Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A walk in the Garden(er)

The other day I ran across Paul Gardner's articles in Soccer America regarding refereeing in MLS and the points of emphasis for the 2011 season. Both are worth a read and are noted here:

Will refs respond to Garber's sensible request?

MLS: No change, despite Garber's Plea

While I would disagree about Mr. Gardner's characterization of referees in several points he makes (e.g. referees are slow to change ... quite an analysis after one whole week in the 2011 season) there is an excellent point that shines through, albeit not directly.

That point is how symbiotic the relationship is between the referees and the success of THE game in the US. Now one relationship that was not explored, and in fact dismissed outright is the relationship between the referee and the players. From the article:
If there's one thing that MLS referees could be told not to do, it is to administer these little disciplinary chats, complete with the exaggerated arm gestures intended to make a feeble referee look tough. If it’s a foul, call it. If it’s a yellow card, give it. The same with a red. There is no need for explanations or any words at all. The players know the rules ... or they are supposed to. If they don’t, that is their problem.
There are a couple of assumptions in here that are just wrong headed IMHO. First, is that players understand the LOTG. They don't. They do not spend the time understanding them to the level we as referees do, if at all. They are players, not referees, and to actually think that most players understand, even at the MLS level, understand the nuances of THE game is just silly. I can tell you from direct experience, many, if not most, do not.

Second, to just "steamroll" over players and stop talking or just issue cautions and send offs is also wrong headed. Matches need to be managed, especially at this level, not just fouls whistled and misconduct issued. Can you imagine the frustration level of the players if that occurred? It is a very basic desire to understand why something has occurred.

Now, for where Mr. Gardner goes wrong, he also goes right. There is recognition that the onus is on the players, and also on Mr. Garber. He also correctly recognized that the players and referees and outside the reach of the Commish as well. This presents the fundamental challenge for MLS and it is the same as it has always been in the US ...

How do you make THE game more attractive for the US audience. This is complicated as Mr. Garber has no direct "levers to pull" to accomplish this. Any change is through influence only. Case in point is the MLS memo to referees about points of emphasis for 2011.

Let's face it, that memo is stuff that FIFA has been working on for years. Yes, the referees are a large part of that and need to enforce these points. It is not only their burden however, it is the players as well.

On that point Mr. Gardner and I strongly agree.


  1. As usual, journalists (commentators, announcers) have no clues about the subtleties of being a referee. In general, I find them to be “jacks of all trades” and experts at none. It may be easy to sit in a lofty perch and pass judgment on people, without walking a mile (or even a step) in their shoes. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have Mr. Gardner referee a U-16 game in his hometown then write about his experience afterwards and how successful he was with making ALL the call and not talking to players?

    With all due respects to an accomplished journalist ( and the media’s role as the Fourth Estate, I have built a healthy cynicism for journalists’ point of view because of their quickness to pass judgment and their prevalent practice of being selective with facts to support their conclusions.

    I also wonder if Mr. Gardner is simply advancing MLS’s agendas. He seems to be using the same catch-words and phrases.
    He says: “What Garber… wants to see is more attacking play, more goal scoring…Certainly that can be countered, to some extent, by getting referees to be tighter in their calls…” Correct me if I’m wrong: if referees tighten their calls, does that not decrease flow which directly leads to a reduction in attacking soccer? He also uses the words “to some extent”. What about the “other”extents? Or are there any? Could it be that MLS and Mr. Gardner are using referees as scapegoats for the league’s woes (relative to attacking soccer)?
    To his credit, he does say: “It is, anyway, the performance of the players, not the referees, that is at the root of the matter.”

    I submit that a large finger should also be pointed at coaches (like Steve Nicol) whose strategies and tactics seem to promote defensive soccer and not losing (as opposed to winning) games.

    Just my opinion!

  2. Anon,

    I *strongly* agree with your comments in full.