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PL Review - Please, We Can't Take Any More Mark Hughes Rants At Referees

PL Review - Please, We Can't Take Any More Mark Hughes Rants At Referees
By Gavin Cooney Updated

This column doesn't like talking about Mark Hughes, but...

Hughes is a kind of Greek tragedy; a cautionary character aware of his flaw but nonetheless doomed to embrace it, like Shylock and greed or Neil Warnock and the standard of the Premier League.

In these times of great turmoil and trauma, and in an industry as eager to make myths of passing fads as football, that Hughes' 14-year act stirs little other than exasperation indicates just how...annoying it is.

There is no more prodigious ruer/lamenter/railer against penalty decisions than Mark Hughes.

He is pathologically programmed to talk about refereeing decisions that go against him, and he usually prefaces it with a sigh and an 'I don't like to talk about referees, but..' as if this were some kind of dirty but righteous volley of truth to power.

It's not.

Even by his standards,  his post-match interviews after Southampton lost to Leicester was a kind of acme of pitiful obfuscation.

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The most contentious decision was the sending of Southampton's Pierre-Emile Højbjerg by referee Jon Moss.  Højbjerg was sent off for two yellow cards: the first a cynical pull-back on James Maddison, the second a dive in the penalty area. Both were the right calls.

First, to the Beeb. The words in bold font here are descriptions of the footage interposed on Match of the Day.

At the time, I just thought he was clipped [footage shows he wasn't clipped], and his momentum just caused him to go off balance. He tried to stay up, [footage showing him falling down] and he just went down. It looks a little soft. I was more concerned about the booking he got for the first one. It was just a coming together, it wasn't a cynical foul [footage shows Hojbjerg cynically pulling back James Maddison]. It was just a foul.

Now to his interview with Sky Sports.

He did get a clip just prior to going down. That affected his momentum and at one point. I think he thought he could get a shot off, and when he thought he couldn't, he then did go down a little bit easily.

Mr Moss was on the spot to send him off very quickly.

"He did go down a little bit easily" is about as close as an admission of guilt from Hughes as you'll ever get, but right at the end, he just can't help aim a barb at the referee for, erm, doing his job well.

Of course, Hughes has always seen himself as a necessary check and balance on Jon Moss' fitness.

Evidently, Jon Moss' aerobic fitness is the universe's latest instrument in its endless conspiracy against Hughes.

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This is all very depressing on a number of levels. The first is it speaks to what masquerades as football analysis.

Here's the formula: Referee makes contentious call, opposing managers give different, self-serving interpretations of said call, pundits are asked for their opinion on the call but change the context of the call with the benefit of nine replays and super slow-mo, everyone comes to the agreement 'Who'd want to be a referee', and it's on to the next contentious call.

It lays bare the folly of stacking studios with expensive ex-pros, as most of the time is spent analysing referees. This all gives managers a post-match pulpit to spew pointless invective against refs, with interviews just a run-through of any mildly controversial issue.

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'Mark, after City's seventh goal, your side seemed to be denied a throw-in just before City exchanged 39 passes in an exhibition of their quintessential genius and intractable superiority. How frustrating is that?'

Roy Hodgson perceived this after last week's defeat to Liverpool, moaning to Sky that the post-match interview merely courted a stupid opinion on refereeing decisions. He did, admittedly, follow that up with a stupid opinion on refereeing decisions, showing that even men as perspicacious as Hodgson - he reads books, wouldn't you know - are not immune to Geoff Shreeves' wily traps.

There is a second tragedy here, and that is the flattening of Hughes. In the mind of a generation of fans, Hughes is no longer a man who scored goals for Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Chelsea.

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Now he exists as little more than a Match of the Day interview, shown at a time when eyes roll to heavy eyelids. He has even been denied the gift of facial range, and has spent more than a decade wearing nothing but the surly, entitled grimace of a jilted suitor in a Victorian novel looking like he is about to sneeze.

Why is Hughes still doing this?

There is no grand conspiracy against him as, let's be honest here, it would be a waste of ill-intention. Neither are these wails at Jon Moss some kind of bold move by a charismatic leader, as more than a decade of it has made them extraordinarily, stupefyingly dull.

Even Jose Mourinho has had the good grace to unmask his moaning at referees first as a deflection technique and then as the stark ravings of a demented mind.

There is no pragmatic reason for Hughes to continually complain about referees and ruin a small portion of our weekend.

It seems, however, that it has become so regular that he just can't quit.

When analysing Kafka's work, David Foster Wallace said it all amounted to a horrific struggle in the attempt to create an identity, resulting in an identity made up of said horrific struggle.

He described the experience of Kafka's work as being in a dark room, banging and banging and banging on the door to be released from this hellscape, only for the door to open inward and reveal that what you wanted for so long was what you already had.

Hughes may continue to grimace at what he perceives as refereeing injustices, but the day he perceives there to be none may be the day he retires.

 

Stray Observations 

  • Cardiff/Huddersfield was a game so destined to end up last on Match of the Day that, had the game been played under floodlights, you'd have been forgiven for thinking the Beeb showed live coverage.
  • Also, there is a genuine chance that Cardiff could score fewer than 10 goals this season.
  • Roy Hodgson was widely derided for calling Harry the Hornet a "disgrace", but it is merely a continuation of a grand, old ex-England manager tradition. Back when he was Palace manager, Sam Allardyce said the mascot was "out of order" in his mocking of Zaha.
  • On that topic, Rafa Benitez mini fist-pump after Joselu's equaliser against Chelsea was his most vigorous celebration since Big Sam's ludicrous interpretation of Benitez' shoulder shrug after a Liverpool goal against Blackburn in 2009.
  • So rarely do we see him these days, along with the fact he barely featured in the documentary, there is a sad tale to be told of Brian Kidd's lack of involvement in the Pep project at City. This column imagines it being a little like Glen Cullen's exit from The Thick of It.

 

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