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Why Wenger’s Watchwords Are Worth Repeating

Eton Blue at the Chelsea Megastore

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“Respect is the collective responsibility of everyone involved in football, at all levels, to create a fair, safe and enjoyable environment in which the game can take place.” 


This is the opening sentence of the FA’s Referees and Respect programme and, if the purpose was to make an immediate impact with a watchword or two, ‘collective responsibility’ was surely the sound byte of choice and design. That said, if you were thinking of sounding like a fair-minded organisation, by merely paying lip service to good intention, well, you would say something like that, wouldn’t you? Indeed, later on in the piece, buried deep within the guidelines under the heading ’How referees should kick-off Respect’, we find the following broadening of this balanced, give-and-take approach:-


“Respect will only work if we are fair and consistent. Ignore people’s abusive behaviour, those who do not keep to their Code, and the Respect programme is immediately undermined. As a referee you have a pivotal role to play.”


Odd, isn’t it, how the FA and its commissioners can see fit to steer match officials along a highway signposted ‘Collective Responsibility’, via those twin byways of fairness and consistency, yet, when faced with a similar route to righteousness themselves, they choose instead to set off randomly, like competitors in a Pythonesque race for those with no real sense of direction. Somewhat inevitably, this leads us once again to Jose’s highlighting of the contradiction inherent in the FA’s latest disciplinary charge against him, begging the question - is he justified in his persistent [indirect] references to Arsene Wenger’s preferential treatment, through repeated use of his [seemingly acceptable] ’weak and naïve’ comments when describing a referee’s performance? Personally, I think he has every right to ram home the anomalous point as often as he can, and here’s why…


Let me start by refreshing everyone’s memory in respect of Wenger’s actual words:-


 “In every game there’s aggravation, he [Costa] gets away with it because referees are weak. For me, it is always in provocation and he uses well the naivety of Mike Dean today.”


Quite frankly, Wenger’s blanket generalisation regarding referees ’weakness’ may satisfy the FA’s criteria for consistency, but it wouldn’t pull the wool over the eyes of any sensible assessor in any other walk of life. Nor does a restriction of Mike Dean’s naivety [just to today] absolve the Frenchman from his own, very obvious, blaming of an official for being gullible and disingenuous - call him what you will, it’s still a slight on Dean’s integrity and is simply another way of saying that he cannot be relied upon to do his job properly. However, if the FA really do want to see things differently, whilst maintaining their moral high ground up there on top of Mount Consistency, what is wrong with reminding them of their laughably lofty position at every turn, at every press conference, and at every post match interview?


To my mind, the sheer repetitiveness of the point being made in this way is akin to the constant shirt-tugging that has gone unpunished in penalty areas for years - you might as well join in, unjustifiable as it may be, because consistency has long since been replaced by officialdom acceptance and, much to the embarrassment of all the referees confronted by it, they are powerless to act, as continuity would lead to countless sending-offs. Blatant shirt-tugging in the box is therefore ignored almost in its entirety, the odd exception being made when the fancy takes the official, and that’s just what has happened with Wenger’s comments too - the FA took a fancy not to charge him, whereas Jose has become their prime target. In such circumstances, Jose’s reaction is understandable and he has decided to adopt this if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them attitude towards the whole situation. Indeed, to all those who might say that two wrongs don’t make a right in this instance, I would respectfully suggest that for some considerable time now we as a club have done nothing right for doing everything wrong in the eyes of the FA and repeatedly using the same words as their fragrant Frenchman seems to me like a valid use of the perfect Get Out Of Jail Free card. 


Of course, not surprisingly, the Media response to all of this was bound to be to pander to the mass audience it thinks it has and even though the FA and Jose at loggerheads is a close call to make in terms of taking sides, the latter portrayed as an obsessive was always going to be the more attractive option, especially in an era when the FA’s very own balance of probability test is weighted heavily in favour of them stuffing up on a regular basis on a variety of other issues anyway - a veritable case of a Dyke disaster on demand for the hacks. Graham Poll’s polemic comes as no surprise either, its clear implication being that Jose is always wrong when criticising referees, whilst they are always right, regardless of the manner in which the criticism is delivered. Parrot-like repetition for Polly would be a massive irritant, as it would be for press and pundits alike, the prospect of them having a constant flow of ‘weak and naïve’ comments not being a newsworthy one at all and reminiscent of every interview Manuel Pellegrini has ever given. And talking of other managers, you never know, the catch-all phrase might easily catch on with them when they’re asked to comment on a contentious decision at the end of the game, thereby frustrating the media still further.  


So, somewhat curmudgeonly and not to everyone’s taste I know, but that’s my take on whether or not the boss should go into weak and naïve default mode. Why not give it a try, what’s the worst that can happen? And you never know, Arsene Wenger may just have hit upon the ultimate in acceptable two-word critical response - in which case, respect to him and all hail the ultimate in FA punishment panaceas!                


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