Marco Silva and Fulham needed restraint rather than ridicule amid FA Cup meltdown
A Fulham employee managed to show a sense of restraint when a decision correctly went against the club at Old Trafford. Sadly for them, it was not the manager or the top scorer but whoever was updating the club Twitter feed. “The hosts are awarded a penalty for a handball on the line following a VAR check,” came a rather dry update that somewhat underplayed a few minutes of high drama. “Willian is sent off. Marco Silva and Mitro are also shown red cards.”
Which, if nothing else, was factually accurate. It did not quite tell the whole story, though. Not as three red cards were shown in 40 seconds.
Instead of winning the FA Cup, Fulham are likely to face charges from the FA. Not for Willian, who handled on the line in an attempt to block Jadon Sancho’s shot, accepted his fate with dignity and will get a mandatory one-match ban, but for Silva and Aleksandar Mitrovic.
The dissenting duos’ reactions to Christopher Kavanagh may keep them out of the dugout and the penalty box respectively for a while. They should, too, and Mitrovic’s push on the referee ought to incur a sizeable suspension.
If Silva talked his way into trouble, contriving to get sent off even before Kavanagh had studied the images of the ball striking William’s arm on the pitchside monitor, he compounded that with a ridiculous display of rhetoric after the game: a combination of scapegoating officials and straw-man arguments, downplaying the disgraceful, defending the indefensible and setting the wrong sort of example off, as well as next to, the pitch.
It was an echo-chamber example of nonsense, more suited to a Twitter thread, but it came from one of the managers of the season. He contributed to a corrosive culture in the game.
Silva argued Luke Shaw had fouled Mitrovic in the penalty box in the first half and cited Fulham’s defeat to West Ham in October when he said Kavanagh missed two handballs. “Our story with Christopher Kavanagh this season has been really tough as a football club.”
None of which altered the reality that he and Mitrovic were dismissed for disputing a correct decision. “We have been very unlucky with Chris Kavanagh this season,” he said, but Fulham’s undoing stemmed not from misfortune but a spectacular display of stupidity.
Silva struggled to accept the argument that, with 10 men left on the pitch and their manager there to reorganise a side shorn of Willian, Fulham might have stood a chance when they had been superior against Manchester United. With nine men and a void where they needed a manager, they conceded to Marcel Sabitzer two minutes after Bruno Fernandes’ equalising penalty. The game was gone, along with Fulham’s hopes of Wembley glory.
He just about conceded he had apologised to his players. “If you want to use these words, you can use these words,” he added, but it was the closest he came to saying sorry. “I say to them that I should be there for the difficult moment in the game.”
Instead, he was a picture of petulance, throwing a water bottle to the ground, raging at Kavanagh.
He insisted what he said did not merit a red card and yet that he could not remember the words. “I didn’t say he was a really nice guy and the decision was fair,” he admitted. He also claimed his dismissal was for leaving his technical area when the referee went to the monitor. “I didn’t say anything to make him give me the red card. If I got the red card for being out of my area I have to accept [it],” he said with a disingenuous attempt at generosity.
If felt the least of his offences, and yet he was still not Fulham’s greatest offender. Mitrovic has a roll of dishonour and, if this was his first red card since 2016, he has still been banned for off-the-ball incidents since then.
Perhaps that reputation as a loose cannon explains why he is still at Fulham; for 70 minutes, he had produced the performance of a top-class striker. His season had begun with nine goals in 10 games. It may end with a lengthy suspension.
“He pushed the referee, but I did not see that in so bad, bad way like you are saying to me. I hope the people who are going to decide [do so] with fairness,” said Silva. Yet he seemed to fail to grasp the gravity of the situation.
Perhaps abuse of referees is so commonplace he deemed manhandling one a relatively minor misdemeanour. But Paolo di Canio got 11 games for shoving Paul Alcock over. Southampton’s David Prutton was banned for 10 for pushing referee Alan Wiley. Mitrovic may have used less force, and Kavanagh did not lose his footing, his finger-pointing added to a picture of needless aggression.
As he continued to pursue the official, his subsequent words may bring further sanctions while Willian had to delay his own trip to the tunnel to come and tug his teammate away.
“Mitro has to control his emotions,” said Silva, who had to control his own. They have been catalysts for Fulham’s terrific season, but they got their side knocked out of the FA Cup and the manager departed still blaming others. “The referee sometimes feels the pressure because they are here,” he said. But it isn’t the referee who brought this game into disrepute.