It’s the photo that has defined the weekend’s Premier League action — and caused debate across the world.
Erling Haaland reacted wildly to referee Simon Hooper’s decision not to play an advantage in the final moments of Manchester City’s 3-3 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. Haaland was fouled in the City half but Hooper initially appeared to indicate an advantage as Haaland released the ball, only to pull play back with Jack Grealish clear through on goal.
Haaland — and other City players — remonstrated with Hooper on the pitch. The striker also reposted a clip of the incident on Twitter commenting “Wtf”.
City have also now been charged by the Football Association for how their players surrounded Hooper, with the FA alleging that “the club failed to ensure their players do not behave in a way that is improper.”
There has been a lot of debate about refereeing in England over the last few weeks, especially after Mikel Arteta’s reaction to Anthony Gordon’s goal being allowed at Newcastle in the middle of last month.
Here, The Athletic’s experts give their thoughts on the photo — and Haaland’s reaction.
It’s a horrible picture. I understand the frustration, but when it boils over like that — yelling in a referee’s face, shouting “F*** off” — it is unacceptable and inexcusable. We can all explain the frustration easily enough, because it was clear Simon Hooper should have played the advantage, but you cannot possibly excuse a referee being hounded in that way.
Nor can the FA allow it to go unpunished. Like when Manchester United’s players hounded Andy D’Urso in 2000, like when Gianluigi Buffon screamed at Michael Oliver in 2018, like when Jurgen Klopp yelled in the face of fourth official John Brooks this year, the game needs to send out a strong message that this kind of behaviour cannot be tolerated.
It was one of those decisions that would drive you mad. But players have to learn that if they confront the referee like Haaland did — and like Kyle Walker, Bernardo Silva and most of the other Manchester City players didn’t — they will be punished.
And, quite apart from missing a game through suspension, I would love to see abusive players and managers being required to referee a grassroots game as part of their sanction. It might teach them it’s not as easy as they think.
Once upon a time, I did some Sunday league refereeing.
The general sense I had, particularly at frantic moments in games, was that you could forgive many things during the first three to five seconds of instinctive exasperation, particularly when you as a referee know you’ve made a mistake.
But beyond that, players and coaches should be able to retrieve a sense of perspective. So the initial frustration — albeit imperfect in a freeze frame — is not a massive issue to me.
The melodramatic unleashing of Haaland’s golden locks, his frenzied stomp off the pitch and subsequent “Wtf” tweet (viewed more than 50 million times), piling pressure on an official, probably requires, at the least, a reminder of his responsibilities.
For what it’s worth, I’m not convinced Grealish necessarily had the pace to run through and score, with a couple of defenders also sprinting back, and a more likely cause of City not winning the game on Sunday was sloppy defending and Haaland’s unusually erratic finishing.
The still image looks bad, as did the Klopp vs Brooks one.
I have a degree of sympathy as when playing you’re caught up in the moment, it’s harder to control your emotions and it is a shocker of a decision that’s potentially denied them a victory. We’re all guilty of doing it.
Yet equally, no one could argue that players surrounding refs is a good thing. It looks like petulant children in a school playground.
One thing rugby union has right that football doesn’t is the respect shown to referees.
To think that, throughout the centuries, women have been told we are the over-emotional ones…
I’m just kidding — but clearly, the photo does not look good. Maybe it is just unlucky timing. After all, any number of players or managers could be guilty of it — this is not just an Erling Haaland problem. But it says something about the relationship between the football world and referees at the moment.
Referees are taking abuse at levels never seen before and we’re losing too many from the game for it to be sustainable. At the same time, faith in them from fans and players has never been lower when the risks and rewards based on the outcome of single decisions have never been higher.
Please send answers on how to rebuild the bridge of trust and respect between referees and footballers on a postcard addressed to Mr H Webb, PGMOL headquarters.
@tifofootball_ Referees now have their own TV show #Referees #VAR #PremierLeague #Football #Soccer ♬ original sound – Tifo Football
You can’t kill the emotion of the game and the intensity of it. There is a correct way to express yourself. But the emotional reaction is normal in that photograph, and you shouldn’t be punished for that. That is also a bit why comparisons with rugby union don’t always work, as football is far more fluid and less stop-start.
That said, continued negative reactions on the pitch and after the game (for example, Haaland’s histrionics here or the Arsenal statement after Arteta’s reaction to refereeing decisions), are where you probably need punishments.
In the City-Spurs game, it is clearly a refereeing mistake. Hooper knows that. It is a bad mistake, but he doesn’t need to be attacked for it. It’s not like other mistakes were not made during the game, such as missing an open goal…
The idea of a dissent sin bin, in principle, is a good thing, but there’s scope to misuse it. I recently played in a game with sin bins in Sunday league where someone was just giving chat to a referee constantly, and unnecessarily. The sin bin worked. When he came back on the field, he’d cooled off and didn’t say anything to the referee. The referee had an excellent game, which was easier to manage.
Step over the line and you should be punished. Fundamentally, that does not happen enough in football. Dissent enforcement has been too lax for too long.
It’s an appalling reaction and there’s no place for it, just as there was no place for Klopp’s tantrum at the fourth official. This stuff matters, it accumulates and it oozes down the pyramid, a steady stream of trickle-down toxicity that ends with grown men screaming at teenage referees in the park on the weekend because their kid’s under-nines team didn’t get a penalty.
The referee has made a mistake, and it’s a big one, but it’s worth remembering that he’s run more than 10km at this point, he doesn’t get paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week and, as far as I can recall, he’s made the same number of glaring errors that afternoon as Haaland.
But what struck me most was that we’ve just had two weeks of moaning about VARs and crying out for a return to the days when referees just refereed and we all got on with it. Well, this was a referee refereeing and people are still losing their minds and howling about conspiracies.
Maybe the problem isn’t the referees…
How did Pep Guardiola react to the incident?
City manager Pep Guardiola defended Haaland but refused to criticise Hooper for the decision.
“Sometimes I lose my mind about the referees, but here no. Always people can make mistakes,” he said.
“It surprised me for the fact that he went to whistle when Erling went down, but after he stood back up and made the pass, the referee made the gesture to play on. But then when the ball goes to Jack, then came the whistle.”
Asked about Haaland, Guardiola said: “It’s normal.
“He’s a little bit disappointed. Even the referee — if he played for Manchester City today, he would be disappointed for that action, that’s for sure.
“But I would say we didn’t draw because of that.”
(Top photo: Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images)