It may require the services of a well-aimed half a house-brick, but the practice of football managers standing on the touchline like Napoleon surveying a battlefield ought to be brought to an end by official decree, and that chalk rectangle, mysteriously known as the "technical area", removed from the front of the dug-outs.
It may require the services of a well-aimed half a house-brick, but the practice of football managers standing on the touchline like Napoleon surveying a battlefield ought to be brought to an end by official decree, and that chalk rectangle, mysteriously known as the "technical area", removed from the front of the dug-outs. Then, perhaps, we will have no more of the undignified scenes that marred the Carling Cup final at the Millennium Stadium last Sunday.
Jose Mourinho has received a mild rebuke yet faces no charge for his behaviour off-stage, but certainly not off-camera, while his Chelsea team were winning the Cup in extra time. Their accomplishment had to compete with the manager's misdemeanours for its share of the limelight - and lost.
Comparing the mercy extended to Mourinho with the build-up of official hostility against England's rugby coach, Andy Robinson, for his angry questioning of referee Jonathan Kaplan's decisions in the game against Ireland, made it a strange episode for students of sporting fate. While Robinson's week became progressively worse, Mourinho gathered support day by day until he was almost being hailed as a martyr by some of his fellow managers.
Bolton's Sam Allardyce went so far as to urge football authorities to protect managers from angry fans, and even suggested the use of a protective Perspex screen. Why, he asked, don't the police rip a few of the abusive fans out and throw them out of the ground? Gordon Strachan thought it was a disgrace that Mourinho was banished to the stand when the fans were the real culprits.
For the record, Mourinho had incensed the crowd by yelling abuse at Liverpool's defender Jamie Carragher as he was taking a free-kick near the touchline. And although his finger-to-the-lips routine after Steven Gerrard's own goal fell well short of rudeness, it was done in a manner that was bound to incite a reaction. That he travelled 10 to 15 yards outside the technical area to strut his stuff made the decision to order him into the stand entirely sensible.
Presumably, Allardyce would have cleared the first five rows behind him to create the same effect of restoring peace. This misses the point that the easiest and quickest way to stop abuse is to remove the target.
The fans have been there since the game first attracted crowds. They are in their proper places and have paid for the privilege. The managers are the recent addition to the touchline scene and it is their presence, in full and provocative view, that is the cause of any problem that arises.
When Fifa took the puzzling step to create these technical areas it had an obvious potential to create trouble. For a start, it hardly helps the view for the spectators in the lower seats.
Even before the incident, the sight of Mourinho and his Liverpool counterpart, Rafael Benitez, standing alone and proprietorially in their whitewashed boxes a few yards apart looked incongruous. It was as if they were marking each other.
The same scene occurred in that marvellous FA Cup tie between Sheffield United and Arsenal on Tuesday. Arsène Wenger and Neil Warnock were more animated, because it was that sort of a match, and at one stage Wenger was hurling dog's abuse at the fourth official. The Arsenal manager must have got cold, because he retired to the dug-out with a large towel over his legs.
That left Warnock in arm-waving isolation, and you had to wonder what good he was doing. Some of these managers appear to have mastered the art of explaining Einstein's theory of relativity with hand signals, but whether they are getting any coherent message across to their players is questionable.
It is an indulgence, an opportunity for them to demonstrate their idea of dynamic leadership in the certain knowledge that they'll get their fair share of those irritating television close-ups. Some of them appear to have been taking body-language lessons. And what help in persuading players to show more respect to referees is it when their manager is ever-present on the touchline, bawling out anyone within range?
Allardyce and Strachan are right to point out the dangers. One of these days half a house-brick or some such missile will land on the head of one of the touchline posturers, and it will be the game's fault for creating such an inviting target.
While a match is in progress, managers should not be seen or heard. They should be in the stand with one of those fancy communication kits strapped to their heads or buried in the dug-out, sending out messages via subs or water-carriers. We cannot expect them all to behave with the passionless detachment of Sven Goran Eriksson, but theirs should be the coolest heads in the stadium.
Rugby coaches tend to sit up in the stand, which is far more preferable. One drawback is that you get a clearer view of the referee's performance, and what Andy Robinson saw in England's defeat by Ireland in Dublin last Sunday may bring him a disrepute charge.
His furious state of mind over decisions that cost England the match was under-standable, and at the time his complaints were supported by leading referees and sympathised with by neutrals. However, it wasn't long before the rugby authorities were putting on their stern face and threatening action. I have no argument with a governing body getting heavy - the FA should try it sometime - but they should acknowledge that Robinson had a good point.
The technology exists to settle doubts about tries. For some reason I can't fathom, referee Kaplan could not have called for the video ref to judge whether Mark Cueto was offside, but he could and should have taken advice on Josh Lewsey's claimed touchdown. It transpires that the video ref would have sided with Kaplan, but that's not the point. In both cases another judgement could have been sought, the matter settled and Robinson disappointed but not infuriated.
We all want what can never be achieved - faultless and fair control of a match, with every decision accompanied by a guarantee of cast-iron correctness. But that doesn't mean that every means at a referee's disposal should not be used to edge us closer to that ideal.
Writing on the house wall
A happy day was spent last Sunday as a guest of the Football League at the Carling Cup final, always a rousing event, and one of the others enjoying the occasion from the comfort of the executive box was the former Chelsea defender Ron "Chopper" Harris.
I reminded Ron that the last time we had met was 36 years ago. We were selling our house in Ewell, Surrey, and my wife was given the job of attending to prospective buyers while I was working away in the spare bedroom, ghost-writing the autobiography of Martin Peters, one of England's 1966 World Cup stars.
When one of the couples she was showing around walked into the room, I turned from my labours to find Ron staring at me. I spent more time trying to get a story out of him than a bid, but neither was forthcoming. He alleges the asking price of £7,100 for the house was too high for him.
It is an indication of how times have changed that we couldn't imagine a present-day Chelsea player eyeing up a house owned by a football writer - unless he was looking for a place where his servants could live.Reuse content