OPINION: Will players give red card to new clean-up initiative
As the new football season kicks off, get set for carnage '” in both the Premier League and the newly-named English Football League, the EFL.
Just a few weeks ago the two joined with the Football Association to reveal new plans designed to reduce what they termed intolerable behaviour by players and managers.
Most would agree with their assessment that poor conduct within the professional game, on the pitch at least, has reached unacceptable levels.
Most would also agree that something needs to be done, so some sort of action has to be applauded at least for its sentiments. But will it be successful?
For we all know that previous attempts to crack down on indiscipline on the pitch always seem to hit the headlines for a few weeks, have a little impact but then drift away.
In fact, let’s be honest, they just get kicked into the long grass before the autumn.
Starting this season, red cards will be dished out to players who confront match officials and use offensive language or make gestures towards them.
Managers will also have to watch their conduct within their technical areas on the sidelines.
The authorities say that players will be sent off if they confront a referee or assistant referee using offensive, insulting or abusive language or gestures towards them — and if they touch the match officials in an aggressive or confrontational manner.
Yellow cards will be handed out for a variety of offences, including if two or more players surround a referee to contest a decision.
The other offences include:
Offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures towards match officials.
Visibly being disrespectful to any match official.
Confronting an official face to face.
An aggressive response to decisions.
Running towards an official to contest a decision.
Physical contact with any match official in a non-aggressive manner.
In other words, the hounding of match officials by the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United seen so often over previous years should face action this season. But will it?
For the first few weeks there could be several red cards per match if referees enforce the new regulations to the letter of the new laws.
But for the past five seasons not one player has been sent off in the Premier League for insulting or abusive language towards a match official, even though we have all seen instances of those offences.
So will referees now have the guts to crack down on high-profile players and clubs overstepping the mark?
I doubt it. All that will happen is that clubs in the lower leagues will be punished, high-profile managers like Jose Mourinho will make a fuss when one of their players gets a yellow card under the new rules, and then it will all go away again.
Critics also say the rules do not take account of the passion in the game — and question who the abusive language is actually upsetting.
Well other sports seem to manage fine without the open dissent towards match officials by players, who feel the need to scream expletives at television cameras or for all to see and hear everytime a decision goes against them.
Cricket has successfully cracked down on sledging and rugby, both union and league codes, teaches far better discipline and respect in their players.
And do we really want our children to think that it is acceptable to scream abuse at someone in authority purely because we don’t like one of their decisions?
What sort of example does that set?
As football is the biggest sport in this country, the one that fills more minutes on our TV screens and column inches in newspapers, it is inevitably copied by children — right from Sunday league matches through to non-league, the EFL and the Premier League.
So isn’t it time that the sport embraced and backed moves to clean-up its act?
I know that this initiative will struggle to make an impact, particularly in the Premier League, but we have to start somewhere.