Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Feeling Frisky

Anders Frisk, international referee, and namesake of a Grand National winner, has decided to retire fully from all his refereeing duties. Frisk was hit in the head by a coin during a Champions League match earlier this season, and then (after making a highly controversial decision) received hate mail and death threats from Chelsea fans following their defeat in the first leg against Barcelona. They later prevailed after the second leg, but the bitterness and rancour that surrounded the match will not be forgotten for a long time.

Jose Mourinho, Chelsea's manager, has come in for particular criticism. He attacked the referee strongly after the match, and made comments that were tantamount to accusing him of bias - namely, that the Barcelona manager spoke to him at half-time. Now Mourinho is being blamed for Frisk quitting football - being described by a high-ranking UEFA official as an "enemy of the game".

The press have loved this hyperbolic reaction. Firstly, they have completely ignored the need for referees to make good decisions. As ever, respect needs to be earned and not demanded, and many referees fail miserably on this count. Often they simply lie to the press to explain away their bad decisions, and yet demand to be treated with greater respect. As if they weren't protected enough by heavy fines levied on managers for criticising their decisions!

Secondly, the press ignore their own role in all of this. They are the first to criticise referees for their bad decision-making - often castigating them to a high level. It should be remembered that the Sun encouraged the targeting of the Swiss referee of the England-Portugal match in Euro 2004. When the TV and the newspapers analyse referees so much, and criticise them so heavily when they get things wrong, a culture of blame inevitably creeps up. They are now reaping what they have sown, and are trying to avoid responsibility.

The article I linked to above castigates Mourinho for his use of the "dark arts" to try and gain his team any sort of advantage he can find. Well, again, the press are to blame. There is such a media circus that follows football now that any comment by any player or manager gets plastered right across the back pages, and scrutinised intensely. For many years, the press have lauded managers that are able to play mind games and win. Ten years ago Kevin Keegan had a memorable outburst on Sky, and the media were crediting Alex Ferguson with winning the battle of the mind games. Similarly most contests between Ferguson and Wenger over the last few years have been treated with hyperbole. Once more, the press are reaping the whirlwind, and failing to cope with it.

UPDATE: Fantastic article today by Martin Samuel dealing with some points I raised here.