In my previous article I introduced the Play Fair document being proposed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). Today I will look at the first of the three crucial areas where they believe potential changes could be made to improve the game, that of improving player behaviour and increasing respect.
Over the years there have been many attempts to try to get players to improve their behaviour. Of course the main sanction is the issue of yellow and red cards, but how much effect does this have? In many instances the correct issue of both types of card is a subjective one and provokes much controversy.
Some of the ways in which IFAB believe that behaviour of players and team officials can be improved make some sense, whilst I don’t believe that others will have any real impact at all. The changes that could be implemented immediately without a change in the Law are fairly obvious ones but have no real clout:
- The captain must become the main point of communication with the referee.
- The captain must be the only player allowed to approach the referee when there is controversy.
- The captain must help the referee to calm flashpoint situations.
These are all sensible enough, but can you see it realistically happening unless there are meaningful sanctions in place when they don’t? Some captains in recent years, and we all know who they are, would be less equipped to help the referee to calm down their players in flashpoint situations.
We all know what happens in reality. Players don’t like a decision, either because the officials have got it wrong, or because they feel that if they make a significant protest when they are in the wrong the referee will be sufficiently intimidated not to give decisions against the team in the future. Some teams in recent years have turned mobbing the referee into an art form, and unfortunately with weak referees it works. Is it a coincidence that teams noted for this type of protest appear to have more than their fair share of contentious decisions go in their favour?
The mobbing or surrounding of match officials is a problem that has existed for as long as I can remember but has, perhaps, escalated in recent times. For me the reason is clear. The officials do nothing about it. How many times do you see players around the referee or one of his assistants, and the referee keeps trying to wave them away? Do they go away? No. And what are the sanctions? None.
IFAB believe that the following sanctions could be tested out to solve the problem.
- “Referees should deal more strongly with players who mob the referee or linesman by the use of yellow cards.” Personally, I thought that they already had this power but are too weak to use it in the majority of cases. And an increase in yellow cards would lead to an increase in red cards, which then leads to more games without the full complement of players on the pitch. I hate to see this. I don’t understand the cheering when a player gets sent off. It leads to a changed, and usually, duller game, where the team with fewer players brings everyone back behind the ball, thus ruining the entertainment.
- “Only the captain can approach the referee to discuss a controversial decision.” They call this a sanction! It is not and will be totally ignored without anything meaningful happening.
- “Fines or points deduction for a team guilty of mobbing.” Now they are beginning to get somewhere, although fines are a total waste of time with the money around at the top level of the game. The only meaningful sanction that I can see working is that of points deduction. We now have panels that review all kinds of incidents retrospectively, and if a team surrounds the referee in a game then, in my opinion, something like two points (perhaps even three) should be deducted from their total if found guilty of this offence. This may seem harsh, but if they seriously want to put an end to it then this is what they must do. Managers will soon drum it into their players that the consequences of this kind of action would be harmful to the team and I’m sure it would soon cease.
I have an alternative suggestion, too. In addition to the potential retrospective action of points deductions, a penalty would be awarded against the team who are mobbing. And if they continue with their protests then the penalty is taken without a goalkeeper allowed in the goal. And if the protests continue a second penalty is awarded and so on until the protests stop. Clubs will soon understand the consequences of surrounding a referee and this type of protest will be consigned to history. Unless there are meaningful sanctions then nothing will change.
IFABs other suggestions for improving player behaviour and increasing respect will, I believe have little impact. They want to test red and yellow cards for coaches and team officials, and discuss a pre-match handshake between the referee and two coaches in the technical area, and a plan to reduce the number of substitutes a team can use if a substitute is sent off. The last one baffles me. What is the point of that? There are so many things they could look at I think this is just tinkering at the edges. Perhaps the game can learn something from rugby where officials are respected, and players tend to refer to the referee as “sir”? Can you see this happening in football? Unless the sanctions for mobbing that I refer to are strong enough then I feel that all of their proposals in part 1 of the Play Fair document will have little impact upon improving player behaviour and increasing respect.