Commentary

Coaches instigate brutal foul play, and get away with it too

It's just over four years since I turned off the television half an hour into the final of the 2016 European Championship between Portugal and France in the Stade de Denis in Paris. I'd been watching the tournament closely for a month, and had even been to three games in person, but I couldn't stomach a single minute more. French midfielder Dimitri Payet had just kicked Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game and the Portuguese weren't even compensated with a free kick for the midfielder's brutal challenge.

The foul that English referee Mark Clattenburg inexplicably overlooked took place in the game's eighth minute. Ronaldo received a pass and was turning to lay it off, almost static, when Payet came deliberately and tardily crashing into his knee from the side. Though Ronaldo twice tried to resume after treatment, the player most likely to set the final alight was eventually replaced after 25 minutes.

I would be extremely surprised if Payet was not acting under instructions from his coach, Didier Deschamps -- a dour, defensive midfielder throughout his career whose highest accolade was to be labeled a 'water-carrier.' Make your first challenge on Ronaldo a hard one. See if you can soften him up for the rest of the game. It's not as if Ronaldo was in a dangerous position at the time. Although that too would have been no excuse for the challenge.

Payet could not have complained about a straight red card for the foul. According to reports, what followed was -- and this is one of the reasons I turned off -- a dire and turgid match eventually decided by a single goal in overtime. I was pleased when I found out that Portugal had won. I was also furious (and actually still am) that such a cynical and successful attempt to injure one of the two most exciting soccer players in the world, in a showcase final, passed almost without comment in the media. Just one of those things that happen in soccer.

Why am I bringing this up now? Because on Friday night, back in the Stade de France, there was a similar incident in the French Cup Final. Rustic St. Etienne defender Loic Perrin marked the end of his career by taking out Paris St. Germain's dynamic forward Kylian Mbappé less than half an hour into the game. Unlike the ineffective Clattenburg, referee Amaury Delerue couldn't help but spot this vicious challenge and -- after a huge on-field fight between the players of both teams, followed by a video review -- showed Perrin a straight red card.

PSG coach Thomas Tuchel pointed out after the game that this was the third time they'd played St. Etienne this season, and the third time that their opponents had received a red card within the game's first half hour. In the first two games, the final results are significant. In the league St. Etienne lost at home 0-4. In the League Cup quarterfinal, PSG won 6-1. So, intimidatory and borderline violent tactics in the game's opening phase didn't work. Yet St. Etienne, coached by Claude Puel -- a man with a 20-year touchline career record notable for negativity over spoils -- opted to try them a third time, this time narrowly losing 1-0. Mbappé joined in the post-game celebrations on crutches, and is doubtful for the remainder of PSG's Champions League campaign next month.

You could ask what a financially limited team like St. Etienne is to do against an oligarch-backed, star-packed hot favorite like PSG. It's true that the odds are stacked against them, and the only way to pinch a result is likely to be through a combination of strong defense, a lucky goal on the break, and a certain amount of physical play, combined with the hope that the Parisians might have an off-day. What they should certainly not do is resort to out-and-out brutal foul play. It's not just that it doesn't work -- even with a hopelessly lenient ref like Clattenburg. It's also morally wrong.

There's little to legislate against it, though, aside from the Laws of the Game. Even if these are properly applied, as they have been against St. Etienne this season, there's no punishment beyond a red card and a suspension (irrelevant in the case of the retiring Perrin). Coaches dictating such tactics will get clean away with whispering euphemistic instructions into the ears of their henchmen. They are more than likely to receive praise from the self-styled experts in the co-commentary position for 'smart' tactics. The coach's job is to win trophies, not garlands for pretty play!

The Bundesliga's Fair Play standings for the 2019-20 season has just been published. Cards issued to coaches were not included. Why not? Surely they are the ones most responsible for foul and dirty play. In fact, not only should SC Freiburg coach Christian Streich be the man at his club to personally receive the trophy for his team's first-place finish, but the coaches at the bottom should be hauled before a disciplinary panel to explain themselves. Preferably in public. Question One is a two-parter: Why do you hate soccer, and why are you trying to destroy the game?

11 comments about "Coaches instigate brutal foul play, and get away with it too".
  1. R2 Dad, July 28, 2020 at 4:58 p.m.

    I do not believe carding the coaches in that case is the solution. Persistent Infringement is already in the LOTG and made expressly to protect skill players, though I've never seen it given in professional football. It's the right tool, but I've never heard a proper explanation why it's not applied. I'd like to hear from Randy, AG, or any Grade 5+ on this topic.

  2. Bob Ashpole replied, July 29, 2020 at 12:51 a.m.

    USSF referee code of ethics: "(6) I will be loyal to my fellow officials and never knowingly promote criticism of them."

  3. Ian Plenderleith replied, July 29, 2020 at 1:39 a.m.

    @R2 Dad - just to clarify, I'm not suggesting coaches should be carded in such situations either. Obviously there's no way to prove that Deschamps, say, instructed Payet to crock Ronaldo. I'm just pointing out that coaches who incite their players to brutal fouls are unaccountable and operate with impunity.

    As a ref, I'll card for persistent infringement when a specific player is targeted, or a single player commits a series of niggly fouls, but the persistent infringement law is more aimed at low-level game-spoiling than what I'm discussing here - targeted, brutal tactics.

    @Bob - are you making that up? I'm all for solidarity in certain situations (for example, you're running the line but your colleague in the centre is having an off day and getting flak from the spectators - it's your duty to back him/her up and keep them in order), but criticism is vital to improving standards. Poor standards of refereeing or serially mediocre officials should be acknowledged and acted upon because they reflect badly on the rest of us. 

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, July 29, 2020 at 9:23 a.m.

    Ian, The quote is current USSF policy found under Bylaw 531-11, Nation Referee Development Program.

  5. R2 Dad replied, July 30, 2020 at 1:35 a.m.

    I think Ian's take is a good one, though that clause sure does explain FIFA referees. Whenever asked, in the presence of only other referees, any memorable errors they've seen, the 2 FIFA refs I've spoken with claim they have not made any mistakes, these aren't the droids you're looking for, and continue on as if they never heard the question. Which is odd, since all referees make mistakes, it's just that we mortals are allowed them but FIFA refs are not!

  6. frank schoon, July 29, 2020 at 9:42 a.m.

    I don't know what the answer for this is for this game is played, coached, reffed by humans. Cheating, rough play, ref incompetence, fan pressure, in every degree will always happen. I don't know how you can stop it other than the ref playing it tough on fouls especially bad fouls.  Look at what happens during corners ,the fouls, the grabs and nothing is called and I can guarantee you there are fouls occurring in the penalty area that should be called as penalties, but it DOESN'T happen....

    Look complaining about all this will go on forever ,it won't be stopped, we just have to deal with it as it comes.  Look at the VAR that suppose clean up things instead now we have so many, like me, wanting to get rid of the damn thing and live with it .. This game has been around for over a 120 years and it has done pretty well, warts and all.

    I wish somehow we could get former pro players to become refs, for they are much better in reading the nuances , the flows and spirit of the game.  We had a ref in Holland a former pro who was one of the best refs ever for he was able to place himself into game, so to speak, who could really see and judge whether a foul, which appears to a normal ref and fans in the stadium as a bad foul, but really wasn't for he could read all the nuances. 

     This guy was loved by all the players for he understood them. One time a player ,during the heat of the game, criticized him for making what he thought was a bad call. He replied ,saying that the player sucked this first half and suggested to wear glasses for some of his passes were horrible.  The back and forths going on between him and the players were great and funny, but they all understood his call in the end matters...but it least he allowed them to blow off steam and get it off their chests and realize at the same he will answer them back....

    I wish we had refs like that for so many of these refs enter the field with a "napoleon" complex and couldn't take the ribbing. You would have much better cordiality and respect between the players and the ref in this manner.....

  7. Randy Vogt, July 29, 2020 at 3:09 p.m.

    Violent behavior is a major reason why I still believe that a team with a red card should have one less player on the field. Otherwise, a goon could take out the opposing team's star, the fouling player is sent off and if he/she could be replaced, the teams would play at 11 vs. 11 even though the fouled team no longer has their best player on the field.

  8. Kent James, July 30, 2020 at 2:21 a.m.

    I couldn't agree with the sentiment of this article more.  Brutal tactics will destroy the game. 

  9. Wooden Ships, July 31, 2020 at 11:28 a.m.

    I remember taking care of dirty players on the field, during the run of play. That was true regardless of what the Center did. 

  10. Bob Ashpole replied, August 1, 2020 at 6:43 p.m.

    Yeah. Strikers play in a crowd and have to protect themselves. Wingers have more space and time. Markers can't foul someone they can't catch up to. And it is more obvious when a winger is fouled. 

  11. beautiful game, July 31, 2020 at 3:57 p.m.

    Under the leadership of Don Infantino, don't expect any due diligence whatsoever.

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