Many referees don’t have a lot of regard for the comments of players. They don’t know the laws, the officials say. They’re always seeking some advantage they can use. They comment on decisions in the hope that they will get the next call, and so on.
But players know a lot about the game that too many referees don’t try and learn, and I believe we make a serious mistake if we don’t pay attention to what the other participants—the real participants--have to say. And if we encounter a top-class international player who comments about refereeing, then we had better close the mouth and open the ears. Here’s a case in point from one of our own . . .
In the recent thread about MLS on Big Soccer, a certain John Harkes (left) made a contribution. You should remember him as one of the first American players to appear in the Football League in England, where he also became the first American to play at Wembley, in the League Cup Final. Representing the U.S. in two World Cups (1990 &1994), the winner of two MLS titles with D.C United, he was a genuine American soccer superstar who made 90 appearances for the national team. Does he know this game? Oh, yes. So pay attention . . .
Harkes stated strongly that a rule “. . . I would like implemented is keep your God damn hands off the ball after the ref blows the whistle for a foul. I can't stand watching a player think they are freaking Larry Bird and grab the ball, walk 15 yds and try and sink a three from half-court while their teammates get back into position. It would make the game more exciting as teams would have a better opportunity to take a quick set piece and catch the other team napping.” Hear, hear!
For several years I have been writing and speaking about the fact that very few referees attempt to stop the delay of free kicks by players. Not the ten yards business, but the delays that players produce before the referee starts dealing with the wall. As Harkes said: picking the ball up is one technique, to which we can add any number of devices intended to make sure that the defending team gets as many players as possible behind the ball.
Just this year, I taught and assessed referees in the Region 4 senior tournament, the Region 4 under-23 tournament, and in the Region 3 ODP tournament. Not one referee made any attempt to voluntarily stop this cheating—for that is what it is—until I brought it up in our meetings. After talking about it and hearing how you could deal with it, then referees did their duty—for that is what it is—and started attacking the problem. Some even expressed surprise that it was easier than they had thought, and that players responded.
This is a national problem, as you can see every time you turn on an MLS match, where so far I have seen not one referee attempt to stop the delaying tactics. John Harkes, splendid player that he was, knows more than the referees do, and yet no one seems to be paying attention. I love this picture of him, clearly puzzled by what the referee is not doing (preventing delays)!
More than two years ago, I wrote a short summary of methods used by players, and methods that referees could use to stop them. I sent a copy to Esse Baharmast, thinking that he might prepare an instructional CD on the subject. I heard not one word, just as I heard not one word when I sent him a courtesy copy of “Angle of View”. Good ideas penetrate the fog in Chicago very slowly still, I’m afraid. Do we have to wait for a player to tell us we're not doing our job?
So here is a copy of the short paper I wrote so long ago: Download free_kick_techniques .
Tomorrow I may have to post a copy of the paper (I tried to make it available here, but it came out as garbled gobbledegook). Undoubtedly you can add other techniques that players use. And just as a reminder, FIFA gives you all the authority you need, for it emphasizes at every tournament that referees should not allow encroachment at free kicks, and must not allow the delaying of their taking. The techniques should be taught throughout the referee program, starting now.