By Paul Gardner
Javier Aguirre, the coach of Mexico, gets no sympathy here. He got himself ejected during the Gold Cup game against Panama for a moment of blatant
stupidity, and he's paying the penalty with a three-game suspension.
At least he has admitted that he behaved foolishly. And without in any way diminishing my condemnation of him, I must
point out that he was a victim of the game's rule-makers. I mean the International Board (IFAB) and FIFA, which controls it.
If they had stuck to their own rules, it is likely -- almost
certain -- that Aguirre would not have been banished to the stands. But the IFAB has a tiresome habit of experimenting with the rules -- and changing them -- at the behest of ... coaches.
It seems that if "the coaches" want a change, they find it far too easy for the IFAB to arrange a rules experiment. In 1995 we were informed -- in the official FIFA News
-- that "For some
time now coaches have been clamoring for the chance to be able to exert more immediate influence on the course of the game."
They wanted timeouts. Sure enough, later that year during the
U-17 World Cup in Ecuador we had to endure the stupidity of an experiment with timeouts. A total flop and, as I discovered from my own informal survey of coaches at the tournament, only a minority of
them favored it anyway. Never mind, a coaches' clamor had been detected, and it was acted on.
Now, to the case of Javier Aguirre. This concerns the so-called technical area. There was no
such thing as a technical area until 1993. In the 1992 Rulebook, Rule 5 stated, as it had for decade, that the referee should not
"allow coaching from the boundary lines."
all changed in 1993. Coaches had been widely ignoring the ban so, rather than enforce the rule, the IFAB relaxed it - to accommodate the coach. Now he was allowed to approach the touchline to shout
instructions, but he must then return to the bench. And he must stay within the newly defined technical area.
And of course the coaches ignored the rule. They stayed on their feet, and
frequently wandered outside the technical area. Again, FIFA has caved in and relaxed the rule. The coach can now stay on his feet. The new, relaxed, rule was in force during the Confederations Cup,
and I'll bet you never noticed. Why would you -- coaches have been remaining on their feet for years now in defiance of the rule.
Simply backing down whenever there is likely to be
confrontation is not a good idea. The fourth official has born the brunt of the arguments with coaches on the sidelines. Now he doesn't have to worry any longer. And why should he worry if maybe two,
or even three coaching staff are standing up? If that trend continues, FIFA will likely permit that as well, so why get into arguments over a rule that's going to be nixed anyway?
maybe Aguirre (and there were at least two other Mexican staff members on their feet) should have been sitting down -- in which case he doesn't get involved and doesn't get ejected. I don't know
whether the new rule is in effect for the Gold Cup, but in practical terms it doesn't matter. Standing at the edge of the technical area has been the usual routine for years now. Which raises another
question mark about the technical area. In outlining the dimensions of the area, it is stated that it shall extend forward from the bench to within one yard of the touchline.
the coach -- legally -- within one yard of being on the field. And which put Aguirre -- legally -- in a position to stick out his leg and "interfere" with the Panamanian player Ricardo Phillips. Why
not keep the coaches further away from the playing field? Make that line, say, two or three yards from the touchline.
But that, no doubt, would involve another protest from the coaches,
who would claim that they would not be able to make themselves heard. Then what? Megaphones? Walkie-talkies? They've tried both -- plus even fitting out a player or two with a wireless receiver. All
frowned upon by FIFA. So far.
While I'm going on about coaches and the technical area, I should point out something that it was felt necessary to spell out in the rulebook: "The coach and
other occupants of the technical area must behave in a responsible manner." Heaven help us if FIFA ever decides to relax that one. Officially, I mean.