André Villas-Boas has warned that unless English referees wise up, the Premier League risks being shorn of the sort of magic that Gareth Bale produced to salvage a point for Tottenham Hotspur in a 1-1 draw at Norwich City.
Spurs were trailing to a Wes Hoolahan goal until Bale conjured an equaliser in the 80th minute, racing from his own half before firing home from 16 yards. But Villas-Boas claimed Bale was lucky not to have had his ankle broken by a challenge from Alex Tettey en route to goal.
Tottenham's manager was outraged that the referee, Neil Swarbrick, did not go back and punish the Norwich midfielder. As Bale galloped towards the Norwich area, Tettey stretched out a leg to try to dispossess the Welshman, perpetrating, in Villas-Boas's view, a dangerous challenge that is symptomatic of the unacceptable hazards that players such as Bale face in the Premier League.
The Portuguese upbraided Swarbrick after the game before declaring that too many top-flight referees seem unwilling to protect skilful players. Bale has been booked four times this season for diving but has maintained that each time he was either the victim of a foul or seeking to avoid becoming one.
"It was a beautiful goal but he was extremely lucky to avoid Tettey's challenge, which could have broken his ankle," said Villas-Boas. "I'm extremely disappointd he didn't get a yellow or red card. You have to protect the unpredictability, passion and emotion of the British game but you have to be aware that, if people go over the top, players like Gareth could get an injury that takes him out for six months. I showed the referee my disappointment. I'm extremely disappointed with that incident."
Asked whether Swarbrick accepted his point, Villas-Bosa replied "No, not really" before elaborating on his frustration with officials' handling of the game. "Obviously pushing and shoving and duels are in the nature of the game but sometimes it gets over the top. It looks like you don't want to referee this situation because you don't really know what is happening, so you just let the game go on and pretend that a couple of fouls are part of the game. But I don't think that is so.
"And there's such a discrepancy of refereeing styles. Credit to them because they bring passion to this league by letting the game go on but sometimes it's just over the top."
The Norwich manager, Chris Hughton, professed to being baffled by Villas-Boas' anger. "I'm surprised by that," he said. "There didn't seem to be much wrong with [Bale] as he went past everyone."
However, Hughton was happy to acknowledge that Bale's moment of brilliance made Tottenham worthy of a point from a match that Norwich led for a long time thanks to Hoolahan's first-half goal. "Occasionally you have to hold your hands up and say that was a good goal from a top-class player."