The Last Word: Gattuso not only one to blame in this bawl game

Milan mêlée proves technical area – a 'stage for maniacs' – should be scrapped
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The Independent Online

Gennaro Gattuso deserves everything he gets tomorrow. This isn't the WWE. It is not excusable for participants to go jumping out of the ring and nutting one of their opponent's managers. The Irksome Italian – to give him his stage name – stepped way over the line in both the practical and metaphorical sense and we must put our faith in the Uefa disciplinarians to delivera harsh-but-fair verdict. Fivematches. At least.

But as the gavel's echo reverberates up and down those plush Swiss corridors, the game's powerbrokers should ponder what else, apart from Gattuso's one-amp fuse, inspired him to such madness on Tuesday. They might also consider the reaction in England. Did he really "pick on the wrong man" in big Joe Jordan as the almost joyous response suggested? Or did he merely pick on the man who he claimed had been hurling obscenities in his direction?

Jordan, the Tottenham assistant coach, maintains he did not call Gattuso a "fucking Italian bastard" and lists his many connections with the country as evidence. Fair enough; unless any witnesses heard otherwise, we should accept his version of events. Not because he happens to be a "good football man", or because the lads in the studio tell us with a wink and a smirk that this Scottish hardman "is not to be messed with". But rather because he was not the aggressor in the argument, did not raise his hands or thrust forward his cranium.

Except Jordan was mouthing something at Gattuso, as anyone watching on TV could confirm. The question is what? And, more importantly, why? Jordan actually contravened the rules by directing any sort of comment at Gattuso. He is not allowed to do that. So shouldn't.

The laws of the game say only one team official is permitted in the technical area at any one time and he (or she) must return to the bench immediately after "conveying tactical instructions". Coaches are not allowed to hang around in the area and while they are there, flouting that particular part of the rule, they are certainly not permitted to shout out remarks about the referee's performance or, indeed, about players on the other team. But they do. All of them. Not just Jordan. It is now ingrained in the game's culture that the manager or his assistant, or both, will set up camp in the technical area, throw their arms around and scream at the ref for not awarding his side this or that foul or for being taken in by this or that dive. They are a long time standing, so to pass the time, linesmen – or assistant referees, or whatever it is we are supposed to call them – are routinely abused. Only a few weeks ago I heard one Championship manager yelling at a linesman "d'you know the fucking offside law mate?" The official ignored the query and carried on without so much as a shake of the head. All in a day's work.

But why didn't he react, inform the referee? And, for that matter, why didn't the fourth official react? He was a few yards away from the garbage-mouthed gaffer and would have been aware he is the only official coaches are supposed to address. He didn't and wouldn't because the whole shebang is out of control and the rules are unenforceable. You could see that in Milan. Jordan and Harry Redknapp were on the pitch at one point, and when they weren't, were inches behind the line. Anarchy reigns in the technical area.

It was always bound to as soon as Fifa changed the laws in 1993 to recognise the coach as an element of the game. That may seem bizarre in this age of managerial celebrity, but for more than a century coaching "from the boundary lines" was officially banned. Of course, it was impossible to stop managers from signalling or even from bellowing instructions, but their influence on match day was nothing like it is now. They made their observations on the training pitch, as any great manager still does.

Yet in their misguided attempt "to improve the quality of play", Fifa let the coaches loose and, in the process, not only made the referees' job much harder but assembled the ring for the ugly touchline confrontations which populate so many headlines in this brave, new millennium. Usually, it's manager on manager, but player on manager is becoming more common.

The warning signals flashed up to some experts during the 1990 World Cup in Italy, when Fifa first trialled the new rule. Stanley Lover, the former president of the Football League Referees Association and a much-respected master of the rulebook, filed the following review: "The dangers of this change were clearly visible to millions. Aggressive coaching caused problems for the players, referees, linesmen and fourth officials. It would not be too strong to accuse these coaches of inciting indiscipline among players and violence among supporters. Negative aspects of coaching were observed in 16 of the 52 matches but only one coach was disciplined. We saw the proof in Italy that coaches will not respect the 'bench' restriction [later expanded to 'technical area'] and that their conduct was sometimes inflammatory."

Unsurprisingly considering the numerous bust-ups since, Lover's opinion has not altered. In fact, he believes the introduction of the technical area to be "the worst law change since the laws were first codified in 1863".

He contends that little actual coaching goes on in the area and that any minuscule improvement in the quality of play has been a pathetic benefit when put alongside the erosion of the referee's authority and the ramping up of the antipathy. "Visible coaches cause more harm to the game than players," he says. "I'd gag them and do away with technical areas, which only serve as stages for maniacs."

Well, it was hard to dispute that we saw a maniac on stage last week. True, it was a player and not a coach but the question should be asked what role the technical area played in this obnoxious spectacle. If Jordan was not standing there, if he wasn't allowed to bawl, if he wasn't allowed to contribute to an already charged atmosphere, the incident wouldn't have happened. And neither would so many clashes which do nothing but damage the game's reputation.

"Who cares? It adds to the theatre," goes the cry. But it's not theatre, it's sport. If that's what turns you on, watch American wrestling. With all those children who just love to speculate on the villain getting a pasting.

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