It’s very rare that someone who is – at best – grossly incompetent in their job, can deliver a master class.
Stuart Attwell is such a man. The only catch is that the Numpty from Nuneaton or the Wally from Warwickshire (feel free to insert your own alliterative adjective ) only excels at more of the same. Be it breathtaking ineptitude, or maybe something more sinister, Attwell managed to manipulate events for City's sixth Premier League defeat of the season at the AMEX Stadium.
Manchester City lost 3-2 to Brighton in a dead rubber of a match. City were already well deserved Champions of England for the third time in the last four years, whereas Graham Potter had steered his team to Premier League safety with games to spare.
Of course City would have loved to have won and extended their record-breaking run of consecutive away wins, but being reduced to 10 men in just 10 minutes didn’t help.
Irrespective of the loss to a Brighton team, eager to please in front of their 8,000 fans – who celebrated as if it was they who had just won the title – there was a troubling spectre of what might lie ahead in the Champions League Final on May 29th.
I first floated the horrible notion of Antonio Mateu Lahoz – the Spanish nationalist who hates the thought of Catalonian independence and is none too keen on Pep Guardiola – taking charge of the final, before Real Madrid were knocked out by Chelsea.
Lahoz is THE worst possible refereeing option as far as City are concerned. With Guardiola at the helm, the spiteful Spaniard has actively assisted Monaco and Liverpool knock the Sky Blues out of the Champions League in previous seasons.
Infamously, he sent Pep off when the City boss lambasted Lahoz for disallowing a legitimate goal from Leroy Sane – one that would have given City a 2-0 half time advantage against the Scousers, in the second leg of their quarter final tie in April, 2018. With the aggregate score narrowed to 2-3 and, with a fully pumped up Etihad crowd ready to raise the roof, it could have made for a very different outcome to the eventual 5-1 overall loss.
What Attwell delivered at Brighton - aided and abetted by Jon Moss on VAR - was one of THE worst refereeing displays of all time. It was either staggeringly inept or, what some observers have suggested, blatantly biased against City. There’s pretty much universal condemnation of his ‘mistake’ riddled performance – one that many City fans fear, could be a blueprint for Senor Lahoz.
Attwell and Moss deemed Danny Welbeck either ‘had control’ or ‘potential control’ of the ball, when Joao Cancelo was adjudged to have denied the Brighton forward a ‘clear goal scoring opportunity.’ The officials applied the criteria to justify the Portuguese defender’s 10th minute dismissal. Farcical doesn't come close to describing the decision, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.
Welbeck was as much in control of the ball as I would be, if you put me - a man who has only ever flown a kite in his life - in the cockpit of a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, one of the world’s most effective jet fighters!
Attwell, already acknowledged by many within the game as one of the worst at the so-called ‘elite’ level, showed a yellow card to Brighton’s Alireza Jahanbaksh for a horror ‘tackle’ on Ilkay Gundogan? More akin to an assault, the incident screamed out for a red! Moss on VAR confirmed the more lenient punishment.
As Brighton played some great attacking football, putting City on the back foot, Gabriel Jesus was still able to venture into the host’s 18 yard box, only to be fouled for the proverbial stonewall penalty. Attwell didn’t award it. One can only surmise as to what Moss was doing at the time - maybe he was away from his VAR monitor, collecting his order from the Stockley Park burger bar?
Between them Attwell and Moss delivered a faultless demonstration of how to influence a result and, more pertinently, get away with it. As PGMOL officials they enjoy the luxury of never being held accountable for their actions or answerable to the media or fans.
To put things into perspective, even my 87-year old Ma, who listened to the match on Talksport, remarked that the commentary team – Sam Matterface and time-honoured City hater, Danny Mills – slated Attwell for his abysmal performance. It tells you everything you need to know about the ref when, Mills, of all people, has sympathy for City!
Matterface – a Chelsea fan – tweeted immediately after the game, saying it was ‘arguably the worst officiating performance of the season.’ You’d never have known it from the from the BT Sports commentary, led by Darren Fletcher. The BT coverage didn’t raise a single query about the wayward decisions, other than to have resident refereeing ‘expert’ Peter Walton, rubberstamp each and every erroneous call.
One never ceases to wonder which village is missing its resident idiot when Walton appears on the screen.
Joleon Lescott – twice a City Premier League Champion and now employed as the clubs Loans Manager, failed to utter a word of resistance as a BT pundit. Sad to say it was pretty spineless stuff from the former City centre back.
Brighton’s fight back from 2-0 down wasn’t without merit – far from it – and Pep was philosophical in defeat, albeit the frustration and sense of injustice was simmering under the surface.
As he stated: “On Sunday, with our people, we are going to lift the Premier League trophy. And after that we are going for the final of the Champions League.”
He will be mindful of keeping many of his starters for the Final out of harm’s way on Sunday. The injury to Gundagon – courtesy of Jahanbaksh – served as a reminder of the perils and pitfalls before City even reach Portugal.
In the greater scheme of things, what went down at the AMEX was all pretty meaningless – lest we don't detract from Phil Foden’s marvellous solo goal – but what goes on in Porto’s Estádio do Dragão stadium is at the opposite end of the football spectrum.
Through the eyes of City fans, the Champions League has been, and always will be, a distant second priority to winning the Premier League. The supporters' disdain for, and distrust of, UEFA is never ending.
It is viewed as an organisation riddled with corruption, a puppet controlled by a cartel of self protectionist clubs, hellbent on a relentless mission to damage City and exclude them from European football's top table.
The contempt for UEFA is an omnipresent factor which shows no sign of going away anytime soon. Even the revulsion at the prospect of the abhorrent European Super League, cannot diminish the loathing.
Had it not been for 'fan power' the ESL may still have had legs as we lead up to UEFA's showpiece final. So what did UEFA do by way of gratitude to the supporters of the two clubs, widely perceived as the instigators of the downfall of the ESL? Rather than switch to England for an all-English final, the bureaucrats moved the game from Turkey to Portugal, in order to accommodate 2,000 of their junketeers. A case of screw the 12,000 City and Chelsea fans, who have to jump through Covid19 PCR tests and protocols to attend.
It says so much about European football's governing body, as does the appointment of Lahoz. It's UEFA's last ditch attempt to save themselves from the 'embarrassment' of having City win their glittering prize.
The eyes of the football world will be watching to see if it's XI versus XI against Chelsea, or whether it's Thomas Tuchel’s finest, plus a Spanish quartet of Lahoz, his assistants and VAR taking on City.
By David Walker
Dedicated to a lovely lady and brave blue - Laveen Robson, you can find her on Twitter @laveen52 - who is fighting til the end. A lifelong City fan and season ticket holder in the East Stand, here's hoping and praying she, and her family of true blue Miniature Schnauzers, can see Pep's team crowned as Champions of Europe as well as England. Thinking of you x