Watching the Clock

Sunday saw the first Manchester Derby of the new season, since Manchester City spent millions and millions (see Brad’s last post about red ink in Madrid) in an attempt to topple Manchester United from their position at the top of English football.

Manchester United squeaked a win, 4-3, with the last kick of the match. Which wouldn’t have caused Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, too much discomfort, had it come in regulation time. Unlike in North America where the clock counts down to zero signalling the end of a game, in European soccer, the referee has sole control over when the game ends. Nowadays the referee must disclose at the end of 90 minutes how much “injury time” he will add, time lost for injuries and other disruptions during the 90 minutes.

At the end of 90 minutes, the referee signalled four minutes of injury time to be added, but Michael Owen hit Manchester United’s winner after six minutes of injury time had been played. Arguably, the game would have ended a draw had it been played with a countdown clock, and understandably Manchester City are furious.

But the referee still has discretion, and can add more time if there are stoppages in injury time (although this never usually happens and time wasting is very effective in injury time). I don’t know of any studies that have looked into injury time in England, before or after the length of time had to be stated at 90 minutes. There is a great study by Luis Garicano, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta and Canice Prendergast which finds for the Spanish La Liga, referees do systematically favour home teams to satisfy crowds by adding more minutes of injury time at the end of matches.

Manchester United’s stadium has over 70,000 supporters, which is a lot of fans to satisfy, and so it would not be surprising to think that a referee might be swayed by this. Fine, I think Mark Hughes might say, but to add six when you say four? It does seem a little unfair to me…

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