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.