The Manchester derby provided as much drama and talking points as we had all hoped for, culminating in a fairytale goal by Michael Owen. Craig Bellamy seemed to have stolen an unlikely point for City in the 90th minute, capitalising brilliantly on a lazy pass by Rio Ferdinand. As the four minutes of injury-time signalled by the fourth official came and went, it looked like the game was up for the Red Devils. But did they forget something? They are one of the biggest teams in the world, playing at home, and therefore history tells us that referees tend to confuse the laws of the game.
Michael Owen scored that fantastic, emotional winning goal, on 95.28, a full minute and a half after the game was supposed to have finished. But where did this time come from? In Law 7 of the FIFA rule book, it says that time should be added on for “substitutions, assessment of injury to players, removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment, wasting time or any other reason in the referees discretion”. Any other reason in the referees discretion? So anything then.
There was one substitution in injury time, as Michael Carrick replaced Anderson, a process that as they were chasing the game, took around 20 seconds from start to finish, and this time should be added on to the four minutes, (not 30 seconds or one minute as per previous seasons). The rules do not say that time must be added on for goals, but if they were, then time could have been added on for Bellamy’s goal, scored incidentally just before injury time commenced. However, we can assume that this was not the case as another minute of injury time was not added on after Owen’s goal – therefore we are left to ponder why Martin Atkinson played one minute and a half extra injury time.
Manchester United deserved their victory, dominating the second half and showing City that there is a long way to go before they reach United’s level. However it is hard enough for the league to open up and be competitive for clubs outside of the top three, without referees adding to their difficulty. Manchester City can also point to another debatable decision in the same game, where Patrice Evra was felled by Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Tottenham will be angry that at Stamford Bridge a good penalty shout at 1-0 was turned down, when Robbie Keane was brought down by Riccardo Carvalho. Would any of these three decisions have been made if the game was away from the home of the “Big” club?
It seems that these kind of decisions in favour of the bigger clubs is something that is very difficult, if not impossible to eradicate. It is something that we see in other countries, even to a greater extent, like Juventus in a pre-Calciopoli Serie A. But it does provide further difficulties for teams like Manchester City and Tottenham who are leading the chasing pack, and keeping to the simpler rules like time added on would be one area where the “Big Club” factor should not play any part.