Jamie Vardy alone would be to blame if misconduct charge harms Leicester's title hopes
Verbal abuse is everywhere in this society. So could it now cost Leicester the title? Claudio Ranieri’s team would probably survive the loss of Jamie Vardy for an extra game on a misconduct ban, but he alone would be to blame for any damage to their hopes.
Plainly no exceptions can be made for a Roy of the Rovers storyline when a footballer reacts to his sending off with abusive and threatening behaviour towards a referee – if that is what Vardy was guilty of in Sunday’s volcanic game against West Ham.
Romance has nothing to do with it. Nor is “swearing” the main issue. A distinction can be drawn between “bad language” and allegedly jabbing a finger at a referee’s face and attaching offensive labels to him. This kind of personal abuse is no more acceptable in a football match than it would be in an office. If this is indeed how Vardy responded to a legitimate dismissal, the official, Jonathan Moss, deserves protection from the authorities.
The Football Association has a poor record of shielding match officials from obnoxious conduct, though Chelsea’s Diego Costa recently picked up an extended ban for throwing a tantrum about being sent off.
The curse of inconsistency applies to abuse as much as grappling in the penalty area. The punishments often seem random and arbitrary. If Vardy were to miss two games rather than one, Leicester lip-readers would find countless examples of senior Premier League players giving a match official a “volley” without being sanctioned.
Football is extremely good at not applying its own laws. But there is no refuge here in the kind of moral relativism that says calling Vardy to account is “unfair”.
To show leniency towards a possible footballer of the year simply to keep alive our best football tale since Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest would be to undermine the happy narrative it was trying to protect. It would require an asterisk to be placed against Leicester’s last three fixtures.
Football’s laws apply to a man who was at Stocksbridge Park Steels six years ago, and is now four games away from a Premier League winners’ medal, as much as they do a tetchy striker in the nether regions of League Two.
The FA may look at this case and decide the evidence of our television screens was misleading. Moss may even clarify what Vardy said to him in a way that lessens the seriousness of the offence. We cannot pre-judge. But it seems a good idea to start by saying Vardy alone is responsible for this late complication. If he is guilty, Leicester could not rail against the system.
Part of the test in winning a league title is of temperament and character. Vardy owes it to this amazing team to keep control of his moods - and his mouth. His first caution for a late tackle was arguably too severe. His second, by consent, was deserved. However aggrieved he felt at having Angelo Ogbonna’s hand on his arm, he was not entitled to then launch himself into the opponent and thus cause a tangle of legs to bring himself down.
Vardy has been pushing his luck in this respect. Replays show that Moss was right to think the star of Leicester’s season had tried to deceive the referee. So Vardy can hardly cite a sense of injustice as the reason for his outburst. He is vital to Leicester’s story. But he may have just made it harder for them to win the title.