James Lawton: Jordan-Ince spat shows referees need accountability to win respect
Tuesday 25 November 2008
Joe Jordan, the coach of Spurs, and Paul Ince, the embattled manager of Blackburn Rovers, shared a post-game drink on Sunday, a fact which somewhat, but not entirely, contradicted reports that an hour or two earlier they had engaged in a ferocious confrontation in the White Hart Lane tunnel.
The news is not so surprising. Known as "Jaws" in the prime of his football life in England and Italy, Jordan is still the kind of man you would really want to challenge only from the end of a long-distance phone call. However, the fact that Ince chose a braver course and intruded into a conversation the former Leeds United, Manchester United, Milan and Scotland striker was having with the fourth official says a lot about the pressure he felt after seeing one of his players dismissed in the first half. It also, maybe, gives a little fresh insight into the huge campaign to install a capital R in the respect due all referees.
Of course, we know and value the point of the crusade. Perhaps, though, we should also understand a little more fully that if the R-word is vital so too is the one that begins with A. Accountability, that is. Accountability for all – and an understanding that when somebody like Jordan raises a question mark, in reasonable terms, he is doing no more than exercising a professional right.
The fact is that, at present, all post-game assessment of culpability in match-turning incidents is influenced by the insane notion that the only place in football invested with the doctrine of infallibility is the referees' room.
It was in questioning this principle that Jordan provoked the attention of Ince, who was later quoted as saying, "Joe Jordan was talking to the referee about Andre Ooijer and saying that he kicked [Aaron] Lennon two or three times. We'd already had one man sent off and he was trying to get another sent off."
It wasn't so, says Jordan. The issue raised by him at half-time was that the referee, Howard Webb, had twice warned Ooijer for overly aggressive tackles – not on the electric Lennon but his former and not entirely fondly remembered Blackburn team-mate David Bentley.
"I said to the fourth official that as I understood it a player was entitled to one warning not two. I wasn't trying to run the game. I wasn't challenging authority.
"I have always respected the role of the referee and I see it no differently this season, with the Respect campaign, as I did last season or, come to that, 25 years ago when I was still in the thick of it as a player.
"If you don't respect the ultimate authority of the match officials, well, the game simply collapses, but that's not the same as saying every decision they make is right or that professionals, who work on the game all week and can have their livelihood affected by one bad decision, have no right of appeal, no voice.
"What people often forget is that everyone in the game should be accountable, everyone has a responsibility to make it a better place. Yes, that's maybe easier said than done in the heat of a match or a result that could mean you're heading for the sack, but certain rules have to be lived by. I understand where a Paul Ince is coming from: I've been there myself down the years, every pro has been there. I suppose the real trick is accepting that everyone is trying to do their best, and if you get a bad call one day it will probably be levelled up some time in the future.
"Before every game you tell yourself that – and you try to get it over to the players. The bottom line is respect – for the game, and everyone in it."
If it took a small "collision" of opinion at Tottenham to provoke such a statement of open-mindedness from a man who learnt his trade most intensely at a Leeds United where a working tactic for some formative years was to respect a referee only after he had been reduced to the status of a gibbering wreck, there is maybe a little hope for the Respect campaign.
Jordan, though, has always been his own man with his own view of football morality and he surely disarms much incoming cynicism when he declares, "The first thing you have to learn in football is living with the hurt of losing – and be willing to take a good look at yourself from time to time."
For Ince, a driven man who argued so hard and passionately for his chance in big-time management, the chore can rarely have been so difficult. Two months without a win, he knows as well as anyone that already he is fighting for his career at Blackburn. He lurched into a conversation which Joe Jordan intended to be private. Then he had a drink with the man who, like him, once wore the jersey of Manchester United. Maybe he had taken a brief look at himself – as everyone should. Even referees.
Fabregas is Arsenal's only choice
As it is with so much that Arsène Wenger currently says and does, there is more than a hint of desperation in his decision to hand the captaincy of Arsenal to 21-year-old Cesc Fabregras. This would be more of a problem, though, if Fabregas, for all his occasional lurking petulance, was not arguably the most remarkable 21-year-old footballer alive today.
Normally you wouldn't give a kid the reins in mid-crisis, but then nor would you have expected the same one to go out into the San Siro and cut the reigning European champions into small pieces as he did last season – or inspire a title campaign that but for the injury of Eduardo might have delivered the most breathtaking win since the Busby Babes annexed their first in 1956 under the spell of the teenaged Duncan Edwards.
Of course, it can be said that Fabregas has already met too much responsibility at the Emirates in the wake of Patrick Vieira and the disappearance of last season's midfield cohorts Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini, but then where else was Wenger to turn after being obliged to end the captaincy of William Gallas?
Giving it to anyone but Fabregas would have been absurd. When he plays, he really plays, Arsenal take on the most brilliant life and now there is another call on his immense pride in his personal performance.
Some feel that the appointment of any new captain should have been automatically accompanied by marching orders for Gallas. But then you can hardly whip Wenger for a lack of pragmatism one day and then repeat the dose when he shows a little of that quality he is supposed to lack so utterly that some insist it will always cast a shadow over his managerial genius.
Gallas may invite the attention of men in white coats with almost every public utterance but he does know how to defend, which is a knowledge that Arsenal should at the moment shed only at the point of a gun.
Meanwhile, there is a small but rising chorus that Wenger is coming under pressure for his job. Gosh, what a busy time for the whitecoats.
Is Hatton's ringcraft worthy of Oscar?
Naturally, Ricky Hatton's victory over Paul Malignaggi has been greeted as more than a restatement of his most impressive fighting instincts against an opponent who was ill-equipped to deal with such natural aggression. It was a reinvention that provoked calls for a £50m match with American boxing's last great marquee name, Oscar De La Hoya, assuming the ageing virtuoso gets past the challenge from the pride of the Phillipines, Manny Pacquiao.
Britain, no doubt, would buy such a prospect, but the vital American market cannot be so easily guaranteed. There, his undressing by Floyd Mayweather is not so easily forgotten. Victory over a virtually one-armed Malignaggi was never going to do much about that.
Still, if boxing ever does finally keel over, it will not be because it ever underestimated the willingness of the fight public to be taken for a ride. In this, we can only pray that Lennox Lewis is speaking the truth when he ridiculed weekend reports that, at the age of 43, he is about to make a comeback. There are many reasons to admire Lewis, not least that so far he has made good his promise to leave when the time was right.
At 30, Ricky Hatton is obviously under no restraint. Except, perhaps, the one that insists he doesn't begin to compare the challenge he met at the weekend with the one that would face him if he stepped into the ring with the not quite superannuated Oscar.
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