As with everything that happens in the world these days, Arsene Wenger’s shove of a referee last weekend has spawned many thinkpieces and much debate, most of it online and most of it either annoying or useless, and often both. I mean, Wenger did something he shouldn’t do, and that’s bad; he’ll get some small sanction, and that’s...good? Sort of?
One writer doesn’t think the sanction to be given (at the time of this writing, said sanction hadn’t been handed down yet) is strong enough. But, unlike a lot of other writers and Internet experts-about-things-they-don’t-know-much-about, this writer, Matt Dickinson from the Times, has a novel solution - not just for Wenger this time, but for any high-level manager who abuses a referee in any way whatsoever.
Not for him the stadium ban - although he suggests that as an alternative punishment, he rightly says it’ll probably never happen. Dickinson’s idea is that, if a manager shoves or otherwise abuses a referee, that manager should be made to referee a Sunday league football team for a week, as a sort of community service/penance sort of thing, in order to see how hard it actually is to be a referee and, presumably, gain some empathy for the refs and what they do.
It’s an interesting proposition, to be sure, if unrealistic. As Dickinson points out, Premier League referees are given every advantage, including a comprehensive review of every decision they make in a game after that game. If an Arsene Wenger-level manager were to take charge the big Chumbley Town/Toodle Pip United match or whatever, that manager might gain an appreciation for how hard a referee works when he is the one on the business end of those shouts.
He may also see the amount of ridiculous abuse that referee gets from the locals when he blows a call - in small settings like that, if you want to abuse a ref - and many people do! - it’s a lot harder to hide behind a crowd of 25 when you’re standing on the touchline shouting YOU SUCK REF than when you’re in a seat in the second tier of the Emirates shouting the same thing. In the latter scenario, you’re really only annoying your seat-mates (seriously, don’t be that person), where at a Sunday league game, pretty much everyone hears you.
It may be a bit naive to think that a stint as a Sunday league referee would teach the most highly compensated managers in the game, men for whom there are almost literally billions of dollars at stake and who live, for the most part, under constant scrutiny that could lead to the end of their job at literally any moment, enough empathy to completely eliminate their mistreatment of referees. But it couldn’t hurt, could it?
By the way, none of this is to say that referees are beyond criticism. They’re absolutely not! They should be held to account, and they should be challenged when necessary. But as with all things, there’s a line, and that line just keeps moving and getting distorted and trampled on. And Wenger’s example is by no means the worst, it’s just the latest, so it’s getting the most heat.
It’s also a bit one-sided; I mean, Arsene Wenger takes about 10,000 times as much criticism in an average week than Mike Dean takes in an entire season, and nobody says anything about that, because it’s expected to be part and parcel of a manager’s job. SPOILER ALERT: it isn’t. And nobody’s writing thinkpieces about how Mike Dean should try managing because it’s really hard.
Just because the job is hard doesn’t mean it’s beyond criticism. But that criticism, when it comes, shouldn’t come in an in-game shove or shouting match. It should come in the post-game handshake, or in a meeting, or some other venue - not so it’s out of public view, but so it’s a little separated from the heat of the moment and can be made more effectively.
But, as much as this idea may not be the best idea ever, and as much as it’ll never happen, as Thomas said when I mentioned I was writing this piece:
“I will admit that i’d pay good money to watch Jose Mourinho get forced to referee a pickup game.”