The Premier League will take a zero tolerance approach against on-field indiscipline and managerial criticism of refereeing performances next season, say its chief executive Peter Scudamore. Yet, with the FA’s much vaunted Respect campaign having largely failed, will Scudamore’s call have anylasting effect, let alone bring consistency to a broken system?
It remains to be seen whether the Premier League’s attempt will bare fruit, with the disciplinary process now largely driven by the media agenda rather that governing body policy. And with Sir Alex Ferguson this weekend sitting out the second of five-match ban for using the word “fair” in a post-match interview, supporters are entitled to wonder whether the system can actually get any worse.
Despite this Scudamore claims that Premier League clubs have “unanimously backed” the idea of increasing sanctions against indiscipline, whether it comes from players or managers. With the public’s mood now less tolerant of bad behaviour, Scudamore’s call is well-timed. Whether it can be implemented is another question altogether.
“I think we do need to concentrate on the player and manager relationship with the referee this time, as every one of us knows that there have been elements of unacceptable behaviour,” Scudamore told the BBC.
“As to what we think is unacceptable; its vitriolic abuse towards match officials and that has on occasions gone unpunished; the surrounding of referees is unacceptable; the goading of referees into trying to get opponents sanctioned we think is unacceptable; and also the undue criticism, where it spills over into questioning the referee’s integrity or his honesty is also unacceptable.”
“We are at a point in the game where we do have to rein back from some of this undue criticism of match officials.”
How the Premier League intends to enforce the new system is not yet clear. After all Ferguson received his sanction not from the Premier League but the FA. Although, while the Premier League does not govern disciplinary matters in English football, Scudamore’s comments come at a time when the FA is weaker than ever.
Lacking direction from the top, under pressure from Parliament and inconsistent in its delivery, the FA is little more than a failed state, arguably without the moral authority to implement its own Respect agenda, let alone punish clubs, managers and players for alleged misdeeds.
And the FA’s former compliance officer Martin Bean says that inconsistencies in the organisation’s own policies were demonstrated when handing down Ferguson’s current ban. It is this lack of consistency that Scudamore may hope to take advantage of.
“Where it goes seriously wrong for the FA is that there have been cases of managers in the Premier League making comments which have been a clear implication of bias against the referee, or questioning the referee, yet virtually nothing has been done.
“There are two cases which we referred to in Ferguson’s defence against the Atkinson charge. Firstly, Roberto Martínez — three days before Ferguson made his comments at Chelsea — claimed after Wayne Rooney had clashed with James McCarthy that one of his players ‘would have been lucky to stay on the pitch’ had he committed the foul. That was a clear allegation of bias towards Manchester United, but the FA did nothing about it.
“Harry Redknapp, making comments about the referee and assistant after Nani scored a controversial goal at Old Trafford against Spurs earlier this season, said, ‘They [officials] will go in and come up with a story that will make it all look right, that’s what happens’. That comment in itself suggested collusion between the match officials, yet the FA did absolutely nothing about it.
“The FA says it treats each case on it merits, but in effect they have bottled it on many occasions in terms of dealing with post-match comments by managers. That’s because they move the goalposts to suit themselves.”
Bean’s criticism – that the FA is a slave to its own agenda – can also be levelled at Scudamore, with the executive leaving himself open to charges of opportunism. The suspicion that Scudamore’s campaign is more about ‘brand Premier League’ than any real tightening of the regulations is one that Ferguson holds close.
“Richard Scudamore doesn’t have a lot to do,” said the United manager.
“He is trying to elevate the Premier League. That is good. That is his job. But I feel he is jumping off a high diving board here without thinking about it. It is not an issue for me. I don’t think managers disrespect referees.
“I got done for what I considered a fair comment. They gave me a five-match ban. That’s fine. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect referees. It is a difficult job. We all know that. I wouldn’t referee a game. We do need them.”
While Scudamore’s intervention may be aimed at leading the agenda, it also threatens to add yet more confusion into a disciplinary process that is seemingly made on the fly. No wonder so few players or managers have any R E S P E C T.