x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Luis Jimenez affair shows change needed in treatment of officials

The incident involving the Al Ahli midfielder shows there needs to be a change in attitude on how officials in the UAE are treated, writes Paul Oberjuerge.

Luis Jimenez's butt this week on the referee Assam Ali Al Junaibi was a shocking moment in Pro League history. But the aggression by the Al Ahli midfielder only underlines what seems to be a widespread lack of respect - from players, coaches and supporters - for the country's football judges.

Jimenez's head-on-chest blow is, thankfully, an extraordinary event here. Veteran observers of the domestic league cannot remember anything quite like it.

But players touching an official during a match, often in an attempt to gain their attention, is not unusual here. And extended verbal harangues from coachesand players (and sometimes several players at once) are distressingly common.

This is not the case everywhere. England's Premier League, for example, hands out stiff punishment for players who lay hands on game officials. "Jostling" will earn a player a 12-game suspension, and some bans require no contact at all. "Threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour" is to be punished with a three-game ban. "Offensive words" mean two games on the sidelines.

After Jimenez's outrageous actions, perhaps it is time for a review of how officials here are treated.

It should begin with an absolute and scrupulous ban of all physical contact between players and officials. No tap on the arm or hand on the shoulder to gain attention should be allowed or overlooked. And this can be easily adjudicated through the country's extensive television coverage of every match. Enforcing an off-limits zone around the body of a referee is vital.

Referees also should feel empowered to show yellow cards to the most excitable members of the packs of players who often follow them around after a controversial decision.

At present, officials let these group shouting sessions go on far too long and rarely issue warnings. Putting up with face-to-face dissent should not be part of a referee's job description.

Also, clubs and coaches should remind players that verbal abuse virtually never leads to the change of a decision. "You have to win with your game, not with the referee," said Frankie Vercauteren, the Al Jazira coach.

Referees also should feel no compunction about sending coaches into the stands - or to the dressing room - when their remonstrations are particularly abusive or prolonged.

Nearly every coach in the league will admit to a session or 10 of animated criticism of officials. In some instances, as has several times been the case with Diego Maradona, referees seem willing to present themselves to a coach for a critique in the middle of a match. This is both remarkable and disturbing.

No one in the league believes domestic referees are perfect; why should they be when those at the highest levels of the sport are heavily criticised? Such as the incident last season when the Sir Alex Ferguson said the Premier League referee Martin Atkinson was not "strong" and seemed to suggest he was predisposed to favour Chelsea over his Manchester United.

To be sure, referees here allow far too much diving, and some of that leads to penalty kicks not really earned. The prelude to Jimenez losing his cool may have been the penalty awarded to Jazira after Bare went down in the box despite an absence of contact.

More thorough training for the country's referees is important. But even more important is developing a culture of respect for the arbiters of the game. They are not above sober and after-the-fact reproach, but they should be immune from any physical contact or prolonged verbal abuse from players or coaches.

Maybe something good can come out of Jimenez and his moment of madness.