Sir Alex Ferguson predictably vented his anger after his lackluster side could only muster a draw at home to Sunderland. In situations such as these he often highlights the mistakes and faults of others rather than those of his own team. I do wonder if this is an approach taught to managers when they gain their FIFA coaching badges. On this occasion the referee was the individual coming under fire from the Manchester United Boss. Ferguson was quoted as saying "You see referees abroad who are as fit as butcher's dogs. We have some who are fit. He wasn't fit."
So is Ferguson correct to label some premiership refs as unfit? Well yes, however the way in which he did it is hardly the way to approach such an issue. Former referees have already been jumping to the defence of Alan Wiley (who was the ref accused of being unfit by Ferguson). Dermot Gallagher who is now retired stated that referees "are so focused and so professional" that they are always fit.
Unfortunately when you look at Mr Wiley it is easy to see why it could be suggested he is not fit enough. The problem is that experience and fitness cannot always come hand in hand. Older more experienced referees are less likely to be able to sustain high levels of fitness. The problem I believe is that it is taking too long for young referees to reach the top level.
What can be done about this? First of all former professional players should be encouraged to referee. They would immediately gain the respect of players and fans (although perhaps still not Ferguson). They would also be athletes who could keep pace with the modern game. What can also be done is to make sure that comments such as those made by Ferguson are punished strongly. No young aspiring referee would be encouraged by a high profile icon slating the profession week in week out. Quite what the point of the new FA 'Respect' campaign is I have no idea as it never seems to be backed up by the people who invented it.
If something is done to encourage a new young generation of referees we will still have to make do with the ones we have now. Are they really that bad though? Maybe Ferguson should give the FIFA fitness examination for referees a go.http://www.section2.org/pdf/FIFAFitnessTest_E.pdf. It looks pretty tough to me, and when you then consider how much counselling they must need after the personal abuse they endure every week (orchestrated by supposedly professional football club managers) its little wonder that they find little time to improve their fitness.
Of course Ferguson doesn't really give two hoots whether refereeing improves or not. As long as he can intimidate and indirectly influence officials via the media, his verbal attacks will continue. The FA need to act now and protect their referees. I am sure that by stopping such abuse referees performance levels would rise. Managers should be able to vent their anger, but it should be behind closed doors in post match debriefings with the FA. To allow it to happen in front of the public, who will then follow suite and abuse new up and coming refs up and down the country in local games, is bad for the game and has happened for too long.