A Van Basten idea worth considering: only captains speak to refs

By Mike Woitalla

When FIFA technical director Marco van Basten reeled off a list of possible rule changes most, like getting rid of offside, could be easily dismissed. But his solution to prevent the mobbing of referees should be seriously considered.

“There is far too much complaining about the referee, and that also wastes time,” Van Basten said. “So it would be a good idea if like in rugby only one player on the team -- the captain -- is allowed to speak with the referee.”

The rugby rulebook reads: "Only the captain is entitled to consult the referee during the match."

The soccer rulebook reads: “The team captain has no special status or privileges but has a degree of responsibility for the behavior of the team.”

In soccer, all too frequently a foul is called and the referee gets an earful, often from several players at a time. And all too often, the referee does not react as the rules demand.

The FIFA rulebook is unequivocal: “A player is cautioned if guilty of dissent by word or action.”

But you don’t have to watch much soccer to see that referees let lots of dissent go unpunished. Pretty much every game goes by with refs putting up with complaints without showing yellow. And in the worst-case situations, they put up with two or three or more players crowding around to complain as a free kick is delayed.

Sometimes you see five or six players crowd the ref -- but only one or two get a yellow card.

As Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner pointed out in his column about Van Basten’s suggestions, the sport of soccer has a problem with referees not accurately enforcing rules as they already exist.

Why don’t refs caution players for every act of dissent? Probably because referees tend to get criticized when they show a lot of cards, regardless of how justifiable. And yellow cards for every act of dissent would increase the likelihood of ejections. That tends to lead to accusations that the referees had too much of an influence on the outcome of a game.

I would think that if referees actually did start enforcing the dissent rule, players would quickly stop after they see that each incident results in a caution. But we have seen leagues like MLS and the English Premier League make announcements about cracking down on players’ misconduct with hardly any decrease in incidents of dissent.

A rule in which the captain, and the captain only, is allowed to consult with the referee would make the referee’s job much easier -- and make it harder for the critics to object when a referee cautions for dissent.

Every time a player without the armband approaches the referee, it’s a yellow card, period. That would get rid of the mobbing that plagues the game.

The captain would still be cautioned if he dissented or communicated in an abusive manner. But the captain would have the right to get a brief explanation of the call.

14 comments about "A Van Basten idea worth considering: only captains speak to refs".
  1. Wooden Ships, January 24, 2017 at 9:49 p.m.

    It's needed. That's the way I remember it being, back in the day. Watching the "modern" game, post 70's haha, is painful witnessing players histrionics. Everyone is a victim.

  2. Ed M, January 24, 2017 at 10:08 p.m.

    The rule doesn't work in the US college game or in the US high school game. Leagues have the power to also penalize players for inappropriate behavior. The Referees should not be all t blame for poor player behavior.

  3. Wooden Ships replied, January 24, 2017 at 10:26 p.m.

    Agreed Ed, it shouldn't be totally the ref's responsibility. When I coached college players, 11years, I only permitted my Captain to address the Center. It took a little getting use to by some incoming freshmen, but they quickly agreed. This was 2001-2011. Our teams played with a greater discipline and virtually every year we were recognized by Adidas and NSCAA for sportsmanship. The referees have a very difficult job and coaches have a duty to assist and lead their players.

  4. Bob Ashpole, January 24, 2017 at 10:11 p.m.

    Except right now, no player is allowed by the rules to speak to the referee.

  5. R2 Dad, January 24, 2017 at 11:41 p.m.

    Can anyone ever remember a player remonstrating with a referee, and the referee then rescinding a card, or changing his mind? I suppose it's happened, but in 99.8% of the cases the official doesn't listen to the players, only the AR/4th officials. The mobbing of the center ref is useless, yet still persists because officials haven't clamped down on this kind of nonsense. Carding this early and often will help curb the behavior, but it will take league persistence and uniform application. Of course, if the center doesn't spot an egregious infraction, then the indignation seems justified. But I like the captain-only suggestion.

  6. Thomas Brannan, January 25, 2017 at 1:07 a.m.

    Was watching a rugby game, briefly, one time. A rugby player said something to the referee. The referee responded, "shut up, this isn't football." If the authority said that is going to stop, the referees would stop it. The referees, if they did their job, wouldn't have a job.

  7. Paul Cox, January 25, 2017 at 6:59 a.m.

    We referees simply have to ruthlessly and completely enforce the rule and start cautioning for dissent. I've worked with refs on youth games who did it this way and it works.

  8. Kent James replied, January 25, 2017 at 3:41 p.m.

    I agree, but this can be problematic when a group of players surround the referee (giving 4 or 5 cautions does seem excessive). One way to solve this would be for the ref to caution the captain (who is responsible for the behavior of the team, as the law says) when more than one player dissents. Then, perhaps peer pressure would work to keep the other players from dissenting (to prevent their captain, who is usually a pretty key player, from getting thrown out).

  9. Ian Harper replied, January 25, 2017 at 11:10 p.m.

    This "ruthless" comment is typical of the ref mentality that wants to control the outcome of the game as if we're there to watch them. Feel sorry for the AYSO players in your region.

    The most effective refs I've seen are the ones that establish an atmosphere of friendly mutual respect.

  10. John Toutkaldjian, January 25, 2017 at 7:22 a.m.

    What a poor example these "professionals" present to the youth and the fan with their constant dissent by word or expression to every call made. It's a blight on the game. The TV director only adds to the problem by focusing on the player--keep the camera off him! Referees need to be given support and encouragement in this.

  11. Michael Canny, January 25, 2017 at 7:55 a.m.

    My biggest issue is not with the players, but with others on the sidelines, especially spectators. Unfortunately, as John says, this sets a very poor example for the players.

  12. Ian Harper, January 25, 2017 at 9:33 a.m.

    Another dumb idea from Woitalla and Gardner. To read these two clowns, you'd think the purpose of the game is to cheer for the creative ways that the three blind mice can unduly influence the outcome of the game.

    Soccer's biggest problem is finding ways to get rid of or minimize the impact of referees on games. Highlight films are weekly reminders of their incompetence and inconsistency. Arsenal v. Burnley is just the latest outrage with no consequence and no way to correct the inevitable result of human error, unlike every other major sport.

    Van Bastien's better ideas are unlimited subs and not having to stop play for subs (it's a big field, just exit anywhere), anything that further minimizes the refs impact on the game.

    Science shows why referees are consistently wrong even when not purely incompetent (see Kahneman and Tversky). Reducing referee power and influence on the game, not the opposite, is the only rational way forward.

  13. Kyr-Roger St.-Denis, January 25, 2017 at 9:38 a.m.

    If refs feel abused by bitchy players, they already have the authority they need to deal with it. This idea is just an attempt to generate controversy: in this case, to sell magazines; by van Bastien, to distract from Lord knows what scheme.

  14. humble 1, January 25, 2017 at 11:26 a.m.

    My 10 y.o. son plays soccer. In soccer, he and other kids and parents berate refs, throw up their hands in frustration, etc., etc., all of us with kids have seen it. They do what they see on TV. He also plays Rugby. In Rugby, he never ever questions the ref. Just like what you see on TV. Monkey see, monkey do. Rugby is a much more technical sport, many more rules and violations, even more than American Football. The captain rule is effective at keeping the ref free to resolve issues quickly and consult with the technical team that supports his/her decisions. Rugby also has replay and refs are mic'd and have cameras that TV can cut to. Soccer could learn a lot from Rugby, but in England, they know all this, and they choose otherwise.

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