitrovic's was a red then so was Sissoko's. If Sissoko's was a yellow then surely Mitrovic's should have followed suit. In commentary Chris Waddle aired his annoyance at both decisions, particularly Sissoko's; which he said shouldn't have been a booking. Another frustrating yellow card in a physical game far removed from when Waddle played. Both challenges were players attempting to tackle or control the ball in what should be a physical contest, yet both yielded different consequences.

The problem with modern day football is the fact that incidents can be analysed and scrutinised from every angle in every motion. The more you look at a tackle the more it can make you think it is worse than it actually was: Pundits and analysts looking to boost ratings and sell newspapers with "headlines" which dominate all week along ahead of Premier League fixtures. They will disagree of course but in my book they have the potential to influence an official's mind-set going into games.

People who may oppose need only look at how the weekend panned out as a whole. Do you think that if there wasn't a red card in the early kick off for "dangerous play" that there would have been a total of 6 red cards issued? There is no way that every official in the top league that weekend didn't see or hear about Mitrovic's sending off and its circumstances before they set out to work in the afternoon.

Controversial thinking maybe, but look at the horrendous decision to send off Mark Noble at Anfield. Whenever there seems to be a red card for a dangerous tackle or incident, there seems to be a spate of cards that follow. Some referees are driven by fear that they will make the incorrect decision, and do nothing but steer themselves towards actually doing it. Expect to see more contentious reds in the coming games.

Baffling: Refereeing decisions continue to dominate the Premier League

What can be done to help? Every weekend seems to be dominated by a debatable refereeing decision. I am largely sceptical about video technology being introduced, as I think once it is in place where would you draw the line? It could become something that completely dominates the sport and makes football become a game different to what we know now.

One use would be in the case of red cards. The appeal system in cricket could be utilised, with the fourth official using video technology to agree with, or overturn a straight red card. A team reduced to ten men could have the player restored soon after if the decision was deemed wrong. It wouldn't really interrupt the flow of the game anyway, but as I said before where would you draw the line with the technology once it was in use?

Regardless of the controversy, Aleksandar Mitrovic has a problem he needs to deal with. Rightly or wrongly he has very quickly got a reputation for reasons he would rather avoid. Steve McClaren, Tim Krul, and Malcolm Macdonald to name a few have all expressed the need for the Serbian to "channel" his enthusiasm. There is nothing wrong with the player's will to compete and win for his team, to impress the Geordie faithful - it is to be admired. But in a modern game where any mistimed tackle or jump can result in suspension, he does need to manage his control.

It is fair to say Alan Shearer would have been far more penalised in 2015 than he was ten to twenty years previous, another physical centre forward who Mitrovic aspires to emulate on Tyneside.

Game has moved on: Alan Shearer would have faced more discipline in this age of football

Taking the aggression out of his game would likely reduce the impact of Mitrovic; ultimately Newcastle have bought a physical player who is at his best when he is 100% challenging for every ball. It may well be the case that the club and player will have to take a few more bumps and bruises and negative decisions along with the great things we hope for him to do.

Frustration: Nothing has gone right for McClaren and Mitrovic so far

What is clear for now however is that his indiscipline is already starting to irk his Manager and team-mates. Mitrovic already has a lot of work to do on his return. 

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