Media reaction to Javier's red card was too over the top
UNLESS Javier Mascherano had jammed an Argentinian flag into the Old Trafford pitch and yelled "The Malvinas is ours" at the top of his voice it is hard to imagine how he could have upset the British media more than he did last Sunday.
"Is This The Dumbest Man On The Planet?" asked one newspaper, while one columnist compared him unfavourably with a child throwing a tantrum after having his Game Boy confiscated by his parents.
Mascherano was guilty of being sent off after picking up two bookings, the first for a foul and the second for dissent. After he was red carded by Steve Bennett, he further blotted his copy book by refusing to leave the scene of his "crimes" as quickly as he should have done.
He was not the first footballer to let himself down in this manner and he certainly won't be the last but the outrage which followed what was a totally out of character temper tantrum suggested he had committed some sort of heinous act the likes of which had never before been seen on an English football pitch.
Had any perspective been applied - and that quality was in ridiculously short supply from the moment Ashley Cole turned his back on Mike Riley - Mascherano would not have been turned into the latest villain of the national game by sections of the national media and he would not today be faced with a battle to save his entire reputation.
For a combative midfielder who makes literally dozens of tackles each game, Mascherano's disciplinary record is surprisingly good, particularly when you take into account that the modern game does not give any leeway to any player who gets a challenge even slightly wrong.
Before last Sunday, he had collected just four bookings during the entire league season and had not even come close to a suspension and despite his always apparent passion for the shirt he had not previously looked like boiling over.
This is not a footballing bad boy, it is simply a young player who allowed his passion for victory to get the better of him in one of the most volatile matches of the Premiership season.
His sending off cannot be defended because he broke the laws of the game and had to be dismissed. But the outraged vilification that followed was as over the top as Cole's challenge on Alan Hutton.
In the last decade we have seen a player leap advertising boards to assault a supporter, we have seen a player stamp on an opponent's head and we have seen a footballer push a referee over and in all three incidents it is easy to recall the identities of those involved.
We have also seen countless players sent off for dissent, yet Javier Mascherano is likely to be the name that springs to mind when examples of this offence are sought in years to come.
The only reason for that is the Argentinian happened to make his mistake during a time of hysteria when those self-appointed protectors of the English game in Fleet Street were looking for a sacrificial lamb.
Mascherano can have no complaints about his treatment at the hands of referee Steve Bennett - no matter how unpopular that particular official happens to be at Anfield - but he has every right to feel mistreated by sections of the British press.
One columnist even argued that he had no right to expect consistency from officials. If that's the way the English game is heading we may as well all pack in because the moment referees are given carte blanche to officiate as they please is the day anarchy really will begin its reign.
Mascherano deserves to be criticised, there can be no doubt about that. But the criticism he has received has been totally disproportionate to the offences he committed and smack of a witch hunt.
Hopefully the Football Association will recognise this when Mascherano's misconduct hearing takes place on Thursday.
The punishment has to fit the crime not the agenda of an hysterical press and the book certainly should not be thrown at Mascherano simply because they failed to throw it at Cole.