In the aftermath of a flurry of Premier League managers being pulled up for daring to praise a referee prior to a game, what would happen if one took it upon themselves to give the FA bigwigs a bell and clarify the situation…
Manager: Hi, just after your help in clarifying what I am able to say about referees before games? Wouldn’t want to be getting into trouble, so what am I allowed to say and what am I not?
FA: You are not allowed to comment on the referee before a game.
Manager: So what if I’m asked in a press conference what I think about him? Do I just say ‘no comment’?
FA: No, because that would sound like you had negative feelings towards him. ‘No comment’ is a phrase often used to show disgust at a subject. It would be disrespecting the referee.
Manager: How about if I just remain silent if I’m asked?
FA: Hmm. It would depend on how you managed the silence and the length of it.
Manager: What do you mean?
FA: Well if the silence was unnecessary prolonged it could become humorous and as such disrespect the referee. If the silence was too short and you moved onto the next question quickly it could be construed that you were being dismissive of referees and their role in the game.
Manager: I don’t think I can pull that off, and I’m not allowed to praise him?
FA: That’s correct. You are not allowed to praise a referee before a game.
Manager: So when asked could I just say he was an average referee?
FA: No, our referees are anything but average having been selected to be part of an elite.
Manager: Ah right so I’ll simply say he’s part of an elite.
FA: No, that would be praise and as such could be seen as an effort to influence the referee.
Manager: How about if I say he’s just like all the referees as they’re all the same?
FA: That could be interpreted as a negative reaction to referees and stereotyping. All referees are not the same, they are individuals and should be respected as such.
Manager: I’ve got an idea. How about I just keep to facts? I could just say ‘Ah that referee gave us a penalty and sent a player off last time we had him’ or ‘He had a quiet game last time with us, no cards’. Then I’m not giving an opinion just facts everyone already knows.
FA: Absolutely not. You could be inferring the referee was too quick to make decisions or alternatively was apprehensive of making decisions. Either way you could be undermining some aspect of his refereeing.
Manager: I can see this is going to be difficult. I may just refuse to do any pre-match press conferences for fear of saying the wrong thing.
FA: You can’t do that. You must do pre-match press conferences.
Manager: Whilst I’m on the phone could I ask whether you’ve decided who the FA are going to support in the FIFA elections? How you’re getting on saving the grassroots game? Whether you’ve earmarked a successor for the national job rather than leaving it until the last minute?
FA: I’m afraid we haven’t got around to any of that yet. Far too busy.