It is a lot easier to like Slaven Bilic than it is Mike Dean. Maybe that is the reason so many remain in denial about events on Saturday.
Bilic is a good guy, passionate, committed, charismatic. Dean is a flint-hearted rule enforcer with a grudge against your club, whichever one it happens to be.
Nevertheless, Dean was right, Bilic was wrong. Bilic had to go. And the rules back up Dean’s decision.
Referee Mike Dean sent off West Brom boss Slaven Bilic after blowing the half-time whistle
Peter Walton explained that, in real time. A Premier League official from 2003 to 2012, Walton is engaged by BT Sport for exactly this type of controversy. God knows why, mind, because when he did provide clarity, they ignored him completely.
In the immediate aftermath, Walton spelled out precisely why Bilic was sent off for confronting Dean at half-time during West Bromwich’s match at Everton.
‘Protocol is that a manager can’t approach a referee on the field of play,’ Walton confirmed. ‘He’s not allowed to go on the field of play and talk to him. He should wait for a word in the dressing room.’
So it could not be clearer. Now back to the studio where that statement will be disregarded as Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves and, to some extent, the presenter Jake Humphrey continue as if Walton’s explanation has not rendered any point they wished to make entirely moot.
West Brom’s dressing room is in the car park because of Covid-19 strategies, Jake? Yes, but Bilic isn’t allowed to confront an official on the field of play. Bilic is emotional, Joe? Maybe, but he isn’t allowed to confront an official on the field of play.
And no, it really doesn’t matter that you think he has the right to ask a question, Owen. Because BILIC ISN’T ALLOWED TO CONFRONT AN OFFICIAL ON THE FIELD OF PLAY.
Yet it has perpetuated this nonsense throughout the weekend, culminating in Gabriel Agbonlahor, the former Aston Villa player, describing Dean as an arrogant fool for wishing to do his job without being publicly harangued.
‘I used to give him loads,’ said Agbonlahor, as if this was a badge of honour.
And that is why referees in this country, at all levels, have no chance. A professional class that regards bullying and questioning match officials as its inalienable right, no matter the circumstances.
For let’s revisit why Bilic was so angry. His full back, Kieran Gibbs, had pushed Everton’s James Rodriguez in the face and been sent off. Any cause for complaint there, given Gibbs’ 326-game experience? Thought not.
Kieran Gibbs was sent off after shoving James Rodriguez in the face after being pushed
Bilic was no doubt upset that Rodriguez had initially provoked Gibbs with a shoulder barge when the ball had gone.
‘Check the foul, check the foul,’ he shouted. Yet even if Dean had spotted that infringement, it would not have saved Gibbs. There would have been a yellow card for Rodriguez, at best, and still a red for Gibbs.
So it’s another moot point. Bilic did not have a case, beside his obvious frustration that Gibbs, not Dean, had killed his team.
Now over to Cole. ‘As a referee you need to understand human beings. He should have said, “Look, Slaven, I’m sorry, I can’t talk now you need to go away”, and his whole demeanour would’ve changed.
‘But instead he’s tried to give him the cold shoulder, shrug him off and walk away. I blame Dean for that situation.’ Oh, please. Sorry? What has Dean got to be sorry about? He’s not the one who put a hand in an opponent’s face, he’s not the one breaching protocols.
As for what Dean should have said – he said it. At least once, probably twice, before brandishing the red card. It’s there on the audio. ‘You need to go away,’ he tells Bilic. ‘You need to go away.’ And when he doesn’t, he gets sent off.
As for referees understanding human beings, these are not two distinct species. Referees are human beings, too. If you prick them, do they not bleed? And if you come rampaging into the middle of the pitch in complete contempt for their status as arbiters, do they not have every right to produce a red card?
Yet there was one area the broadcasters chose not to venture into amid the debate. The role they also played in getting Bilic sent off.
Would it have happened had BT Sport not stuck their camera and microphone directly into the confrontation between Bilic and Dean? Now that’s an issue worth exploring.
Graham Poll says he regrets not sending off Wayne Rooney when, during a match between Arsenal and Manchester United, he swore at him 27 times in 45 minutes. Yet Poll also explained why referees sometimes tolerate bad language, or challenges to their authority, and on other occasions do not.
Poll said that if the conversation is private, a referee may choose to reply colourfully in kind, or simply enter into a conversation to defuse the situation. It is different, he says, if a player is shouting across the heads of others, or calling into question an official’s honesty. Then open dissent must be dealt with, if a referee is not to lose control of the game.
Now think of Bilic’s exchange with Dean. The players had gone in, the stadium was all but empty. What is it that makes Bilic’s challenge to Dean so inescapably public? The presence of a TV camera.
BT Sport’s coverage chose to completely ignore rules about confronting officials on the pitch
And, at home, we loved it. BT Sport pay a lot of money for their coverage and will argue, understandably, that they were doing their job. Yet it is disingenuous to debate Dean’s decision without acknowledging the part their presence may have played.
Take the cameras away, and perhaps Dean could have spoken in the conciliatory terms Cole suggested. In private, Dean could have warned Bilic he had overstepped the mark, and suggested they speak after the game. Insert pictures and audio into that exchange, and BT Sport gave Dean no option.
If he hadn’t shown a red card, every time he refereed a match from here, aggrieved managers would have been heading him off on the pitch, empowered by his soft handling of Bilic. If he then showed a red card, they would have cited the Bilic precedent as evidence of inconsistency or, worse, bias.
It could have made this season a nightmare for him.
Poll said had he been harder on Rooney that day, it could have prevented some of the confrontations later in his career.
‘It troubles me now,’ he admitted, ‘but at the time there was an expectancy to manage a game with tolerance, understanding and empathy. That was wrong then and is wrong now.’
Yet maybe Dean could have more readily displayed those qualities had BT’s cameras not put him so ruthlessly on the spot.
Not according to Agbonlahor. ‘Dean is the most arrogant fool you will ever see, not just in refereeing but life itself,’ he told talkSPORT. ‘I’ve never met anyone like him. Ask any player. He’s the most arrogant person. You try to talk to him as a person on the pitch and he will tell you to get lost.’
But is he really unapproachable? Agbonlahor went on to detail a particular encounter with Dean.
‘There was one game when I’d had a go at him, as you do. A few swear words. “Mike, come on. How is that a foul? You’re having one you are, Mike”,’ Agbonlahor recalled. ‘He was like, “Yeah, you’re having one too, how can you talk? Look at you, you’re having one”. He’s got that arrogance about him.’
Gabriel Agbonlahor slammed referee Dean as the ‘most arrogant fool you will ever meet’
Has he? Or was it as Poll said: that if the referee feels the conversation is private, he would rather give some back than grab a card. And maybe Agbonlahor was having one. He got 16 goals in his fifth professional season with Villa and only reached double figures once in eight campaigns after that.
And who comes across as the arrogant fool? The referee who responds to abuse with a few choice phrases, or the players who dish it out but can’t take it.
Southampton once made a complaint over the behaviour of Mark Clattenburg. His crime was to tell a moaning Adam Lallana, ‘You are very different now, since you’ve played for England – you never used to be like this.’
Well, who wouldn’t be reaching for the smelling salts after such a horrid tirade?
Far from being the villain here, Dean has done football a favour, setting the benchmark for the rest to follow. Rather than seeking to win a popularity contest, he applied the rules.
As a result, any manager or coach confronting the referee on the pitch knows where he stands. He can seek his explanations, he can ask his questions, but there is a time and a place and the centre circle at half-time is not it. Only the most wilfully arrogant will fail to comprehend from here.
GOOD LUCK TO ANYONE TRYING TO COPY BRYSON’S BOMB AND GOUGE GAME
Speaking before the Open at Royal Birkdale in 1991, Johnny Miller said that after he won his second major in 1976, he thought the way forward was to bulk up. He spent the winter at a retreat in the woods, chopping logs to improve his strength. It ruined his game, he recalled, making him ‘musclebound’.
The figures confirm this. That year, Miller’s best major finish was tied ninth, and his best for the next four years was tied sixth at the 1978 US Open.
At Birkdale, he was giving his view on Nick Faldo, who he thought had made the same mistake. That was the year Faldo did not finish inside the top 12 at any major. Either side he won the Masters and two Open championships.
So it is not easy to do what US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau has done. It may seem unsophisticated, bludgeoning a terrifying enemy like Winged Foot into submission, but to go away and gain 40lb to add distance and power to his game, knowing he would then have to completely adjust his swing, is brave and bold.
Equally, his strategy, to go as long as possible, sacrifice accuracy and rely on recovery wedges from punishing rough and his putting game, was considered suicidal at the start of the week.
Precision is all at the US Open, and when DeChambeau spoke of bullying Winged Foot, with its slivers of fairway and ankle-deep rough, many quietly chuckled in anticipation of a missed cut.
Bryson DeChambeau kisses the US Open trophy after winning his first-ever major in his career
Instead, DeChambeau played one of the greatest final rounds in major history – the only player under par on the day, while being under the greatest pressure. He blew Matthew Wolff away in their head-to-head and astonished his contemporaries with his audacity.
Told that the 2020 champion had only hit 23 of 56 fairways, Rory McIlroy was disbelieving. ‘No chance, no chance,’ he said.
‘That’s just the complete opposite of what you think a US Open winner does. It’s kind of hard to wrap my head around. It’s not the way I saw this course being played.’
Join the club. But fears that DeChambeau’s bomb and gouge gameplan will be copied, rendering some of golf’s greatest venues obsolete, may be premature.
For a start, recent major winners such as Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland are not so far removed from DeChambeau’s philosophy, and Woodland has tied 58th and missed two cuts since winning last year’s US Open at Pebble Beach.
Also, as Miller explained almost 30 years ago, putting on muscle is not as simple as it looks and DeChambeau’s success came far from guaranteed. This was a brilliant victory by a unique golfer. Many may try to copy him, but many will fall short.
GARETH BALE IS IN NO POSITION TO DEMAND RESPECT FROM REAL MADRID
The terse farewell afforded Gareth Bale by Real Madrid was seen by many as disrespectful.
Not half as much as the message he previously sent them: ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order.’
This is one of the greatest football clubs in the world, enormously proud and taking itself very seriously.
They were never going to forget that. Never.
Real Madrid were never going to forget the ‘Wales. Golf. Madrid.’ message from Gareth Bale
WHAT REFEREES REGARD AS DANGEROUS PLAY REMAINS PUZZLING
These days, it is increasingly difficult to understand what referees regard as dangerous play.
Andy Carroll leads with an elbow in the air, hits an opponent, and does not even receive a yellow card.
Brighton’s Yves Bissouma stretches a leg out behind to divert a bouncing ball and, blind, inadvertently catches Jamal Lewis of Newcastle in the face.
An understandable yellow for dangerous play, upgraded to a straight red by Kevin Friend on review.
Bissouma’s misdemeanour was wholly accidental, Carroll’s recklessness remains an accident waiting to happen. Puzzling.
Newcastle forward Andy Carroll’s recklessness remains an accident waiting to happen
Bayern Munich 8-0 Schalke.
That was the score on Friday.
Looks like another cracking season of roller coaster unpredictability and excitement ahead in the Bundesliga.