Football: Di Canio verdict `sends out the wrong message'

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The Independent Online
PHILIP DON, who acts as a referees' spokesman for the Premier League, has criticised the 11-match ban imposed on Paolo Di Canio for his assault on Paul Alcock at Hillsborough last month .

The former World Cup official said the Football Association was sending the wrong message to the thousands of officials who control park matches throughout the country.

"There were 340 assaults on park referees last season," he said. "What message does this punishment send out to them and what confidence will they have in the FA? It is fair to say I am disappointed with the verdict because I thought it would be longer.

"Paolo Di Canio has been found guilty of a major disciplinary issue and I don't think the punishment is correct."

Di Canio received an eight-match suspension for his attack on Alcock in addition to the three-game ban imposed for his initial sending off offence.

"There is a massive problem with the recruitment of referees, with less than 50 per cent lasting less than a year," Don said. "The Referees' Association is trying to look at ways of increasing the number of people who are taking up the whistle - what kind of message does this ban send out?"

By contrast, Gabriel Marcotti, an English-based journalist working for the Italian sports' daily Corriere dello Sport, said the Football Association had gone over the top.

"There is no doubt that the referee falling over made the situation look worse than it was," he said. "It looked fairly comical at the time but if it had been a bigger, heavier man there wouldn't have been as much of a problem. A similar situation in Italy would have been dealt with much more leniently."

Marcotti outlined an incident involving Pavel Nedved, the Czech international, during a recent Italian Cup game with Lazio.

"Nedved put his hands on the referee - not as bad as the Di Canio incident - and received a three-match ban. Even then most people thought it was too many," he said. "In Italy, most people accept Di Canio lost his cool and shouldn't have done what he did, but these things happen. There is no suggestion that the referee dived, he just lost his balance, but without that there wouldn't have been such a furore."

However, Marcotti was quick to play down suggestions that the "Italian temperament" was the main reason behind Di Canio's behaviour.

"Since the second World War there have only been two incidents of players assaulting referees. It is nothing to do with a Continental attitude, it is just the individual."