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Saturday, April 22, 2006

PREMIER REPORT

Time for F.A. to get tough on abusive managers, players


LONDON -- Earlier this week Neil Warnock, the Sheffield United manager whose ego and popularity are at opposite ends of the scale, was sent to the stands during the 1-1 draw with Leeds after yelling to to the visiting manager Kevin Blackwell: "I hope he breaks his f------ leg next time," a reference to Leeds' Gary Kelly after he challenged Sheffield United's Craig Short for a loose ball.

Christopher Davies

According to Warnock it was all Paul Robinson's fault. However, it was not the fourth official who shouted a comment of extraordinary nastiness, it was Warnock who let it be known he hoped an opposing player sustained a serious injury.

In the mind of the Sheffield United manager he was the innocent party. His sending-off was, he believes, all part of a vendetta against him after Robinson had reported to Graham Poll what the manager had said with the Hertfordshire referee subsequently ordering him to the stands.

The 'innocent' Warnock refused to go quietly and it took almost 60 seconds for a police officer to forcibly remove him from the touchline and usher him into the stands. Like so many people who have fallen on the wrong side of the authorities, Warnock pointed an accusing finger at someone else, in this case Robinson for his part in the "unwarranted" sending off.

Warnock said: "I'm very disappointed to be sent off and I don't think it was warranted at all. I made a comment to Blackie (Leeds manager Kevin Blackwell) about his players' tackles and the fourth official took offense to that. For me, it's a vendetta by the fourth official to get me sent off and I don't accept it."

Surprise surprise, Warnock did not actually reveal what he said to Blackwell, trying to give the impression it was something along the lines of "Hey Kevin, that was a rather hefty tackle" rather than "I hope he (Kelly) breaks his f------ leg next time." No foul was awarded for the tackle.

The incident came a month after Warnock was charged for making V-sign gestures toward Norwich manager Nigel Worthington following United's 2-1 defeat at Carrow Road. Warnock also admitted a charge of abusive language toward a match official following a 2-1 defeat by Reading last October.

Warnock is a serial offender, but while the Football Association's punishments are so lenient he and others will continue to behave like touchline louts. The answer is in the hands of the F.A., but by slapping guilty parties across the wrist they are almost condoning the abuse of managers.

ONE OF THE idiosyncrasies of English football is that at the same time it is 100 percent in favor of progress but also 100 percent against change. The national sport talks about "moving on" yet when such ideas are put forward the blazers shuffle their feet and adjourn the matter.

The Football Association says that referees must be respected, but they allow managers to virtually say what they like about them and do what they like to them, guilty parties given the equivalent of 100 lines and standing in the corner of the classroom for 30 minutes.

"Manager A was warned as to his future conduct" will be the verdict of a disciplinary commission after the guilty party had doubted the honesty and integrity of a match official.

For a touchline bust-up, a manager could receive a ban and a £10,000 fine, invariably paid by the club. And a touchline ban means sitting in the stands, a vantage point which many managers prefer for the first 45 minutes, so the suspension is effectively for half a match.

From the manager's perspective it is worth lambasting the referee, blaming him in no uncertain terms for his team's defeat to receive a non-punishment.

If the F.A. wanted to do more to ensure managers behave in a sportsmanlike manner they must make the punishment fit the crime.

When UEFA bans a coach he can play no part in his team's pre-match preparation -- he cannot enter the dressing room or have any contact with his players until after the game.

If chairmen saw their managers unable to do their match-day job they would almost certainly make sure the behavior of the man in charge of the team improved.

Likewise, if the F.A. made public details of what a manager or player had said to a referee or assistant referee -- with asterisks (probably quiet a few) instead of the offensive words -- would-be offenders may think twice about letting rip.

A player once told me of his shame when, after being sent off for abusing a referee, what he had actually said was written verbatim on the charge sheet. "I had to make sure my kids didn't see it," he said.

Yet F.A. disciplinary commissions works under a cloak of secrecy. What is said at hearings is never made public (despite the incidents happening in public) and the reasons for the commission's verdict and sanctions equally private.

The Burns report, initiated by the government to streamline the F.A., recommended disciplinary hearings to be heard by media like court cases. The blazers would have needed smelling salts when they heard that.

Yet what a splendid idea -- supporters, who are told they are the most important people in football, being made aware of what is happening.

So simple and obvious it will, of course, never happen.

ARSENAL is on the verge of reaching the Champions League final in record-breaking style. On Tuesday it plays Villarreal which lost 1-0 in the first leg at Highbury on Wednesday -- the ninth consecutive tie in which the Gunners have kept a clean sheet, two more than AC Milan's previous record.

It is 829 minutes since Markus Rosenberg of Ajax scored against Arsenal in Amsterdam. If it keeps another clean sheet against Villarreal and is successful in the final without letting in a goal, the Gunners would be crowned champions of Europe in the wake of 11 successive defensive blanks -- a statistic that would surely stand for a long time.

While the back four has been the same in the last five ties -- Emmanuel Eboue, Philippe Senderos, Kolo Toure and Mathieu Flamini -- for the first four games in the run it was a different backline in each match with Jens Lehman and Manuel Almunia splitting the goalkeeping duties.

Arsene Wenger has done so much for English football over the last 10 years, presiding over teams of breathtaking excitement and bringing a succession of top-class players to Highbury.

But the Frenchman knows to be classed as a truly great manager he must win the Champions League. It says much for his popularity among rival fans, who appreciate the way Arsenal plays, that most of neutral England will be cheering for the Gunners on Tuesday when they play the return match against Villarreal.

THE CITY OF of Leizpig will, according to a report this week, hand out World Cup "first aid" packages including condoms and tissues so football fans can dry their eyes after a defeat.

The containers, to be handed out by volunteers on trams and buses in the eastern German city, will also include plasters and plastic whistles, city officials said on Tuesday.

To many that might sound like Wayne Rooney's away kit.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal, Chelsea and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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