Why stronger punishments are needed for overzealous managers

Seething and indignant, Mark McGhee made himself known all around the world last week. And unfortunately for the Motherwell manager it wasn't for his coaching ability.

Motherwell manager Mark McGhee is sent to the stand during his side's defeat to Aberdeen. Picture: SNS
Motherwell manager Mark McGhee is sent to the stand during his side's defeat to Aberdeen. Picture: SNS

Face contorted, his outrage landed on social media on Wednesday evening, following the Steelmen’s calamitous 7-2 to Aberdeen at Pittodrie. It was watched and shared. Again and again.

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As he looked down the phone of a Dons fan, perplexed policeman looking on, fans were coming to the same conclusion once their laughter or bewilderment, or a mixture of both, had dissipated. The phrases ‘lost it’, ‘head’s gone’, ‘what’s he playing at’ and ‘not again’ would have been uttered. And rightly so.

Surprisingly McGhee fronted up to the media after the match. He used the words “disgusting”, “horrified” and “diabolical”. None of which described his team’s anaemic performance which saw them trail 4-0 at half-time, failing to obstruct the rampant Dandies in the slightest. The words were reserved for alleged treatment he suffered at the hands of fourth official John McKendrick.

McGhee wasn’t finished there. He accused McKendrick of having an “agenda” and that he would be “speaking to a lawyer”.

But, just what happened? Why did McGhee get worked into such a stupor, such a rage? McGhee was vague, talking about the official’s attitude and that he was causing problems before Alan Muir had got the game underway. McGhee acknowledged that the referee could only act on the information supplied by McKendrick but claims he wasn’t given a reason for being banished from the dugout.

The club are waiting for an explanation from Scottish FA’s head of referees John Fleming, while any charge will be known this week.

McGhee must expect a lengthy ban. He has already served a two match ban for using abusive and/or insulting language towards an official, with another game suspended if he breached the rule again this season.

The 59-year-old concluded in an interview with the BBC that “I wasn’t losing my patience, I wasn’t losing my temper. I was having a bit of a laugh actually.”

That was probably the only joke he cracked all night. Anyone who witnessed McGhee’s behaviour on Wednesday night could plainly see that he did indeed lose his temper and did not possess a laissez-faire attitute as his team floundered on the pitch.

McGhee is not helped by his reputation, one which is well earned considering his previous rap sheet. This season has offered no evidence that he is mellowing. He has clashed with Celtic’s Chris Davies and he’s clashed with a “jobsworth” steward at Dens Park. All before Wednesday night’s incident.

In addition he is prone to using hyperbolic language in certain situations, including recent incidents surrounding red cards in home losses to Rangers and Heart of Midlothian. This only furnishes a divisive character.

The footage of him among the Aberdeen fans will certainly not aid his case in front of the SFA. The support, who used to pay homage to McGhee as a striker, weren’t exactly baying for blood when he was moved to the stand. It was all quite mild-mannered. A fan called the Well manager a “f*****g clown” and another was filming him. McGhee took exception to the latter.

However, that is not the main issue here. It is McGhee’s general approach to officialdom. James McFadden talked of “respect” with regards to Aberdeen fans towards McGhee. It is about time his boss took the same advice in his approach to officials.

His abrasive manner is wearing very thin. But this isn’t a witch hunt against the former Bristol Rovers boss. He isn’t the only manager or coach guilty of such actions. It’s just that his behaviour has been prevalent.

The referee is understood to have the most unenviable job in the game, while assistant referees are closer to the crowd and are having to almost look at two stages of play at once. One person who is often forgotten about is the fourth official. He has the task of keeping two passionate and vehement sets of management teams under wraps.

He has to keep the coaches in their respective technical areas. He has to keep them from knocking lumps out of one another. He has to provide an explanation for the referee’s decision(s), even when they are clearly wrong. He has to reason, empathise, clarify. He has to keep his head while all those around him are losing theirs.

In England’s Premier League there has been instances with Jurgen Klopp, Jose Mourinho and most notably Arsene Wenger, who pushed Anthony Taylor. He received a four-game touchline ban and a £25,000 fine. The Arsenal manager got away lightly.

At times there is an almost sycophantic impulse to plagiarise those south of the border within Scottish football. How long before a manager is banned for pushing a fourth official?

Criticism is nothing new to officials. But it is increasing at an exponential rate. A worrying rate. Managers are becoming more melodramtic, as if a questionable decision by the referee is an affront to their family. These histrionics are only increasing the pressure towards the referee, suggesting that he is completely wrong, when more often than not he’s right.

It would be understandable if officials are being won over in the debate for additional technology. Anything that can lessen the strain on the pressure they are put under from managers and players.

Another measure to help protect officials from over zealous coaches would be to introduce stronger punishments for verbally or physically abusing officials, or for using strong language to denounce their performances.

It perhaps wouldn’t go down well with the media, who, as the reader is aware, enjoy the headlines manager rants generate. But the positive off-shoot is that it would focus the post match discussion about the actual football, tactics and technique. It may even provide some insight for fans.

Who knows what is in store for referees in the coming months and years. But if they are not helped by their bosses or TV replays then maybe they can be assisted by another piece of technology. A tazer.

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