Monday, 4 April 2011

The Rooney Rules

Somewhat surprisingly, but pleasingly, the FA has taken action against Wayne Rooney for his foul-mouthed outburst upon scoring his hat-trick on Saturday against West Ham. 

I am surprised at this because I thought the FA would not stand up to a player of Wayne Rooney's standing (in the same way as I don't believe they would stand up to Gerrard, Terry or Lampard). I am happy to be proved wrong and that he is not above the FA's sanction and hope that the FA will continue down this vain in future when players commit similar offences.

This lunchtime I sparked the debate on Twitter because I called for Rooney to be banned. A number of commenters, perhaps unsurprisingly mostly Manchester United fans, criticised my view which, of course, is their right. Their criticisms were legion and many were well-informed.

With that in mind, I'll go through them.

Swearing is not a red card offence

The first was that calling for a ban was unfair and that ''swearing is not a red card or banning offence'. This we can clear up fairly swiftly

The FIFA Laws of the game 2010/2011 (Pg 35) quite clearly state what are cautionable offences (i.e. yellow card offences) and sending off offences.

''A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he commits any of the following seven offences:
  • unsporting behaviour
  • dissent by word or action
  • persistent infringement of the Laws of the game
  • delaying the restart of play
  • failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, free kick or throw in
  • entering or re-entering the field of play without the referee's permission
  • deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee's permission
''A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:
  • serious foul play
  • violent conduct
  • spitting at an opponent or any other person
  • denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
  • denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or penalty kick
  • using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures
  • receiving a second caution in the same match

Further, the Rules of the Football Association again quite clearly states in Section E. Conduct (Pg 112):

3  (1) A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in
any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a
combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or
insulting words or behaviour.

There are two further factors to consider here.

Firstly, some may contend that Rooney's language was neither ''offensive, insulting or abusive'' or 'threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting''. That is an interesting philological point but one that I think should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. 

Secondly, and more importantly, if the rules are applied properly then the only appropriate punishment for someone using offensive, insulting or abusive language is a red card. It doesn't matter, as far as I can see, in either the Laws of the game or the Rules of the FA whether that language is aimed at the referee, another player, a fan or millions of fans.

If people want to argue that the Law should be changed or the Rules of the FA should be changed then that is their prerogative. That is a different debate and one I would probably side with them on.

My view is that the current law is too broad in its focus so I would probably agree with those who wish to see the law changed. I would also be keen to see it downgraded to a yellow card offence or, better still, give the referee some discretion as to which card he uses.

Finally, remember that Didier Drogba received a six-game ban (with two suspended) for shouting 'It's a fucking disgrace' into a camera having accosted Tom Henning Øvrebø after a Champions League Match. Many will point to the fact that he was given that ban after the fact for accosting the referee but he was given a yellow card at the time by the referee. My understanding is that UEFA (a different disciplinary body but operating the same Laws) clamped down on Drogba for almost exactly the same offence as Rooney's at the weekend.

The FA and referees do not apply this fairly...

I absolutely agree that this is the case. That does not mean that the FA should not apply the law properly in this instance. Anyone arguing that is arguing an absurd position ''we know that it is against the Laws, we know what should occur but because it hasn't been applied elsewhere we shouldn't apply it'.

My view is that referees should enforce the law. As above, I'd rather the law was tightened in its focus but we are where we are. The only logical extension from those arguing that the referees and FA aren't fair or even-handed is that more players should get sent off or reviewed after the game for such behaviour.

If we want to change behaviour on the pitch (which is an 'if'. It is a perfectly respectable position to say actually this behaviour is fine or that using such language should only be an offence when directed at the referee) then we need to enforce this consistently at all levels. This is an opportunity for the FA and referees. What are the odds on them squandering it?

...and Steven Gerrard does it too and got away with it

As far as I am aware this is true. He should not have got away with it and he shouldn't get away with it in the future. I wrote when Mascherano had a brain implosion against Manchester United in spring 2008 that was the correct decision.

For the avoidance of doubt: If Steven Gerrard (or any player regardless of club) uses language that the referee believes to contravene the Laws of the game or his behaviour contravenes the Rules of the Football Association they should punish him appropriately. 

This is in the news and it isn't fair to jump on Wayne Rooney

Indeed it is in the news (keen readers will note that I tend to comment on news - as most bloggers and journalists do). It is, however, entirely fair to single out the individual that is in the news and it is entirely fair to call for a certain punishment against that individual as long as you are consistent enough to say that such a punishment should be enacted against others who commit the same offence.

I will gladly concede that I am a Liverpool fan but, in this instance, it do not believe that it colours my judgement. I wouldn't suggest that those debating against me were doing so from a partisan point of view although it is telling that the overwhelming majority were United fans. 

Many will not believe me. They will believe that my thoughts are motivated out of a dislike for Rooney (which I do not hold) or for Manchester United (which, admittedly, I do hold although I admire a lot about the side and club). That said, I doubt that many Liverpool fans write about Sir Alex Ferguson like this or Dimitar Berbatov like this. I am hardly a one-eyed Red or, at least, try not to be.

I should note that I have written extensively and consistently on these matters. In 2009, I went on at length about how to improve refereeing. Last November, I wrote, for STV and this blog, how to sort Scottish refereeing (covering the respect agenda and foul and abusive language). Only a few weeks ago I wrote this piece regarding the way football was eating itself by constantly critiquing referees.

So I'm hardly jumping on a bandwagon. It is probably fairer to say that I've been in the front seat of the blasted charabanc for some time now.



Anonymous said...

What I want to know is why anyone would give a damn about the rules when the rules basically allow for the FA to try to ban one player for swearing in a league where almost everyone clearly swears on the pitch (I am not a professional lip-reader but I've managed to work it out). Meanwhile, tackles like Jamie Carragher's on Nani go without serious charge because the referee 'dealt with it' on the pitch with a yellow card.

The rules are an ass here. Rooney is an ass too but that doesn't distinguish him from every other player. If you're going to start red-carding players for abusive language then why start here? Perhaps because the league is again looking to become a stale finish at the top? Just like when Mike Dean handed Chelsea the 3 pts at the Bridge? The Premiership is a massive cash cow and the powers that be cannot afford for any team to run away with it so here they are, treating Rooney in a way that they would never treat Riccardo Fuller (to pick a foul-mouthed player at random).

Rob Marrs said...

Or, indeed, Rafael da Silva's tackle on Lucas only a few seconds after Carragher.

I absolutely agree with you that the no retrospective punishment is insane.


John said...

or indeed the maxi tackle that proceeded the rafael tackle. but without raking up old mud i agree with the sentiments stated by the other guy above.

dearieme said...

All very well, but isn't the deeper question "What's wrong with Rooney?"

PR Pundit said...

I think the FA rules speak for themselves.

Comparing this situation to the likes of bad challenges which go unpunished isn't right.

In those cases the referee has simply misjudged, or perhaps not had a good enough view of the incident. With Rooney action can be taken because the only way the incident could be viewed was through the television screen.

Rob Marrs said...

That's a nonsense though, John.

If you genuinely believe the FA and referees are out to get United thee is little I can do to convince you.

Anonymous - you miss my point entirely: I'm arguing that (a) the rules are the rules (b) they should be enforced (c) they should affect Ricardo Fuller as they do Wayne Rooney.

A better question is:

If the most high-profile English player runs to a TV camera and swears into it, why not start dealing with it here?

We may as well start applying the rules properly. Now is as good a time as any to start.


Anonymous said...

LBITCR I have trawled the net for comments on this subject tonight and found that every MU fan thinks a ban is a disgrace and every other fan quite the opposite.
I completely agree your point that (somewhere in there) that this kind of behaviour influences young players and ultimately football will eat itself and be no more once the money has gone and the Referees no longer want to Referee matches.
Nice touch to highlight the laws of the game. It is frightening how few "experts" have actually seen the book let alone read them.

JuhanL said...

I agree that the rules should be enforced, whats the point of rules otherwise? They also have to be enforced everywhere, not selectively as it seems here. As is being said - many players are foul-mouthed.

The problem for me as a United fan is that without any warning they suddenly start handing out harsh bans. If the FA given a heads-up about a change in enforcing rules about this maybe this would not have happened? Or if it had happened, there would be a good argument for a harsh punishment.

So the question for me is - why start giving harsh punishments here without any warning? If they start giving punishments for such things out of the blue, then there's always room for biased fans(are there any completely unbiased ones?) to feel unfairly treated. The FA should avoid that unless there's something out of the ordinary. In this case I don't think it was that bad, especially as he apologised soon after the game.

The other thing I don't like generally is that they're trying to make football a game where no showing of emotion is allowed during the game(some goal celebrations get carded for example) and after the game(where managers are put into a situation where there's always going to be a few who will get bans because they like to say what they feel. If banning managers from the touchline is something the FA want to see, then they're doing ok. But I don't think thats their aim.
The players and managers should be able to express themselves without having to watch every word they say and for example celebrate goals as they want(more or less, a few exceptions are probably needed, but the current ones I feel are a bit harsh).