They don't call it the beautiful game without reason.
Football is just that, completely beautiful. Whether it's the entertainment of a match littered with goals, a game's tactical battles or you're just a die-hard fan of your local side, football rarely fails to give you your fix.
That's not to say the game doesn't have its problems. There's simulation. There's transfer market inflation and heck, there's even Sepp Blatter. But a recent incident at Stamford Bridge and the resulting fallout is as big a problem as any.
The concern? Football players' complete lack of respect for match officials.
Granted, referees make incorrect decisions and all too regularly, but there are ways around that which the aforementioned 79-year-old man chooses to ignore. From the players' side, there's nothing wrong with doing what you can to win a game and certainly nothing wrong with protecting your own. But within reason, of course.
All reason went out the window during Chelsea's Champions League clash with Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League on March 11th. Around the 30 minute mark, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Oscar clashed for a loose ball in the Chelsea half. The Swede was late, the challenge looked nasty - but as proven afterwards - the Brazilian was as fervid in the tackle as his adversary.
Oscar reached the ball first, but proceeded to roll around on the floor crying wolf, even while contact was minimal at best. That's the simulation part coming in.
What followed were moments that left a bitter taste in the mouth of every neutral and every PSG fan watching. Within seconds, each one of Chelsea's remaining outfield players surrounded referee Bjorn Kuipers like a pack of animals surrounding prey. Undue pressure was forced on the Dutchman and he showed his red card to Ibrahimovic before giving it a second thought.
It's not the first time an official has been strong-armed into making a match-altering decision. And it won't be the last.
*It's worth noting that Chelsea are in no way the only team to carry this pack mentality, but at the same time there's little doubt they're amongst the best at it.*
As it turned out, the decision actually saw the French champions lace up their boots and put Chelsea to the sword. Chelsea came out of the tie heavily vilified and Jose Mourinho knew he'd have to save face with the press afterwards by graciously accepting defeat.
We'll see such a reaction to an official again at some point - probably this season - but something has to change in the long term. Referees need the ability to take more than a split second to make crucial decisions. Time is of the essence, but a rushed, wrong call will hold far greater consequences for the match as a whole.
Referees need the facility to be correct as frequently as possible, to stop players taking it upon themselves to influence decisions. That can't be achieved without tools of the trade utilised by other spots. You only need to take a look at rugby union on the final Saturday of the Six Nations championship to see how matters are taken care of.
Retrospective action is perhaps overused, but at least it's there. For football, it's about finding the right balance. And what follows that is respect. No player is going to argue a decision readily if they know they'll be proven foolish within seconds. It's a waste of energy, time and reflects badly.
Rugby players hear a whistle, stand up, retreat and get on with the game. A captain is the only one able to speak to the official. Whether that's down to the sport's traditions is irrelevant - it can be recreated and football should follow suit.
The root of the problem is attitude. Steven Gerrard told the Guardian the following day that Chelsea's reaction was merely "normal". He said: "It's normal at that level. Players want to win so much, managers want to win so much, and they'll try every trick in the book."
Is that not the most worrying aspect of all?
How has football allowed this behaviour to become "normal"? It's been a problem for 20 years, at least. Who of right age doesn't remember Manchester United's players charge towards officials under Sir Alex Ferguson?
John Terry defended his side post-match, claiming Chelsea were matching their opponents' prior behaviour. Whether that's true or not, Chelsea took things too far. Something needs to be done and not a petty £25,000 fine or verbal warning. The problem is deeper than that, top clubs are too rich to care and it's second nature to a number of players that they can intimidate without consequence.
Even yellow cards are losing their significance. Work needs to be done, because to put it bluntly, football is streets behind.
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