Newcastle United have labelled the Football Association's disciplinary process "not fit for purpose" and demanded a change in the rule that enabled Callum McManaman to escape punishment for his wild challenge on Massadio Haïdara.
The Wigan Athletic midfielder was spared a three-match ban for violent conduct when one of the match officials at the DW Stadium, understood to be the assistant Matthew Wilkes, informed the FA he had witnessed "a coming together" of the players. That admission alone prevented the FA from taking retrospective action against McManaman. Adding insult to Haïdara's injury for Newcastle, the FA later charged the assistant manager, John Carver, with misconduct over his part in the half-time melee that followed McManaman's tackle. The Wigan coach Graham Barrow has also been charged with misconduct.
The referee, Mark Halsey, informed the FA that his view of the incident was blocked by a Newcastle player but he would have dismissed the 21-year-old had he witnessed the challenge. The FA insists it cannot re-referee matches and must strike a balance between retrospective punishments and undermining the authority of match officials. It is prepared to re-examine its disciplinary rules, however, if there is an overwhelming demand within the game for change. For Newcastle, the McManaman incident should prompt an overhaul of the rules on retrospective action. Derek Llambias, Newcastle's managing director, said: "We are disappointed to learn that the FA is not going to charge the Wigan player. We were first notified of this decision by a national media outlet who received notification from the FA confirming the decision. This was prior to anyone from the FA having the courtesy to contact the club to let us know.
"It is clear from this decision that the current disciplinary procedures are not fit for purpose. Newcastle United, along with other clubs, have had players suspended for incidents reviewed after the game. Whilst not trivialising these incidents, they were not, in our opinion, of the seriousness of Callum McManaman's tackle on Haïdara."
He added: "Whilst we understand that the current procedures give the FA limited options, it cannot be correct that the most serious offences – those which have the potential to cause another player serious harm – can go unpunished, even if the original incident was seen by match officials. We will now be making a strong representation to the FA and the Premier League to see how a more appropriate, fair and even-handed disciplinary process can be introduced at the earliest opportunity to prevent incidents of this nature going unpunished in the future."
The technicality that reprieved McManaman, and left him eligible for Wigan's FA Cup semi-final against Millwall at Wembley on 13 April, followed "consultation with the game's stakeholders (the Premier League, the Football League, the Professional Footballers' Association, the League Managers' Association, Professional Game Match Officials Limited and the National Game) in the summer," according to the FA.
In a statement explaining the decision on the Wigan midfielder, the FA expanded: "It was agreed that retrospective action should only be taken in respect of incidents which have not been seen by the match officials. Where one of the officials has seen a coming together of players, no retrospective action should be taken, regardless of whether he or she witnessed the full or particular nature of the challenge. This is to avoid the re-refereeing of incidents.
"In the case of Callum McManaman, it has been confirmed that at least one of the match officials saw the coming together, though not the full extent of the challenge. In these circumstances retrospective action cannot be taken. The principal objective behind the not seen policy is to address off the ball incidents where match officials are unlikely to be in a position to witness misconduct."
That latter point explains why the FA circumvented their own rules to charge Ben Thatcher with serious foul play, and ultimately ban him for eight games, after he was initially booked for elbowing Pedro Mendes in 2006. Tackling is viewed differently to off-the-ball incidents.
Llambias has also taken exception to comments from the Wigan chairman, Dave Whelan, that the tackle on Haïdara was legitimate. He added: "It is our strongly held opinion that the tackle on Massadio was extremely dangerous and is the type of challenge that has the potential to cause serious harm and such was the force, and reckless and dangerous nature of the challenge, even end a player's career. It was not a fair challenge. This view is shared by countless former players, referees and well-respected media commentators. Indeed it appears to be only Dave Whelan who takes a contrary view."
Newcastle may take legal action against Wigan depending on the seriousness of Haïdara's injury, although the extent of the damage will not be known until the defender undergoes a second scan on his knee next week.