Aleksandar Mitrovic’s Manchester United madness enrages the masses and poses dilemma for Fulham

5 min

Aleksandar Mitrovic has been the subject of mass hysteria since the final whistle blew at Old Trafford on Sunday with pundits, ex-players and referees, the FA and everyone in between coming out in their droves to call for the proverbial book to be thrown at the Fulham forward.

Whether it’s Andy Townsend and Chris Sutton baying for a 10 match ban, Ref Support CEO Martin Cassidy asking to see Mitrovic out for ‘181 days’, or head of the Referees’ Association Paul Field comparing the incident to Eric Cantona’s karate kick 28 years ago, the court of public opinion is well and truly against the Serbian striker.

While the media ties itself in knots, it is important to remember that, as London Football Scene wrote in September, positively channelling Mitrovic’s aggression on the pitch has been one of Marco Silva’s biggest career achievements to date.

Honest physicality is not something Silva’s Fulham shy away from; take Joao Palhinha for example, the Premier League’s top tackler with 101, or Kenny Tete who is not far down that list either. 

Marco Silva has created a beast at Craven Cottage, and it can’t come as a huge surprise to those who watch the Cottagers week in/week out, that a beast is sometimes difficult to tame.

The incident at Old Trafford poses a dilemma for Fulham because Silva’s style of uncompromising gamesmanship has brought them much success this season, and while Mitrovic’s antics were clearly wrong, the enormous bans being talked about must surely be given some perspective.

Paolo Di Canio received an 11-match ban for shoving a referee to the floor in 1998 – what happened on Sunday was nowhere near that.

READ MORE: Marco Silva may have finally found a home at Fulham after years on the managerial merry-go-round

In comparison, Cristiano Ronaldo’s push on a referee during his Real Madrid days back in 2017 was a little closer and earned him a five-match ban.

Then you have Bruno Fernandes, who somehow escaped any punishment for his initial kick at Trent Alexander-Arnold’s legs during Manchester United’s 7-0 drubbing against Liverpool, and his subsequent push of the linesman.

Suggesting Mitrovic deserves anything more than a ten-match ban when taking into account John Terry’s comical four-match ban for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in 2011, is both reactionary and shows a complete lack of consistency in how these decisions are made.

Cards have been dished out this season to players who approach the referees with too much gusto and rightly so – it is a petulant part of the game that needs to be addressed. 

But, by making an example of Mitrovic while letting Fernandes off, highlights a serious lack of clarity and cohesion at the top of the refereeing pyramid in this country.

For Fulham fans calling for Mitrovic’s head, it is important to ask exactly how great a punishment does Aleksandar Mitrovic deserve for being Aleksandar Mitrovic?

Yes, he should receive a ban. His actions on Sunday were stupid, impetuous, and more importantly completely pointless – Fulham looked much the better side for the first 70 minutes and even with the penalty and Willian’s red, the game was not beyond them.

But when you release a bull from its pen and wave a red rag in its face, as Silva has done so well with Mitrovic for most of the last two years, it cannot come as a great surprise when emotion occasionally trumps reason.

It is also important to note this is the striker’s first red card for Fulham and his first in seven years. He was retrospectively suspended for three games in July 2020 for elbowing then-Leeds United defender Ben White, but he has certainly become much more disciplined as his career has progressed.

What transpired in that remarkable passage of play at Old Trafford, beginning with Willian stopping a goal with his hand and ending with Mitrovic trudging down the tunnel, was an absurd snapshot of a worst-case scenario when you employ Silva’s brand of ultra-competitive football.

READ MORE: Is this shaping up to be Fulham’s greatest campaign of Shahid Khan’s 10-year reign?

His philosophy means tackles are flying in all over the pitch and match officials are lucky to get through 45 minutes without an earful or two from someone in a white shirt, and it is an approach which has driven Fulham to the precipice of one of their best campaigns in over a decade.

It’s the dogged determination to contest every decision, a steadfast refusal to back down, and a fierce loyalty to teammates that has propelled this team to where they are at the moment, and Mitrovic has been at the heart of this dynamic for the best part of two years.

Despite his obvious dip in form since the World Cup, he was one of Fulham’s best players in the first 70 minutes of the cup tie and his career at Craven Cottage should not be defined by those five minutes of madness.

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