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Beckenbauer and co’s insistence on pre-match ritual is admirable, but misplaced

PlayUp

Nobody can quarrel with Franz Beckenbauer when he says that, “Honour has to be more than just a word,” on the field of play. As chairman of the FIFA task force 2014 rules he is keen to launch a FIFA-backed global campaign to reinforce the Fair Play Code saying, “We want to harness the power of football in a campaign focusing on fair play and make an active contribution to school life by founding our actions on the values of discipline.”

But I am not sure the Kaiser is right when he thinks that the way to do this is for players to meet their opponents at the centre of the field of play and shake hands. The handshake in football has become a ceremonial show piece that means nothing. As for influencing schoolchildren I doubt if it can play any part. More so as they see on television the perfunctory way the players go about it. It is so evident they treat it as a ritual devoid of any value.

Much more important would be for FIFA to insist that players respect referees and their decisions. Given how players react to refereeing decisions, you may think I am asking for the moon. But there was a time when players accepted what the referees did. Listen to a player who won high honours in football and knows a thing or two about the game.

The handshake issue has overshadowed too many games already, but what does it achieve? Image courtesy of PlayUp

“Players respected referees’ decisions a lot more, because Bill Nicholson was someone like that and would say ‘Don’t you lot whinge to me about referees, because I’ll tell you something now, you lot don’t know the rules of the game.’ And he’s right. Footballers don’t know the rules of the game. Supporters don’t know the rules of the game. ‘And anyway,’ he said, ‘a referee is only human, they’ll make mistakes, but they’re not going to make as many mistakes as you lot out there.” You see the mistakes players make. My god.”

The player I was speaking to was Cliff Jones, the Welsh winger in the legendary Spurs team that did the double in 1961 going on to win two more FA Cups and the first British team to win a European trophy, the Cup Winners Cup.

Now, cynics will say that was nearly 60 years ago and everything has changed. So it has, as Jones knows only too well. Players, at least in the top division, get the sort of rewards pop stars might dream of and playing conditions have been revolutionised: the ball is lighter, the turf is billiard smooth.

But what is really different is the relationship managers have with referees. No modern manager would talk like Nicholson did to his double team. Instead of telling them to behave on the field of play and not treat the referee as a fool, the modern managers seem to almost egg their players on to challenge every referring decision.

Jones agrees that things are made more difficult for modern referees by the fact that replays instantly show up their mistakes. And this is where we come back to dear old Kaiser. His opposition to introducing technology to the game means the best of referees can be made to look like idiots on television. If the Kaiser really wants better discipline and fair play, he should rethink this opposition.

His mission should be to help referees with the use of technology to come to the right decision and demand that managers make sure their players respect decisions on the field of play. They must not be allowed, let alone encouraged, to act as spoiled brats who know more about the game than the officials. These changes might help bring some much needed discipline back to the game.

You can carry on with the handshaking. But do not be deluded into thinking that a mere handshake removes all of football’s problems. It does not.

      

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