Byline: ALAN BIGGS
ENGLISH football's disciplinary system was thrown into turmoil last night by a FIFA ruling which could stop clubs appealing against 'wrongful' red cards.
Michael Essien's unexpected escape from suspension for his dangerous challenge on Tal Ben Haim in Chelsea's 5-1 win against Bolton on Saturday threatens to plunge the domestic game into chaos.
The FA caved in to pressure from FIFA in deciding not to punish Essien with a threegame ban, even though referee Rob Styles told them he should have sent off the Ghanaian.
Not surprisingly, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho welcomed the news, claiming his player's record was exemplary. 'Essien is a great player, a fair player with an incredible record on disciplinary issues,' he said.
FIFA's intervention means that, in future, 'video escapes' could be outlawed, with referees' decisions on the day being final. If a card cannot be upgraded, as in the case of Essien's yellow for his lunge, then it follows that a red cannot be reduced to a yellow or removed altogether.
The proof of this seems to be the argument the FA used last night in attempting to explain how Essien was reprieved.
They pointed to FIFA's outcry after Jermaine Jenas, then with Newcastle, had a red card downgraded to yellow after an early-season match at Arsenal when referee Steve Bennett admitted that his on-the-spot decision had been harsh.
There is essentially no difference between Bennett's intervention and Styles' rethink over the Essien incident, and the FA's statement last night appeared to admit as much.
It read: 'The FA sought clarification from FIFA whether any additional disciplinary action could be taken. Given that the referee had seen the incident involving Essien and decided to show a yellow card, FIFA made it clear to the FA that in such cases the referee's decision is final and cannot be changed retrospectively. …