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Saturday, March 22, 2008
F.A. must address continuing harassment of referees
LONDON — Ashley Cole would win few popularity polls.
Given the lurid tabloid stories about his private life recently, when his pop star wife Cheryl Tweedie found out about a less than acceptable away performance by the Chelsea left-back, he is probably not even the most popular player in his house.
His snarling attitude toward referees gives footballers a bad name.
On Wednesday, in the remarkable 4-4 draw at Tottenham, for reasons known only to Mike Riley, the referee showed Cole only a yellow card for a late, nasty studs-showing challenge on Alan Hutton, rather than the red it deserved.
As Riley tried to caution Cole, the player stood with his back to the referee who had to almost beg the player to turn around. Cole would no doubt claim he did not hear Riley, who was just a few meters away.
To make up for his initial error, Riley could have redressed the balance and showed Cole a second yellow card for unsporting behavior.
Instead the Leeds-based official put up with what amounted to a public humiliation and belatedly showed Cole the inappropriate single yellow card.
Chelsea, as it does, instigated its orchestrated appeal against the referee, protesting Cole's innocence.
Riley said: "Ashley . . . come here . . . turn round . . . please turn round . . . if you don't you could be sent off."
Can you imagine Cole ignoring Fabio Capello in that manner if the new England manager wanted the defender's attention?
His England career would effectively be over. But referees are still seen as fair game and Riley would have done the game a huge service by giving Cole the sanction his actions deserved.
Those who love the game hoped that post-Jose Mourinho, Chelsea's attitude toward match officials would improve but it seems that the Portuguese's influence lives on.
The incident occurred a day after the Football Association announced a £200 million investment in grass roots football which, among other things, is designed to improve the respect players have for referees.
Instead of targeting junior and local football, the F.A. should concentrate on the highest level. Kids copy what they see on television, and if Cole gets away with belittling a referee they will follow suit.
The F.A.'s idea is that only the captain can speak to the referee — God help him if Cole wears the armband — and if another player remonstrates with the match official he risks a caution.
It has presumably escaped the attention of the power brokers of English football that the laws have always allowed the referee to caution a player for dissent.
When a manager like Sir Alex Ferguson — and he is far from being alone in ref-baiting — doubts the integrity of a referee, we cannot expect his players to respect match officials. The answer is not for the F.A. to spend millions of pounds at grass roots level.
The F.A. and Premier League should order referees to institute a zero-tolerance policy toward players such as Cole.
If it takes a period of yellow fever with multi-cautions to offending and offensive players, the message will surely hit home that it is pointless, not to mention being against the spirit of the game, to question the referee's decision.
It won't happen, of course, because clubs hold too much power and will resist such change.
If you asked the 20 Premier League managers: "Are you in favor of players openly showing dissent toward the referee?" they would surely answer that no, they are not.
What they really mean is they don't want every other team to act in this manner.
Their own teams . . . well, that's different.
When a manager appears before the F.A. beaks for inappropriate behavior or comments to match officials, the punishment should not be a fine that amounts to loose change for the millionaires of the Premier League. The UEFA sanction of a match ban in the truest sense should be imposed, which is that the manager can play no part in match-day preparation.
Upon arriving at the ground the punished manager is met by a UEFA delegate who sits next to him in the stand. The manager is not allowed in the dressing-room area and cannot speak to his players.
Chairmen would soon tell their managers to button their lips if they were unable to do their match-day job.
Again, this will not happen because the power in English football rests with the Premier League.
Imagine the 20 chairman voting in favor of their managers being banned from preparing the team before a game.
Oh, and the F.A. are powerless to take any further action against Cole.
A spokesman said: "The referee saw the incident and dealt with it. We cannot re-referee matches. The player was shown a yellow card at the time and the decision is not then looked at retrospectively."
Under FIFA regulations, a decision taken by a referee can only be rectified by a disciplinary committee if the referee sends off the wrong player, or makes an obvious and serious error.
The regulations should also ensure there is a natural sense of justice, however it is achieved, otherwise offenders will not be punished correctly.
Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.