The Rational Ref

Club leaders must show the way

Club management figures must take a stronger stand on diving and other bad behaviour that has no place in the game

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 3:00am

Apart from referees, soccer's numerous supervisors, superiors, seniors and stalwarts also set standards on the field of play. This means players, and to some extent supporters, look up to their team captains and managers for leadership regarding matters of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

Referees understand this, and sometimes will cleverly use these club authority figures to help manage problematic players. For instance, it's normal to see referees explaining to team captains about any misdemeanours caused by their players with the aim that those individuals will buck up their ideas way before the referee has to dish out cards. Providing captains and coaches are in tune with these messages then this style of player management usually works fine.

Occasionally, when players and their captains refuse to listen, it's necessary for referees to send out a stronger message. During the Manchester United-Arsenal clash last month Tom Cleverley and Jack Wilshere were two youngsters fully committed to the big match with both eager to impress their supporters, teammates and managers. As the match progressed, their youthful enthusiasm began to override their soccer faculties and both received cautions for overzealous tackling.

Alex Ferguson clearly saw the message issued by referee Mike Dean and promptly replaced Cleverley. Surprisingly, Arsene Wenger ignored the warning signal and kept Wilshere on the pitch. Due to a lack of guidance from experienced heads, Wilshere's combative streak was not reined in. He then received a second yellow for another bad tackle and was dismissed.

In substituting Cleverley, Ferguson was shrewd and proactive. Similarly, coaches and captains who are proactive can help stop disgraceful player antics such as shameful dives, trite retaliations and dreadful acting.

At the Club World Cup in Yokohama last Sunday, Corinthians midfielder Emerson rolled around excessively at every opportunity. Drama queens such as Emerson act like victims but in truth, nine times out of 10, they are the aggressors who provoke player retaliations. Unfortunately, match officials who are not alert to this will see only the retaliatory action, as Chelsea's Gary Cahill discovered to his detriment when Turkish referee Cüneyt Cakır sent him off for kicking Emerson.

Corinthians coach Tite and captain Alessandro were not interested in stopping Emerson's theatrics because this behaviour is accepted in certain countries, even though it goes against the spirit of fair play.

If only such drama queens had a leader in the mould of Vinnie Jones. The former Wimbledon captain, now a bona fide Hollywood actor, recounted an incident when a teammate attempted some amateur dramatics.

"When I was at Wimbledon, one of our players went down with a dive in the area. I walked over, picked him up by his hair on the back of his neck and told him 'We don't do that here, son. Got it?' I promise you, he never did it again."

The FA and other soccer guardians appear unwilling to take retrospective action on players and their excessive theatrics. Therefore, club authority figures should take this issue by the scruff of the neck and name and shame the culprits. Simulation such as diving and rolling around in an attempt to deceive the referee, is unsporting behaviour and players who do this should be universally condemned.

Refreshingly, Everton coach David Moyes openly criticised his own player, Marouane Fellaini, for wrongdoing. Without fear or favour, Moyes admitted Fellaini deserved to be banned for head-butting Stoke's Ryan Shawcross last weekend. If there were more managers and captains with similar backbones, then dishonourable player antics would plummet overnight. Such leaders who possess a strong conscience deserve praise for upholding the spirit of the game.

To be fair, Fellaini reacted because referee Mark Halsey did not deal with the tussling between Shawcross and Fellaini. Shawcross was the instigator because at set pieces he was constantly holding and blocking the big-haired Belgian. Since Halsey did nothing about Shawcross' antics, Fellaini reacted by slapping, elbowing and head-butting his opponent in three separate incidents.

Like Moyes and Jones, all coaches and captains should set examples of acceptable behaviour. In this respect, Wenger again failed when claiming he did not see Santi Cazorla's blatant dive when Arsenal played West Bromthis month. Funny how back in April, Wenger had perfect vision when spotting simulation from Manchester United's Ashley Young. Wenger said then: "If an obvious dive is punished by a three-match ban, players would not do it any more".

So why didn't Wenger discipline his own player? In the autocratic world of soccer leadership, this is simply a classic case of following the dictum: "Do as I say, not as I do."