How to Manage Managers

The FA have taken the complete wrong lesson from the latest Mourinho debacle.

The Chelsea boss has received heavy criticism, with varying regularity, for the way in which he addresses refereeing performances post-match. Whilst he is almost certainly the most vocal and explicit when talking about refereeing decisions, he is hardly alone, and perhaps we, and the FA, should be learning better from both his complaints and the way in which they are dealt.

Take the latest example. Mourinho’s punishment of £50,000 came when he called officials “afraid” to award his team penalties, but pointed out that Wenger called Mike Dean “weak” and “naïve” after Chelsea beat Arsenal 2-0 the month before. The Chelsea boss has a point: how is “afraid” £50,000 worse than “weak” and “naïve”? The implication is certainly the same. In fact, the only possible explanation is that Mourinho abstractly referred to referees as a whole, whereas Wenger picked out his target. But then if we add all of Wenger’s complaints together from different matches it might seem as if he thought everyone was out to get him.

It’s not simply the pair of them. The fact that we celebrate whenever a manager is willing to hold his hands up and accept that his team should have conceded a penalty, or the red card against his captain was legitimate, points to the rarity of it, and also to the fact that managers across the country (and possibly the sport) have limited respect for referees – that is, unless the decisions favour them.

In football, everyone’s a victim of refereeing: the players will hound him as if he had sent a man off just for standing there, and they will call for every small decision in the hope of pressuring the official into making a controversial call in their favour. In football, the referee is another part of the game to play, whereas in a sport like rugby the referee is above the game, outside of it, and merely officiates. It’s what made Craig Joubert’s controversial decision as Scotland played Australia so significant and newsworthy – people just don’t complain in rugby like they do in football.

This is extremely problematic because it results in more refereeing mistakes, as referees know they will be hounded post-match for every slight error; the pressure mounts both in-game and post-game and mistakes start to add up as a result. That’s all in addition to the pressure made from players screaming at and surrounding the referee.

Mourinho’s comments deserve punishment, but he’s right to point out that he is simply part of a large culture that football has with regards to refereeing. Anyone in football who criticises Mourinho but not Wenger and co. has double standards. Anyone who also complains when their own team suffers at the hands of a poor decision but shrugs it off as swings and roundabouts when they win through a goal that should have been chalked off, is a hypocrite.

And yet, despite the common awareness of this mass footballing culture, the FA still thinks that the best way to deal with Mourinho is to single him out and fine him.

Fining any one manager won’t change a thing. Fans won’t stop complaining about refereeing decisions constantly until players stop trying to take advantage of inconsistencies. Players won’t stop trying to take advantage until managers stop consistently pointing out catastrophic refereeing decisions after virtually every game. And why would any other manager stop when they look around and see that the vast majority of their peers go unpunished? Even Mourinho simply acknowledges that he needs to say the same thing just with different terminology.

If the FA think that they are making Mourinho a lesson to warn off other coaches and managers from criticising referees, then they’re mad; anyone can see that what Mourinho says isn’t that far past what other managers from both the Premier League and other divisions come up with.

Since punishing all managers or reviewing every decision post-game wouldn’t stop what is a seemingly self-perpetuating culture of harassment, complaint, and injustice,  (and since football can only dream of the respect that players have for their adjudicators in rugby) there is – as I view it – only one solution to managers constantly criticising referees. And I’m afraid we’ve heard it all before.

In-game television reviews. You simply can’t argue with a replay. If Ashley Young, or one of his mimicking peers, decides to trip over his shoelaces coincidentally just as he enters the penalty box, but the replay shows that the player who allegedly fouled him was actually on holiday in Venice, eating ice cream whilst a gondolier sings him along the canal system, then no one could make a legitimate complaint against not awarding the penalty.

You wouldn’t even need to ask for a replay. Just have a man in a box somewhere in the stadium with a load of TV angles, and just whisper into the referee’s earpiece if a mistake is made. If the decision isn’t clear cut, leave it with whatever the referee decided in real time. Not only would Mourinho et al have to cut out the complaining, but we might actually hear our managers talk about something interesting for a change.

The FA’s tactic is entirely reactive and equally ineffective. Mourinho hasn’t stopped with his tirades, but rather he’s been fuelled further evidence in his mind that the FA is out to get him. If the FA really want to end it all, they need cut the problem out at the source. They need to listen to what everyone has been saying for quite some time and embrace the 21st century. Rugby union didn’t even have this problem when they proudly installed TMO decisions. Simply in not having television referrals, football is also behind cricket, American football, tennis, rugby league, basketball, Aussie Rules and I’m sure a cohort of others.

To manage its managers, football – and the FA in particular – needs to learn the right lessons and grow up.

PHOTO/Brian Minkaff