SIMON JORDAN: Lunatic managers are running the asylum
30th August 2023

SIMON JORDAN: Lunatic managers are running the asylum! Referee leader Howard Webb must go hard or go home… if officials don’t see it through then we will have a serious problem

  • For too long managers and players have been trying to take control of the game
  • Football is the only sport which has a culture of consistent vilifying of authority 
  • Would Mohamed Salah ‘do the dirty’ on Liverpool by leaving? And what about Man United ‘diving’?: Listen to It’s All Kicking Off, Mail Sport’s new podcast

Football faces a battle for control of the game. That may sound overly dramatic or hyperbolic but it’s true.

I’m not talking about nation states owning clubs, the power of broadcasters, the economics of the sport or the ridiculousness of wages being paid to football mercenaries in Saudi Arabia, I’m talking about players and managers versus our match officials.

For too long players and managers have been trying to run the game. They’ve tried to dictate what they should get paid, how much they should play, how tired they are, how much involvement they should have in decision-making and what the rules should be.

The lunatics cannot be allowed to run the asylum and it’s time for referees to put players and managers back in their place so match officials can be in a position to run the game properly. Sometimes in life you’ve got to do as you’re told before you can do as you want.

I’m the last person I ever envisaged campaigning for the value of officialdom. I still recall the irritation I had for the pomposity of the David Ellerays of the world and ineptitudes of referees like Rob Shoebridge who gave a goal kick when Freddie Sears had in fact scored for Crystal Palace at Bristol City in my last season of ownership. But player behaviour and perceived power has gone too far and is beginning to ruin the spectacle as well as compromise the value and integrity of our national sport.

Officials need to start taking control of managers such as Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp (right)

For too long managers and players have been trying to take control of the game and there appears to be a determination in the refereeing fraternity to take back their control

Virgil van Dijk  was sent off against Newcastle and could face further punishment for the manner in which he spoke to referee John Brooks after he was shown the red card

Howard Webb needs to breed a stronger character of referee so they feel emboldened to make the decisions they feel they need to make

There appears to be a determination in the refereeing fraternity to take back that control and it is absolutely fundamental that they do not deviate from their position so that managers and players get it firmly into their thinking that there is a way to behave and operate – and it is all for the betterment of the game.

Because this is also a battle for the respect of the game. We want football to be respected and valued and we need to start with the conduct of players. Things have gone too far and I think they can thank two incidents from last season involving Andy Robertson and Bruno Fernandes for this agenda – those were the tipping points.

During Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal at Anfield, the assistant referee reacted to Robertson confronting him by throwing up an elbow. It wasn’t a good look but it could prove a pivotal moment. The same could be said for Fernandes who, during Manchester United’s 7-0 hammering at Liverpool, pushed the assistant referee out of his way to take a quick throw-in.

Referees chief Howard Webb clearly looked at those incidents and thought enough was enough.

So referees have got a leader here now. They’ve got a front of house merchant who’s done it to the highest level and is a good communicator. The opportunity for referees to operate effectively while being afforded the right amount of courtesy and accountability for their mistakes lies in the hands of Webb. I’m confident he is the right man for the task because he’s undoubtedly got both the character and the substance for it.

This has been a long time coming. On the field of play, referees are the authority and there needs to be a sea-change so everyone understands that again because football is the only sport with a culture of consistent vilification of authority and that has to stop.

We’ve witnessed the sheer, bare-faced audacity of observations from players and managers about the ridiculous amount of time that’s being played and the effect on schedules and fitness. Well, now you’re going to be made to do as you’re told because when you hear people start to talk about time-wasting it simply highlights the absurdity of the football world.

Referees are the authority and there needs to be a sea-change so everyone understands this

It shows an almost staggering lack of self-awareness when we hear leading football voices complaining at how much extra time is being played – the only people creating those additional minutes are the players themselves. If they want to play an extra six matches a season – which is what 15 minutes worth of injury time over a 38-game season adds up to – crack on, but don’t then moan about playing too many games.

That is why it so important that, to coin an expression, it’s Howard’s Way and he leads. He’s got to go hard or go home because this is the one chance referees have to regain some necessary control of the game – and it all starts with putting the players and managers back in their place a little bit.

My biggest concern is that if match officials don’t see it through, if they buckle, then we will have a serious problem.

This is not about having an instantaneous impact and then being rowed back upon, it needs to be strictly adhered to – and fast.

The introduction of VAR was brought about by the necessity for match officials to be given more support in a game which increasingly faces 24/7 scrutiny. It was also introduced with a false characterisation that it would deliver 100 per cent accuracy. That is a stupid view – anything involving human interaction will have margins of error. And why the demand to hear the exchange between Stockley Park and the referee? 

The moment assistant referee Constatine Hatzidakis (right) threw up an elbow at Liverpool’s Andy Robertson (left) wasn’t a good look but could be a pivotal moment

The same could be said of Bruno Fernandes’ push on a linesman during a Man United defeat

It sums up the sense of entitlement we have in society now. Whatever we haven’t got, we want and it would not make a blind bit of difference if we could hear that process – it would simply add more vitriol to the atmosphere in the stadium. But if greater transparency in decision-making is what referees want, then let them have it.

I am in no way suggesting referees must be beyond criticism.

Last weekend we saw fourth official Craig Pawson trying to shake hands with Virgil van Dijk after he’d been sent off – with the Liverpool captain clearly telling referee John Brooks he was a ‘f****** joke’ as he departed. That’s precisely the wrong look for referees. He’s not your pal. You’re an official. 

You don’t see police officers walking up to people in the street wanting to shake their hand. That kind of deference and misplaced attribution of respect needs to be taken out of the game and replaced with leadership. The officials don’t need to be aloof, arrogant or little Mussolinis, they just need to be respected. And in order to be respected you need to mean what you say and say what you mean.

If Webb is going to be successful he needs to breed a stronger character of referee so they feel emboldened to make the decisions they need to make – otherwise they will be the architects of their own downfall.

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Lucky Usyk 

I have heard of having your pants taken down, but the way Oleksandr Usyk was indulged after being hit above his was absurd. Daniel Dubois can consider himself very unlucky not to be the unified heavyweight champion of the world. 

Most sensible observers consider the blow landing on the belt of Usyk a legitimate punch. It was borne out by the repeated punches another recognised heavyweight, Jared Anderson, threw on to the exact same spot of the belt of Andriy Rudenko on the same night. 

Without wishing to go down football’s route of vilifying authority, ultimately a bad decision was made, even if it was perhaps influenced by 43,000 Ukrainian fans. If there is any fairness in sport, Dubois will be granted the rematch his promoter will be petitioning for.

Daniel Dubois (right) is unlucky not to be the world champion and deserves a rematch

Arsenal need more 

Regular readers of this column may recall I wrote last season that Arsenal may have to spend £200-£250million in the summer just to stand still – and judging by the early weeks of the season, I was right. 

Despite spending big again, Mikel Arteta’s side still look very much like they’re second best to Manchester City. Despite another significant summer spending spree, I’m not sure about the signing of Kai Havertz from Chelsea for £65m. 

I think it could prove one of the worst pieces of business during this window. I just can’t get my head in that game. I don’t know if this is a case of Arsenal thinking they need to adapt because they’re back in the Champions League but I’m not convinced by him at all.

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Arsenal look second best to Man City again despite spending big money during the summer


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