Scott Wilson Column: Why discipline and respect has to start with the Premier League's managers (From The Northern Echo)
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Scott Wilson Column: Why discipline and respect has to start with the Premier League's managers
ALAN PARDEW has been rightly lambasted for Sunday's touchline tirade at Manuel Pellegrini, but in many ways, the Newcastle United manager is deserving of some sympathy. He was simply unfortunate to be caught.
Almost to a man, the Premier League's managers indulge in similar histrionics every time they stride towards the touchline during a game. Maybe the language isn't always as explicit, or the criticisms quite as barbed, but Pardew is far from the only offender. Often, however, he tends to make himself the most obvious.
The Football Association “reminded him of his responsibilities” this week, a quaint response that brings to mind a Wembley mandarin sidling up to Pardew in some cosy establishment members' club. “You know what Alan, that really won't do. Anyway, another gin?”
Surely it is time for the authorities to take a much firmer stance, and while Pardew could justifiably have bemoaned his luck had he been singled out for a much tougher punishment this week, an addressing of the issue has to start somewhere.
There are so many strands to the general lack of respect and discipline that has infiltrated the game in recent years – players constantly swearing at referees, diving to win penalties and flaunting their wealth away from the pitch at every opportunity; owners riding roughshod over decades of tradition in order to maximise their profits; managers and coaches swearing and confronting each other on the touchline – that it is hard to know how to begin to tackle the issue.
But as the most visible and high-profile members of the clubs they represent, the managers operating within the top-flight have to set the tone for everything else that follows.
Whether they like it or not, they are the figureheads of their organisations, and their interminable petty squabbles have unquestionably contributed to a race to the basest level.
A striker squaring up to an opponent? 'It's okay because my manager did that to Arsene Wenger last week'. A midfielder unleashing a volley of abuse at an opponent. 'The boss did it on the sidelines ten minutes earlier'. A defender irately confronting a referee? 'That was the first thing the manager did as he walked off the field at the final whistle'.
Respect has to start at the top, and it is the manager more than anybody else who dictates the behaviour and attitude of the players operating under him.
It has become something of a cliché in discussions like this to hark back to the days of Brian Clough, but the example still stands. Clough hated the constant haranguing of officials – admittedly perhaps, in part, because he felt that being nice to them might influence some of their decisions.
He vowed that he would not be disrespectful to officials, instructed his players in unequivocal terms that they were not to be either, and hey presto, his Nottingham Forest side are still lauded today as proof that high standards of sportsmanship are not a barrier to success.
Clearly, the game has moved on. But while the stakes have undoubtedly risen, there is still no excuse for today's breed of managers to feel the need to constantly challenge each other on a match day.
The press box at Tottenham Hotspur is located immediately behind the dug-outs, and whenever I visit White Hart Lane, I find it hard to focus on the football, such is the lunacy of the pantomime being played out in the technical areas.
Pantomime is exactly the right word because it is almost as though the managers and number twos, many of whom are worse offenders than their bosses, feel compelled to play up to their part.
The referee gives a decision against your team – leap to your feet and berate the fourth official. The opposition manager has a moan at one of your players – get in his face and tell him what you think of him. The fourth official signals four minutes of injury time when you're losing – swear at him and demand to know why it wasn't five.
The FA needs to clamp down on such behaviour, and empowering the fourth official to be much less tolerant would be a start. If a manager is overheard swearing, they should immediately issue a warning without the need to involve the referee on the field. One more piece of abuse, and the manager should be sent to the stand and given a lengthy touchline ban. The same should apply to all members of the coaching staff.
And if the global authorities really want to start getting serious, here's a thought. If a manager's sent to the stands, why not make their team have to lose one of their players as a punishment, just as they would if it was a player being dismissed. It'll never happen, but it would improve touchline behaviour in an instant.
It's not just the managers who contribute to such an adversarial atmosphere though, we, as the press, also play our part.
There is nothing more dispiriting than attending a post-match press conference where the only questions asked relate to a controversial refereeing decision. Often, it's little more than winding the manager up, and waiting for him to explode to provide a back-page line.
It means that come Monday morning, the only story of interest is a manager criticising a referee. We all know they're going to do it, so why does it have to dominate the agenda so completely?
I fully accept that I've fallen into the trap myself, so as a first contribution, I'm going to try avoiding such an approach in the future. If managers are constantly encouraged to go on the attack, it should be little surprise when they do. Perhaps a more reasoned debate after a match will encourage a better standard of conduct during it.
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BET OF THE WEEKEND
Sadly, last week's charity bet saw the end of the 100 per cent record, with Willie Mullins' raider Rathvinden falling three out as he looked well placed to make a challenge. Follow @scottwilsonecho on Twitter or log on to The Northern Echo's website to see this weekend's selection on Saturday morning. Running total: +£1.50
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