"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.)