Commentary

Carding the coach will be a rule for the greater good

The new Bundesliga season doesn't kick off until next weekend, but there's already been a chorus of moaning from coaches about one of the most important new changes to the Laws of the Game. They don't like the fact that referees can now show them yellow and red cards. Put another way, they don't want to be held accountable for their conduct on the touchline.

"They shouldn't be making robots out of us," Hertha Berlin coach Ante Covic told kicker magazine in a survey at the end of last month. "This sport lives from emotions, and to a certain extent these emotions should be given free rein." His counterpart at Fortuna Düsseldorf, Friedhelm Funkel, added, "I really hope that they have a re-think on this and allow coaches to stay impulsive."

Adding his voice to the litany of whining is Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann, who claimed that if the law is implemented to the letter, and coaches are shown a red card merely for leaving their zone (he doesn't mention that it's for "protesting to match officials, or complaining to them, provoking them or inciting them"), then at most he's going to spend 15 games this season on the bench, and the rest banished to the stand. Well, Julian, whatever it takes.

Finally there's Werder Bremen's Florian Kohfeldt, the only coach in the league to be sent to the stands during the whole of last season. "I think it's going to strain the relationship between coach and referee," he said. "What emotions will that fire up in the stadium when the referee runs from the middle of the field to the bench to show a yellow card?" Wait a minute, I thought emotions were a good thing? If you believe most of the coaches we see dancing up and down and ululating like bullfrogs on spring break, then it's what the game runs on. Everybody should get a free pass for poor behavior because they were just showing their emotions.

Except these are professional coaches. Their job is to win soccer games, not act out the entire canon of human sentiment. And when they're shown emoting, thousands of ambitious coaches up and down the land, and around the world, also interpret that superfluous hysteria as part of their job too. That is why refereeing has become so difficult in the amateur game, especially for younger referees intimidated by adults gesticulating and roaring at them from the touchline. That is why the new rule exists. Coaches have brought it upon themselves.

In Germany, around half of teenage referees quit within two years because of loud and angry coaches. This choleric behavior is inexcusable for another reason: when these coaches are in charge of youth teams, that culture of complaint is reflected in their players, who look to their coach as a model of how to behave. With emotion. With negative emotion, manifested through dissent at every decision. From now on, simply being able to show a card -- rather than going over to appeal to the coach to calm down -- has made the job of younger and inexperienced referees a whole lot easier.

It's typical of the professional sphere to view this new law solely from their own perspective, and kicker would have done well to ask some people at the lower end of the game for their views. It will be imperative, however, for referees in the professional game to implement the law. Rules that are ignored in front of a mass TV audience tend to be ignored at all levels.

As with any new rule, the game tends to quickly adjust once the initial moaning is over and done with (which, let's face it, is one of the things that coaches do best, so perhaps it's understandable they're keen to maintain that right). It would be lovely to think we'll return to an era when coaches give their teams instructions in the locker room, then sit and calmly take notes during play. It would probably be more beneficial to the players too. In my view, 'emotional' coaches are as integral to the game of soccer as celebrity fans, $100 tickets for exhibition games, and half-and-half scarves.

As a referee, I'm not interested in emotions, especially not emotions fueled by anger and a misguided sense of injustice. I'm a neutral with no stake in the outcome, so I'm going to be unaffected by someone screaming at me, other than to think such a person needs to be eliminated from the field because they're not fit to be in charge of children. Coaches need to calm down and find another outlet for their cherished emotions, preferably one that keeps them away from kids. Go paint-balling or get therapy.

I believe this law, if properly executed, will ensure that quiet benches become the new norm. This will be of huge benefit to the sporting values of what has become a game in name only. Far from turning us into robots, it's far more likely to make us act like human beings instead.

(Ian Plenderleith is a European-based soccer writer. His latest book, "The Quiet Fan," is available here. His previous book, "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League," is available here.)

9 comments about "Carding the coach will be a rule for the greater good".
  1. Randy Vogt, August 5, 2019 at 2:33 p.m.

    Most of the games that I have refereed already used cards for coach's misconduct as that encompasses college, HS as well as most youth games in the United States. Without utilizing the display of a card, it can be one person's word against another as coaches in arbitration meetings can say that they simply asked the ref what the call was and were dismissed, not mentioning that the ref told the coach to change his/her behvior a few minutes earlier. With the display of a yellow card, there can be no misinterpretation that the coach has been warned. After a tournament game that I did not ref, the BU11 coach who had been given a yellow and then a red card came to the tent to try and squirm out of his suspension for the next game, bringing along the opposing coach for back-up that he did nothing wrong. He was not successful as the tournament realized that if he had done nothing wrong, why did he step on the field and complain to the ref after he already had received a caution a few minutes earlier?

  2. beautiful game, August 5, 2019 at 4:42 p.m.

    If referees would do their job at the pro-level, this wouldn't be an issue. Referees are the main perps in letting pro-players dictate the game after the former swallow the whistle and later card a player for a mickey mosuse foul. This rule is typical of not addressing the root causes of permissivenes and selective enforcement. It is also unfair to judge coaches responses at the youth and senior levels. In most cases, youth level problems are generated by parents.

  3. uffe gustafsson replied, August 5, 2019 at 5:08 p.m.

    Youth level coaches sets the example for their parents.
    loud coaches equal loud and obnoxious parents.

  4. Ben Myers replied, August 6, 2019 at 1 p.m.

    After coaching and officiating for many years in youth soccer, I have to agree 100% with Uffe Gustafson.  Coaches set the behavioral standard for their players and their fans.  Issuing cards to coaches is exactly what is needed at the youth level.  Without the display of a card, the dialogue between referee and coach becaomes another one of those famous he-said-she-said situations.  With the card, the action of the referee is clear and obvious for all to see.  With a lot of teen referees running around and not yet having mastered the verbiage of ask-tell-dismiss, a card is unambiguous.  At the higher levels of the sport, why the histrionics?  Why not do what coaches are supposed to do, namely, figure out how the team can change to play better?  In the EPL, Guardiola, Klopp and Pochettino set a good example by coaching their teams, unleashing emotions directed at their players, and haranguing referees quite infrequently.

  5. Bob Ashpole, August 5, 2019 at 6:15 p.m.

    This is merely a procedural change, not a substantive change. Coaches have always been accountable for their actions on pain of dismissal. The use of cards is thought to better avoid confusion than "ask-tell-dismiss", as Randy pointed out.

    Maybe the concept is new to coaches in Europe, but US coaches should not be surprised by the use of cards to dismiss a coach.

  6. uffe gustafsson, August 5, 2019 at 7:23 p.m.

    The ask tell and now yellow card is what we have.
    you always verbally tell a coach to stop his dissent.
    when that is not working the yellow card comes out.
    if the coach don’t get the message then red card comes out. And it’s in the game report.
    so now the league have to actually do something.
    before I’m not so sure the league did something when you dismissed a coach from the field.
    this just make it very official as in you did all the things before dismissing a coach.
    its long over due, I don’t need a coach to ruin my weekend for getting $30 to ref and listen to that abuse. It happened to many times, and if I was a teenager I also hang up my whistle not worth the $30 for the game. But also for the pro leagues the antics you see is what some coaches in youth think is fine.
    it always start from the top.

  7. John Soares, August 5, 2019 at 8:09 p.m.

    Nothing new here. An obnoxious player, spectator OR coach should be warned/removed...
    For the benefit of the game, sport and everyone else around.

  8. Kent James, August 5, 2019 at 8:35 p.m.

    John and Bob are right, this is not a momentous change.  But it is a good one, since it makes the actions of the referee more transparent (even in the ref's own mind).  When a ref tells a coach to "cool it" or "settle down", is that a verbal caution?  If the ref displays a card, that let's everyone know.  


    BG is also right; it is crucial that the refs at the pro level utiliize this tool to better control the behavior of the coaches, because that sets the tone.  If the pros aren't doing it, why would anyone else?  And failing to enforce the rules on behavior may put the coaches who don't "work the refs" at a disadvantage.  We should be punishing poor behavior and promoting good behavior.  

  9. Arnold Goldberg, August 6, 2019 at 1:47 p.m.

    Pro coaches in baseball, hockey, basketball and American football are subject being "carded" through warnings, ejections, penalties for misconduct, techical fouls unsportsmanlike conduct etc. Why must soccer be different? We all understand that the beautiful game brings out passion and emotion. Lines get crossed. There is no place in sport for haranguing officials. Especially at the pro level, the center rewferee must have maximum control. Being able to use the cards on coaches only makes sense.

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