The Football Association was last night trying to hold together its battered Respect campaign by making a public plea to Premier League managers to stop criticising referees. The FA was pushed to the brink by Joe Kinnear's stinging attack on referee Martin Atkinson after Newcastle's defeat to Fulham on Sunday and further pressure yesterday from the managers' union.
A statement from the FA last night pleaded with managers to resist the urge to go public with their anger in the immediate aftermath of games. "It is easy to support officials when a decision goes your way," the FA's director of governance Jonathan Hall said. "The real test is the ability to show understanding when a call goes against you."
The FA's latest plea was prompted by the most blatant flouting of the Respect campaign to date: Kinnear (below) calling Atkinson a "Mickey Mouse ref" for failing to give a foul on his defender Cacapa. There was also pressure from the League Managers' Association (LMA), which announced yesterday it would be campaigning on behalf of its members for higher standards among referees. After suggestions that managers had become mutinous about the Respect campaign, it would now appear to be at breaking point.
The campaign was launched amid great fanfare last season, promising to crackdown on bad behaviour towards referees from players, managers and fans in the lower leagues. It was subsequently introduced into the professional game this summer. However, Richard Bevan, the LMA chief executive, used yesterday's meeting, which was attended by 35 current league managers, in order to help maintain the peace between his members and the FA. With many of them disillusioned at what they perceive as unfair treatment from referees, the FA recognises that it is not long before a prominent manager publicly targets the Respect campaign.
Hence, yesterday's attempt at reconciliation by the FA. Earlier, the LMA had announced it would be asking major governing bodies in football to look at nine areas of refereeing, including the introduction of goal-line technology. Subsequently the FA said: "It has been disappointing to witness various incidents of managers publicly criticising referees over the past few weeks.
"We accept that it can be very frustrating for managers when an incorrect decision is taken, but no referee does so deliberately. There are already various official channels for managers to provide their views on refereeing performances, and managers are actively encouraged to use these channels rather than criticising referees through the media."
That advice will come too late for Kinnear, who is expected to be asked by the FA to explain his comments on Sunday before he is charged. His "Mickey Mouse" remark related to an incident leading up to Andy Johnson's second goal against Newcastle, but he was not the only one to criticise officials this weekend. The Manchester City manager, Mark Hughes, said that referee Mike Dean had not taken the rain conditions into consideration when dismissing two of his players in the defeat to Tottenham at home.
The FA said yesterday that it was determined to keep the Respect campaign alive in the long term and claimed that it had changed the attitudes of players when it came to surrounding the referee following controversial decisions. Launched after high-profile incidents involving Ashley Cole and Javier Mascherano showing a distinct lack of respect to officials, the FA said that – despite recent events – it was in no mood to back down.
"The Respect programme started after the FA consulted 37,000 people involved in grass-roots football and the general view was that improvements in behaviour were needed," the FA said. "There has been real progress at grass-roots level. We will not give up on it and will continue to strive for that improvement at all levels of the game."
In the meantime, Michael Carrick looks set to be the main beneficiary should Fabio Capello leave David Beckham out of the England squad to face Germany next week. The England manager names his squad this weekend and is minded to bring in the Manchester United midfielder, who has missed the last two squads through injury.
The England manager was a surprise visitor to Craven Cottage on Sunday. It is understood that he was there to check the form of Michael Owen, who missed a sitter, as well as Andy Johnson and Jimmy Bullard. There is no suggestion that he is even considering selecting Joey Barton for the game in Berlin.