Sergio Agüero, the Manchester City forward, has come under attack for placing his hand on the neck and shoulder of assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis.
The national charity for football referees on Sunday night called for a “line to be drawn in the sand” after Agüero’s conduct during the 1-0 win against Arsenal drew widespread condemnation.
The shadow sports minister, Alison McGovern, described Agüero’s conduct as “horrendous” and took to Twitter to say: “Get your hands off her neck.” Her Labour colleague, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, said his behaviour was “completely unacceptable” and asked: “Who does he think he is?”
Agüero had stepped towards Massey-Ellis to complain about the award of a 42nd-minute throw-in to Arsenal and then placed his left hand on the assistant referee’s neck and shoulder as she walked back up the touchline.
Massey-Ellis gestured for Agüero to move away but, despite Premier League guidance in 2016 stating that any physical contact with an official should warrant a yellow card, Agüero was not cautioned. He will not be retrospectively punished either as such action can be taken only in the case of missed red-card offences for aggressive or confrontational behaviour, and it was decided that the incident did not meet that threshold.
Pep Guardiola has played down an incident involving Sergio Aguero after the #MCFC striker put his hand on assistant referee Sian Massey-Ellis in Saturday's match against Arsenal.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) October 18, 2020
The charity Ref Support UK praised Massey-Ellis for her calm reaction and said that Agüero should count himself fortunate. “We wouldn’t want to see Agüero red-carded or suspended because that would dilute the real offence of referee abuse and assault but a line should be drawn in the sand to say, ‘You are lucky there’,” Martin Cassidy the chief executive of Ref Support, said. “It wasn’t his actions that prevented him getting in trouble – it was her response to his actions. She didn’t react. She was very controlled. Compare that to players who, if they are touched, we often see falling to the floor and rolling around.”
Cassidy also said that there was a direct connection between people seeing players think physical contact was acceptable at an elite level to “referees being manhandled in grass roots”. He added: “The natural instinct is then to think, it is OK to touch a referee, which just makes you ask, ‘How do they view us?’”
Pep Guardiola, the Manchester City manager, insisted that the incident was a non-issue when he was asked about it in the post-match press conference.
“Come on, guys,” he said. “Sergio is the nicest person I ever met in my life. Look for problems in other situations, not in this one.” Although there are other examples of footballers putting their hands on referees in a similar way, Keith Hackett, the former head of referees in England, said that such behaviour should be stamped on.
“The failure of the referee to implement a sanction is frankly unacceptable,” he said. “This incident will cascade down to grassroots level.” Micah Richards also criticised his former Manchester City team-mate. “He [Agüero] knows not to be touching the officials,” he said. “It’s just not a good look.”
Ian Wright, the former England striker, said that it was “unnecessary” and “patronising”.
Agüero has not commented but Gabriel Agbonlahor, the former Aston Villa striker, believes he will regret his actions. “It just gives a bad example to kids out there playing on a Sunday,” he said. “Putting your hand on her there is quite shocking. I feel it’s something Agüero will have woken up to and definitely regretted it.”