Full marks to the Football Association for taking action against the Wakefield referee Alan Kaye, who asked for Mark Viduka to be substituted after the Australian had fouled an opponent and then thrown the ball at him during Leeds United's pre-season friendly match against York City at Bootham Crescent.
Some thought that the referee showed commendable common sense, but I take the view that any official demonstrating reluctance to apply the laws of the game and who enters into a cosy conspiracy with the managers and players does the game and his lesser colleagues a disservice.
Kaye should not be made a martyr by the FA because he will not have been the first culprit, if the case is proven, merely the first where action is taken after many years of managers wanting an anything-goes tolerance in friendlies, particularly pre-season.
The root cause of the wholesale substitutions and the casual disdain for the captain's armband by Sven Goran Eriksson's England can be traced back to this mentality, too. Had Viduka been sent off by Kaye, he would have received an automatic three-match suspension for violent conduct and been unavailable for selection by his manager, Peter Reid, for Leeds's opening three matches of the Premiership season.
One Select Group referee expressed reservations to me the other day about the way they have been told by the Premier League's head of referees, Philip Don, to maintain strict control by using yellow cards if necessary. Presumably, now he himself is established on the élite list, he would prefer to rely on his personality and man-management. By and large, however, the cautionable offences are mandatory and if an aspiring referee on the parks has to show the yellow card to a player who gives him a mouthful, why shouldn't those who appear on our television screens?
Referees can court short-term popularity by adopting a man-of-the-people common sense, but it comes at the expense of consistency and the game itself.
Where Don is undoubtedly correct is in insisting that at long last referees get the easiest law in the book right: taking a penalty kick. There are two things to monitor and two officials to carry out the task. The players, with the obvious exception of the taker and the goalkeeper, have to remain outside the penalty area and the goalkeeper must not come forward off his line.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of penalties I have seen taken correctly since the law was changed to allow the goalkeeper to move along the line 10 years ago.
Milan were helped to the Champions' League title by an outrageous piece of cheating by their goalkeeper, Nelson Dida. In the penalty shoot-out at the conclusion of the final against Juventus, Dida was almost on top of Paolo Montero when the Uruguayan defender took his kick and was thus able to block it more easily than had the officials not allowed him to break the law by narrowing the angle.
The Premier League's directive for the new season includes an instruction that the penalty kick law must be properly applied. If a goalkeeper saves a penalty by moving off his line, the kick must be re-taken.
Turning to off-field matters, it was interesting to note that reports of increased financial prudence by clubs and general tightening of belts in the harsh football economy (one area of west London excepted) followed closely upon the appointment by the FA of Kate Barker, a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, to head a new finance advisory committee.
The committee, to comprise representatives of the FA, the Premier League, the Football League, the county associations and possibly independent nominees of Barker herself, will have no investigative powers, which will remain with the FA's compliance unit, but will seek to prevent clubs getting into financial difficulties, and consider best practice and issues relating to the financial governance of the game.
It may be asked to examine the thorny topic of whether directors and owners should be subject to the "fit and proper persons" criterion. The committee's remit has been described by the FA as "broad brush".
Barker, a Stoke City supporter, will bring a considerable degree of brainpower to the corridors of power. Anyone capable of delivering a 20-page address to the Manchester Statistical Society on the perils of inflation, and conducting a review of issues affecting housing supply for Chancellor Gordon Brown, is no doubt capable of framing some recommendations which will improve football's finances.
She will be able to bring to bear her experience on the Monetary Policy Committee, whose task is to recommend UK interest rate changes, and as a member of the Independent Football Commission. In business, she believes in self-regulation.Reuse content