Erling Haaland escapes ban as FA charge Manchester City for surrounding referee

FA urged to investigate Erling Haaland after ‘hateful’ confrontation with referee
Erling Haaland reacted furiously towards referee Simon Hooper - Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty Images

Erling Haaland has escaped a ban following his furious tirade and social media post at referee Simon Hooper but Manchester City have been charged for how their players, including Haaland, surrounded the match official.

The Norwegian was seething after Hooper appeared to allow an advantage but then pulled play back for a foul when Haaland released Jack Grealish on goal in the 95th minute of Sunday’s dramatic 3-3 draw with Tottenham Hotspur.

Haaland angrily confronted the referee and was joined by a group of Manchester City players that also included Ruben Dias, Mateo Kovacic and Rodri. He then later used social media to further vent his frustration, posting “Wtf”, which is usually interpreted as meaning ‘What the f---”, on X above a video of the incident.

The FA has investigated and decided to charge Manchester City as a club for a breach of FA Rule E20 regarding “improper” behaviour of their players, rather than Haaland individually. It means that the Premier League champions, who have until Thursday to respond and face Aston Villa on Wednesday night, are facing the prospect of a fine rather than any sporting sanctions.

Haaland also escaped individual action over the subsequent social media posting, which has been viewed 55 million times and ‘liked’ by more than 500,000 X accounts, because it does not question the integrity or partiality of a match official.

Post-match comments are permitted if they solely criticise a referee’s performance or competence, although they cannot be deemed prolonged, personally offensive or particularly unreasonable. The FA could also charge a player if they are deemed to have not acted properly, in the best interests of the game or brought football into disrepute. It was decided that Haaland’s three-letter comment did not meet this threshold.

There is also an acceptance within the PGMOL, which is the body that represents elite referees, that Hooper did make a clear mistake although he will not be stood down from Wednesday’s match between Sheffield United and Liverpool. Referee assessments take into account an official’s overall performance and Hooper had already been assigned that Premier League fixture before the Manchester City controversy.

The decision to not charge Haaland personally comes in a season when the Football Association have been trying to tackle “completely unacceptable” referee abuse at a grassroots level and football’s rule makers are even ready to trial the use of sin bins as part of a crackdown on player dissent.

Martin Cassidy, the chief executive of the referees’ charity Ref Support UK, had admitted that Hooper did appear to make a mistake but also pointed out that City’s No.9 himself missed “an absolute sitter” and yet no-one felt the need to surround him in fury. He applauded the FA’s decision to charge City.

Referee Simon Hooper is surrounded by Erling Haaland, Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Dias
Haaland was incensed that referee Hooper did not allow late Jack Grealish chance to play out - Getty Images/James Gill

“Haaland has quickly adjusted to the Premier League-playing attitude of ‘refs are fair game’,” said Cassidy. “His behaviour and images of his anger filled face scowling in apparent hate towards match officials does not project a positive image for him and the game in general.

“Match officials continue to be the scapegoat for teams losing points when if Haaland took his chances in this game, City would have won, yet it’s still the match offices who are the target for abuse and ridicule.”

Haaland had appeared to scream “F--- off! F--- off!” and was shown a yellow card by Hooper before also getting involved in a clash with Spurs players Giovani Lo Celso and Brennan Johnson at the final whistle.

Cassidy has repeatedly warned that the behaviour of Premier League managers and players has a direct impact on what has been described as “a crisis” of referee abuse at a grassroots level.

The FA have tried to implement a “reset” in terms of on and off-field attitudes and have encouraged referees to issue at least one yellow card where two or more players surround them. Serious and repeat offenders were also warned that they could expect to face increased financial penalties.

The FA recently charged Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta following his club’s defeat against Newcastle after the Spaniard’s condemnation of refereeing standards was even backed up by an official statement from the club.

City themselves have opted against following Arsenal and Liverpool recently by publicly condemning either refereeing standards or a particular decision following a perceived mistake.

“I will not do a Mikel Arteta comment,” said City manager Pep Guardiola. “I make mistakes, the players make mistakes. I don’t want to criticise.”