Petulance towards referees is nothing new, but with the antics of Ashley Cole towards Mike Riley in Chelsea’s 4-4 draw with Tottenham and Mascherano’s act of dissent towards Steve Bennett in Liverpool’s loss to Manchester United, the issue of respect for referees has come to the furore of football topics. As a result of the actions from these two petulant players, the F.A. are planning to implement new regulations set out to protect referees, that could be introduced as early as next season.
In the case of the Mascherano incident, it had shades of Antonio Rattin, another Argentine when he played against England in ’66 World Cup. “Violence of the tongue” had the captain sent off, but it was his reaction to the red card that made his sending off memorable. Comparative analysis of the two player’s actions shows a belief in each player’s case of a sense of injustice however miniscule this seemed to be. Injustice may fuel dissent, and in both cases the players felt that the referee was showing bias to the opposition team. There is some truth in this. In the Liverpool/Manchester United game; certain decisions made in the match prompted the unfavourable behaviour of Mascherano. This culminated when Bennett books Fernando Torres for dissent after he was fouled by a Man U player and Bennett took no course of action. The decision was unfair I will side with Mascherano on this, but after running 20 yards to contest this and prior conflicts between player and referee, Bennett had no choice but to send him off.
This issue, I feel has developed into a sense of moral panic in the football sphere. Javier Mascherano and Ashley Cole’s actions were of course foolish and ugly and exposed them as nothing more than children trapped in a man’s body. It showed each player in a less than complimentary light, but for once we get a chance to side with the referee, who is perhaps the most unanimously hated man on the pitch. Whilst taking the moral high ground on this type of behaviour, we should also assess who this hurts the most? Mascherano faces a potential three match ban, meaning he is likely to miss the Liverpool derby and fixtures against Arsenal and Blackburn. Ashley Cole, although in my view he was lucky to stay on the pitch, considering the amount of reckless challenges this season (see Eduardo), was forced to make a public apology to both AlanHutton and Mike Riley. This act of repentance is not something that the pampered modern day footballer is enthusiastic to do.
The argument here is dissent should not be allowed, but I argue why not? It is a referee’s job to impose his authority on the match and any curbing of dissent from a player should not be allowed to make his job easier. Whatever decision the referee imposes on the game is his decision and no one else’s; he obviously gets the final say. But whether a player feels he has been wronged or feels upset against a decision that has gone against him, he should be allowed to contest any decision considering the inconsistencies in many referees performance. If we are to curb dissent from football players then, we would also lose the passion that a player feels when out on the pitch, which is perhaps an important element of football as a whole.
What should be stopped is, when a large group of players approach the referee to intimidate and influence a decision. Something of which Manchester United are guilty of in the past. Yet this did not stop Alex Ferguson from putting his two pence worth over the issue when commenting on Ashley’s dissent, but I will dismiss this not as hypocrisy as Roy Keane has commented on, but more likely mind tricks between the Scotsman and Avram Grant.
Of course there are incidents involving dissent with players which have shown to be rightfully scandalous and met with severe punishment. The Rattin incident I have already cited, but Paulo Di Canio’s act of petulance towards ref Paul Alcock deserves mentioning (which showed him pushing the referee) where he was subsequently met with a three match ban. But as a piece of theatre, (which is what football arguably is) both incidents were priceless and it gives impetus for something to talk about for sports columnists, football pundits and bloggers alike. I’m not offering any consent in Cole and Mascherano’s behaviour, but if footballers want to behave like babies, then let them.
Abusing the referee: your thoughts Pitch Invasion