Following on from my last post 'Cynical old me - football's changing state', I've vowed to highlight some the modern game's downfalls and how a number of recurring themes damage the reputation of the game we love.
Last week I discussed the transfer revelation, this week I will be discussing the role of the referee in football and how the relationship between player, manager and match official has shifted dramatically, over the last few years.
One notable change is respect for match officials, which has all but deteriorated amongst the misty pollution of the modern game. There used to be a time when the ref's decision and voice was respected without question. Now every challenge, every penalty decision, every penalisation appears to be contested by fighting and whinging players. Footballers have become so falsely omniscient, that they try and influence the game and indeed the match official's decisions, by waving their hands and protesting. They'll dive then contest they didn't. They'll milk every 'head-butt' as violent conduct (you know the ones, when they practically kiss each other). Refs are shown little or no respect and players try to pull the wool over their eyes, week in, week out.
Back in the early nineties playing footy with my mates using 'jumpers for goalposts', we fashioned a rule recognised by many footballing youngsters as 'Gentlemen's Rules' whereby players democratically agreed on decisions on the pitch and would usually allow the opposition the 'benefit of the doubt'. If a bunch of nine year-olds playing football on a bit of wasteland can be democratic, then why can't professional footballers? What example are they setting to our future footballers, contesting and arguing on a football pitch? The days of Gentlemen's Rules are well and truly over.
Football's controversial flaws can get rather embarrassing for fans. Like many, I have rugby friends forever jibing me about grown men flailing around on the ground, nursing fake injuries and protesting in a toddler-like fashion. Regrettably, I can't begin to defend footballers in that debate. Rugby players are, by and large, a perfect sporting example, they show respect for referees often referring to him as 'Sir', rarely crowding around him and seldom protesting against his decisions. Footballers could learn a lot from rugby players.
The crowding of match officials came to light again recently. In a recent Champions League fixture against PSG, almost the entire Chelsea squad surrounded the referee in an effort to influence Zlatan Ibrahimovic's dismissal from the pitch. These incidents degrade the official of his power, responsibility and worth. Players should have zero influence, so why do they?
What's even more disappointing is the influence that managers and clubs are having on referees. Jose Mourinho recently played a coy game, accusing match officials of having a "campaign" against Chelsea - a somewhat cynical attempt at planting a seed of guilt amongst officials in hope of steering major decisions Chelsea's way.
But referees also have some work to do themselves. Moriniho's recent 'too fat to ref' jibe, aimed at premier league referee Phil Dowd raised the question of whether he and other officials are fit enough to keep up with the physical demands of today's game. Can Phil Dowd keep up with the likes of Eden Hazard and Raheem Sterling? If players and managers need to change their attitude, would it be a fair argument to suggest referees need to be prepared to adapt to the game themselves?
The real problem here is that there's too much at stake for clubs with all the financial demands involved, decisions on the pitch cost money.
There have been debates around instigating panels of ex-players to work on tougher sanctions for players but ultimately the change must come from the individuals on the pitch. The Football Association's 'Respect' campaign which can be found here on the official FA website; http://www.thefa.com/refereeguide/
is a long term programme intended to help improve attitudes and behaviour at all levels. It advocates team captain's taking more on-pitch responsibility and zero tolerance policies on issues such as abuse.
I'm not sure if professional footballers are told to be mindful of 'respect' but in my view it should be a mandatory requirement. I sense a referee's revolt coming, maybe that will make Prima Donna footballers think twice about their actions - for the good of the beautiful game!