‘I won’t let the divers ruin a big day’

May 18, 2007



, says Cup Final ref Bennett

Steve Bennett goes into Saturday’s FA Cup Final maintaining it is unhealthy for a referee to have more than a nodding acquaintance with a manager. All things considered, that’s a good job.

Jose Mourinho probably bears Bennett no malice for being sent to the stands after his provocative finger-to-the-lips gesture infuriated Liverpool fans during the Carling Cup Final three years ago.

Sir Alex Ferguson, though, is unlikely to harbour any warm thoughts towards the Kent official, 46, who has the honour of controlling the first final at the newWembley.

Bennett is the referee, after all, who copped the full hairdryer treatment for sending off Cristiano Ronaldo in a dramatic defeat by Manchester City barely a year ago.

Ronaldo saw red for a lunge at Andy Cole which did not make contact, while Ferguson was furious at what he saw as the lack of protection for his players “when we needed a strong referee and didn’t get it”.

Sir Alex’s considered opinion back then of Bennett was reportedly “you f***ing cheating bastard” and United’s manager was quoted as telling Bennett: “You will need a police escort out of here”.

Bennett says now: “You move on. Sometimes players put you in positions where you have to react. That was a situation where he [Ronaldo] has launched himself through the air and the intentions were clear.

“The laws of the game are clear and I have to apply them. When the boot is on the other foot, would they expect the opposite to happen if somebody did it to one of their players?

“Whatever the managers’ characters, they have a job to do. We shouldn’t have contact, but I respect them, they do a brilliant job given what they have achieved. They are both excellent coaches.”

Fair play does not include what the authorities quaintly label simulation and 90,000 Wembley fans would call diving. Fingers have been pointed at Ronaldo and Chelsea’s Didier Drogba.

“A referee has to be aware,” said Bennett. “Simulation is a huge difficulty. There are some very clever players who instigate contact, who make it incredibly difficult for the referee.

“Sometimes there’s contact but an exaggerated reaction in an attempt to deceive the referee. At 150mph, it’s nigh-on impossible to be sure. Let’s hope we keep on top of it.

“I’ll make honest decisions from the heart. Most players are honest, they’ll put their hands up. The majority are genuine. You have to say to a few: ‘There’s the boundary, you’ve overstepped it’.

“Players will try to push you to the limit. But the clubs know what you will do if someone steps out of line. I’m a fairly strict referee.

“I apply the laws. If players play football, there’s no need for me to get involved. Every referee wants to keep 22 players on the field. I’d love to see 22 players at the end.

“Players have a responsibility to play within the spirit and the laws of the game. I’d like to take a step back and see a great game.”

Bennett added: “Managers are entitled to their opinion but the moment we start using common sense we get accused of being inconsistent.”

Common sense? Referees? Sir Alex’s eyes will be glinting as he contemplates that one.



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