The conduct of Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini on the touchline in the Manchester derby was an example of the, seemingly increasing, irritating exchanges that revolve around the fourth official.
Passion and tension during a game that could well determine who wins the Premier League is understandable, but both men failed to sufficiently control themselves and brought a sour note to an otherwise engaging match.
That the Manchester United boss had the gall to criticise his City counterpart for ‘refereeing’ the game and ‘haranguing’ the match officials was almost comedic.
Ferguson is known for the calculated way he has attempted to pressurise or criticise some referees who have handed out unfavourable decisions to his teams in the past – claiming Alan Wiley was too unfit to referee properly in 2009 one of his more amusing claims.
It is Ferguson’s wont to protest and complain to fourth officials when he sees fit, though it does not mean his comments regarding Mancini’s penchant for side-line behaviour are inaccurate.
City’s Italian boss does have the tendency to linger on the edge of the technical area to berate players and officials alike, but managers seem to be immune from censorship in this regard.
Arsene Wenger at Arsenal is another serial touchline moaner, though every manager at one point or another has been guilty of a verbal bombardment after a decision they feel to be unjust.
Commenters are ever ready to condemn players, especially those in big teams, for surrounding referees and certain players for continually screaming at officials over every decision made in a game.
The ‘Respect’ campaign was centred on the conduct of footballers towards officials, with the worry that players at the pinnacle of the game were setting bad examples with heated exchanges with referees.
The campaign also applies to those on the bench and so managers or coaches who spend the whole game hollering over injustices on the field should be punished with fines and suspensions – just as verbal abuse of officials by players is dealt with.
Football is a passionate sport and getting players to be docile in reaction to every decision is an unrealistic aim, but managers’ conduct is altogether different.
A player will express displeasure with the man who made the decision that displeased him so, but a manager cannot do much more than moan at the fourth official.
This official was initially posted there to assist the referee with the process of substitutions, reporting things the officials on the pitch may not have seen and to stand in if any of them get injured.
Now his job seems to consist of acting as an on-the-hoof counsellor to displeased bosses or a mediator when opposing benches have a falling out.
Many times have the words ‘the fourth official will be getting an earful’ been said in jest by media commentators, but what is so funny about that?
They are futile rants at a man who is there to hold up an electronic numbers board and make sure the replacements balls are pumped to a sufficient air pressure.
They can change nothing by fuming at a man with no whistle and no inclination to disagree with a decision made by the man in the middle.
Managers must either keep their rants directed exclusively to their players or sit down and keep quiet.