Football: Vieira and Co could benefit from sin-bin solution

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The Independent Online
DISCIPLINE IS a subject that is not going to go away without a fight - in fact, not without a 22-man brawl with 15 red cards and both teams docked points.

I avoid discussing referees whenever possible. They get far too much attention as it is. I am, though, aghast that one Premiership referee, Uriah Rennie, has his own agent and a sportswear contract. He'll be dating one of the Spice Girls next.

While referees seem to be having an identity crisis, others in the game are having trouble identifying them at all. The Aston Villa manager, John Gregory, is obviously confused by the antics of the men in the middle.

"They are behaving like policemen these days," he observed last week. Well, yes. As referees are there to maintain law and order, that's not the least complimentary thing he could have said. However, something is wrong. There has been a record number of red cards this season, while last week the Football Association handed out a pounds 45,000 fine and a six- match ban to Patrick Vieira. Even if you put the Frenchman's dismissal down to one moment of madness, there is still an urgent need to persuade players and officials to get a grip.

As they are human beings, and not robots, referees base their decisions largely on their subjective interpretations of the rules. At the moment I am not interested in debating the merits of using replays to make those interpretations slightly less subjective, if only because the most important man in world football, Sepp Blatter - who seems to be granted most of his wishes - has said he will personally fight the introduction of video evidence. Which probably means it will happen one day - but not while Blatter is of this earth.

So here are two ideas from the Yorath suggestion box:

1. The introduction of the sin-bin, something I first encountered watching ice hockey as a child in Vancouver. Players are binned for offences which do not warrant a sending-off but are serious enough to keep them out of the game for a few minutes. It tends to be used after fighting, which is legal in hockey - in fact compulsory - provided the players take their gloves off, of course.

In a football context, the sin-bin was also used in Canada in the indoor five-a-side league, where all the North American Soccer League players used to play in the winter months. It's easy to understand why the sin- bin appeals to the North American psyche: it is punishment as entertainment because it ensures that tactics change instantly to accommodate losing a player.

The bin, which is also used in rugby league and club rugby union in this country, could be used in situations where the player's actions do not merit sending off but require something more severe than a yellow card. It would be especially useful for players with a Vieira-like temperament - sinners would be forced to sit out their sentence in the dressing-room, not observing the action for 10 minutes, before returning to the field.

2. Rolling substitutions, which would enable a manager to control players whose actions are liable to get them sent off. It would work like this: a player could be substituted up to three times during a game but there would have to be a limit - say, three players - otherwise a team could potentially field up to 33 during a game! Dennis Wise, David Batty and David Beckham, to name but three, would be among the principal beneficiaries. The success of this gem of an idea would, of course, depend on how well the manager knows the mind of the player about to lose the plot, but the tactical implications would be vast - imagine being able to bring a player on for three 10-minute bursts.

I have little hope that my fanciful ideas will be adopted by the FA, Fifa or any other organisation beginning with F. However, we should look to rugby for inspiration. Having seen more of the sport than usual in the past month I have been continuously amazed at the levels of respect shown to their referees - even players with root vegetables for ears, who could move small towns with their heads, do not answer back. If football doesn't borrow the sin-bin idea from the oval ball games then it might want to adopt a little bit of the respect shown in that sport.

Gabby Yorath is an

ITV sports presenter