Aguirre outburst exposes FIFA flaws

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."

That 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?

So 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.

Which puts 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.


6 comments about "Aguirre outburst exposes FIFA flaws".
  1. Tom Symonds, July 13, 2009 at 10:06 a.m.

    I am in the dark about why a "technical area" is needed for soccer. After all, what is SO TECHNICAL about a field of grass and some white lines? If "technical" details are so important then doesn't the coach have the time to prepare his team beforehand for the match; doesn't the captain insure the "technical" aspects are being applied during the match; doesn't the coach have the halftime break to impart any new "technical" wisdom; and doesn't the coach have late-in-the-game substitutes to execute last minute "technical" wizardry. Funny, I don't remember Sir Alf Ramsey wandering the England touch line in 1966 - gee, he won the World Cup without a "technical area." How did that happen?

  2. Kent James, July 13, 2009 at 11:48 a.m.

    If FIFA really does not want coaching from the sidelines, don't put it on the referee to prohibit coaches from saying anything, simply ban the coaches from the bench area. If they aren't allowed to coach, why do they need to be there? Put them up in the press box; from there, they can see the field better, and that would probably allow them to have better insight into what they need to say to their team at halftime. It would certainly eliminate any behavioral issues with the coaches.

  3. John Polis, July 13, 2009 at 2:24 p.m.

    The technical area is simply a name that FIFA uses to refer to an area occupied by the "technical staff," which is a more international term for coaching staff. The word "coach" is rarely used in international circles - it is usually "manager," and some teams have a person in the position of "technical director," one who usually has authority over the coach.

  4. John Polis, July 13, 2009 at 2:28 p.m.

    Agreed with Mr. Gardner that FIFA is the victim of its own rule shifts here. Part of the beauty of soccer is that most of the coaching takes place prior to an actual match. Allowing coaches to get closer and closer to the field brings another "non-participant" into the flow of activityand runs the risk of making coaches more important than they are. Coaches, in my opinion, should observe and make changes to lineups as necessary, but they should stay away from the playing area, unless they need to confer with the 4th official. The game is about the players and the less we insert coaches into the flow of the game, the better.

  5. , July 13, 2009 at 4:44 p.m.

    As a both a referee and a coach, my observation is that most coaches at the youth level in the US are ignorant of proper bench etiquette (and less of a grasp on the laws of the game than most youth referees). Those with lower level coaching licenses (E and D) usually never receive any instruction with regard to bench etiquette during their training. Coaches with higher licenses may have received some instruction, but by that time have ingrained habits and attitudes towards their "rights" on the touchline.
    In their defense, with the advancement of professional youth soccer, many of their livelihoods are dependant upon victories. Over time, they have adopted more active roles as a means to attempt to exert more influence over the outcomes of matches. They all nod & parrott the conventional wisdom of coaching during training & observing during matches... but that all goes out the window when parents show up and start breathing down their necks.
    It will take years for the culture to evolve to the point where parents wield less power, and coaches are compensated on long-term results (true player development) rather than season-to-season winning records.
    In the interrim, referees should enforce the laws of the game as they pertain to bench behavior - thus educating coaches and simultaneously improving the game.
    Referees should not (as is currently the case) go head-hunting for coaches who step out of line. Most coaches, if instructed as to the referees expectations, will adhere to them. Ambushing coaches for behavior that has been tolerated up until now, only exacerbates the existing us versus them mentality. Coaches and Referees should both be working for the good of the game.

  6. Bobby Bribiesca, July 15, 2009 at 10:23 a.m.

    As a coach for over 30 years, I favor the technical area. It seems to work for other sports so why not for soccer. I have a choice to sit on the bench or stand up and help my team. If the coach is over coaching and disrupting the game, then the league officials should apply consequences to said coach. The Referee has more issues to deal with than having to control the coach.

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