So the talk is now focused on what sort of punishment the MLS Disciplinary Committee will settle upon Nigel de Jong.
There are some problems here. For instance: One that I find very disturbing -- and one that I feel MLS could, and should, rectify pronto. We do not know who the members of the DisCo are. At a fundamental level, we do not even know whether members, faced with a case involving a club or a player with whom he has connections -- is required to recuse himself.
Call it a lack of transparency. It is certainly that -- but it also contains musty elements of the secrecy that has been traditional whenever referees are at work.
We are not allowed to know who the members of the DisCo are. We don’t know how they get appointed, what the criteria for consideration are. Always ex-players? An ex-referee? Or a current player and referee? Is there any attempt to ensure a soccer balance -- that there is always a forward and a defender and a midfielder? (I can safely assume that goalkeepers will always have their say).
The MLS response to those criticisms is that publishing the names of DisCo members would put them under pressure. Possibly it would. But -- unless your name happens to be Jurgen Klinsmann -- pressure is pretty constant in all aspects of the game. Something that is faced, not dodged.
A new element has emerged in the de Jong case. We’ve had the admirable Grant Wahl telling -- by some tweety message (are those things considered reliable?) -- that the DisCo will be suspending de Jong for three games. Which seems criminally but predictably inadequate. But does Wahl’s tweet indicate that a DisCo member has been talking to him? Given that the committee insists on shrouding itself in total secrecy, that’s all rather odd. Is leaking to the press a capital offense for DisCo members? Under the current omerta we shall not be allowed to know.
OK, so de Jong will be suspended. For sure. But for three games? Can that be right? Will the suspension be based only on this one tackle -- or will de Jong’s past record be considered? And if it is, should it be?
De Jong has previous (sorry, a term used in English police records) but I’d like to know who is assessing that record, and I’d like to know how the decision is arrived at. If any mitigating circumstances are considered, we should know what they are.
The DisCo is not a court. It is a quasi-legal body, its function is strictly penal. But its decisions should not be considered above appeal or repeal. I’m not sure about the decisions not being subject to appeal, but I’ve never come across a DisCo decision that’s been reversed.
There is also the matter of precedent. In 2011 Brian Mullan, playing for the Colorado Rapids, broke Steve Zakuani’s leg with a frighteningly violent tackle. He was red-carded. The DisCo later added a 9-game ban. Where does de Jong’s tackle, which did not break any bones, stand relevant to that?
Would three games be enough? Well, as it happens, we’ve just seen a top player in Italy -- Napoli’s Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain -- get a 4-game ban. For violent protest, for placing his hands on the referee’s chest. How do you measure a reckless tackle that seriously injures a player against a non-injury-producing confrontation with the referee?
Anyway, is MLS obliged to even take into account what soccer leagues in other countries do? Wouldn’t it make more sense to look at what basketball or baseball do?
Whatever punishment de Jong gets, you can be sure it will be deemed too lenient by some, and too harsh by others. I shall end up among the first group, no doubt, because I think de Jong’s lamentable history of violent play must weigh heavily against him.
No doubt he will be suspended. Grant Wahl, though not a member of DisCo, has assured us of that. Higuain got four games. Mullan got nine. There’s the range, I think.
Whatever the number, the DisCo urgently needs to revise its m.o. We -- and that includes Nigel de Jong -- need to know what’s going on. Simply a matter of making sure that justice is being done.