Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest misconduct charge for what he said about the linesman when Manchester United failed again to beat Tottenham recently brings back into focus another one of the things that is clearly wrong with today’s game – sanctions and punishment for breaking the rules.
Make the punishment fit the crime – and the pocket.Given the salaries involved in the Premier League, punishing transgressions with fines which are limited to specific sums of money is pretty much a waste of time. With the amount of money players and managers are paid, a fine of £10,000 or even £50,000 is no deterrent. Top players earn in a month what many of us only earn in a lifetime. Fines should therefore be set and expressed in terms of a period relating to earnings for them to have any relative value or effect. For example, one week’s salary for a minor transgression, 1-3 months for a medium level one and 3-12 months for repeated or major transgressions. This would make the punishment commensurate with the earning power of the transgressor. For a player on £10,000 a week, that would be £10,000 for a minor transgression (still leaving him an income of £30,000 in that month alone, it’s the equivalent of fining someone on a normal wage of £1,000 a month 250 quid) and for a top star £100,000, (still leaving him £300,000 to scrape by on for the rest of the month). In the event of a major transgression, a fine of 6 month’s salary, at £100,000 a week is 2 million, six hundred thousand pounds. If this seems a lot or looks harsh at first glance, bear in mind that would still leave him with a basic salary of 2 million six hundred thousand pounds for the rest of the year before you add on all their commercial endorsements and bonuses.
There should also be provision to ramp up the level at which a fine is set in the case of repeated offences. For example, a second minor transgression within 12 months of a first should automatically be treated as a medium level transgression. A third within 12 months of the first should be treated as a major transgression. It is common practice in industry and the public service, so why not for football?
There would then be a chance, at least, that potential offenders would be deterred by the level of the punishment. Bans and other sanctions could still be used in addition to fines. Consideration should also be given to setting a higher level of fine for managers than for players. It is after all their place to set an example. They are specifically employed to take responsibility and set an example. Sir Alex says that he is singled out for special treatment. All managers should be singled out for special treatment compared to the players. What kind of example is it setting to the young players otherwise?
Finally, the authorities could also specify in the rules that a set percentage of the fines go to named charities.
There are two other offences which have been in the news in recent months; shirt pulling and approaching referees and arguing on the pitch. Like so many other issues, the answer seems so simple but everyone including referees seems to shy away from them.
So many people in the game say that shirt pulling at set pieces is a part of the game. Everybody does it and you can’t stop it. Well, according to a recent Match of the Day, rule 10 dating from 1863 says, “No player shall use his hands to hold or push an opponent.” It doesn’t say anything about an opponent’s shirt but the meaning seems pretty clear. So it is a foul. Since it’s a foul, the ref should give a free kick. Simple. If it happens in the penalty area, it’s a penalty. If the forward does it, it’s a free kick to the defence. The FA should issue a reminder in advance to say that this rule will be implemented without fear or favour from a specific date. It will not be a tragedy if it is ignored on the following weekend and there is a plethora of sending offs. I’d give it 3 weekends before you find that all of a sudden players can after all manage not to pull back opponents by their shirts after all. It’s a question of calling bluffs and refusing to be brow beaten.
Respect for Officials
Talking of being brow beaten brings us back to the respect for the referee. That is not shown when players approach the referee and argue about a decision. It is even less acceptable when the player who does it was not involved in the original incident in the first place. The ref should only have to give one warning, if it continues he should produce a yellow card and if they still don’t zip it and back off, a red. Some managers will say that if you do this, there will only be half a team left, or the match will have to be abandoned. That’s no excuse for ducking the issue. Having preseason get-togethers with managers to chat about it has proven not to be the answer. Implementing it throughout the season would. It is not a justification for the behaviour by saying the ref’s decision was a poor one in the first place. We all make mistakes, players managers and referees and there are appropriate avenues for reviewing and dealing with them. Revolting on the pitch at the time is not one of them. If all refs were told to apply this rule and supported in doing so, the behaviour would stop as soon as everyone realised the authorities are serious about it. We would then start to see a change for the better in the behaviour of all the kids and parents in junior football who have been set such a bad example by so many “heroes” in recent years.