Chelsea vs Tottenham classic overshadowed by tedious discussion of refereeing decisions

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It was almost the perfect game to celebrate the Premier League’s 30th anniversary. Almost.

There was so much in it that makes the competition great, right until the final seconds. Both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur offered pulsating performances, in an open match, that had many of their stars offering great performances or brilliant moments.

Kalidou Koulibaly scored a sensational goal. N’Golo Kante was back to his best. Harry Kane brought the game to a peak, as it of course had late drama.

There was quality. There was character.

In that sense, both clubs could actually take genuine positives from the game. Chelsea should have won – and probably won well – and in that offered a superb performance that showed they shouldn’t have been so dismissed for the top four. They remain the real deal. Spurs meanwhile should have lost. They were second best for large parts of the game. And yet they still showed a character that has been beyond them in the past, especially against this opposition, to illustrate they genuinely have a new mettle. There was something different.

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Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel is sent off by referee Anthony Taylor during the Premier League match at Stamford Bridge

And it has led to something that shouldn’t be part of the game, but is now an entirely undesirable new pillar of the Premier League culture.

That is endless, tedious discussion of refereeing discussions, to the detriment of everything else. It has become like Spain two decades ago, where the front pages of the sports newspapers would be dominated by refereeing decisions. We’re seeing the same now. How many times has there been a brilliant match, full of incident, only to see coverage afterwards descend into where a line was?

This isn’t to say refereeing calls aren’t influential moments. It’s that there are multiple more influential moments that warrant as much attention.

There are multiple reasons for this, one of which is reflected by Tuchel’s post-game press conference.

Managerial criticism of referees has been part of the game for some time.

The Premier League’s great master, Sir Alex Ferguson, went further and more extreme with it than anyone. Tuchel is just following a long line.

And that isn’t to say his fundamental complaint isn’t justified. But should we really be giving it so much attention? Why was his ire so singularly directed at the officials rather than Romero?

Is that because the unspoken thing is an understanding that footballers are trying to deceive referees all the time, so are part of the problem? That it’s “part of the game”?

And refereeing does have a problem. It is approaching crisis – but not because of performance.

It is because very few people actually want to be referees. And why would they? The lower levels where they have to train features worse abuse and even violence, the culture undoubtedly influenced by discussion at the very top. It is why all of this is so unhelpful, and so damaging to the game. This, to counter one common argument, is not the way to get referees to improve.

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It also feeds into a culture where an increasing minority of fans have got so used to social media echo chambers that they can no longer accept any criticism from media. There is now widespread expectation that any coverage should be positive.

You could get into bigger sociological commentary here about how all of this reflects deeper issues in society, not least the polarisation of politics and the so-called “post truth” era. It can’t just be incompetence or even a basic mistake. It has to be some kind of conspiracy.

That is for another day, though. For the moment, the atmosphere around the Premier League is being poisoned by a level of discussion that is fundamentally tedious.

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