Do managers have a right to criticise referees after games?

Leeds United manager Stephen Warnock

The decisions that referees make cause some of the biggest controversies in the modern game. Managers are among those who are most critical of referees, and many have had charges for improper conduct.

Managers are not allowed to question decisions by referees under the FA Rule E3, making comments to the media implying: “the match referee and/or match officials in general are motivated by bias and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

Last week, Neil Warnock received the charge after complaining about the red card given to Luke Varney by Mark Halsey during Leeds United’s loss to Millwall.

However can you really blame Warnock for getting angry? His team had just lost after Millwall had scored the winning goal very near to the end of the game, and Leeds had gone down to ten men for a second weekend.

On many occasions, the manager is criticised for negative comments about referees, even though many others have agreed that it was debatable whether the referee had actually made the right call in the first place.

For example, Roberto Martínez was given a fine of £10,000 for comments about the referee after the game between Wigan and Manchester United.

The penalty awarded to Manchester United after an incident between Danny Welbeck and Ali al-Habsi was controversial, and they did not seem to have much contact. Though al-Habsi saved the penalty, Wigan still lost, and if the penalty had been scored it could have had a significant effect on Wigan so could it be said that Martínez has a right to be angry and a right to say he feels that way? And if the decisions are already being debated by fans, commentators and pundits, does it really make a difference if a manager also criticises it? For example, many fans and figures from the media felt Mark Clattenburg’s sending off of Fernando Torres in the match between Chelsea and Manchester United last month.

While Roberto Martínez’s implication referees are biased towards Manchester United may have been ill-advised, does trying to ban him and other managers expressing opinions restrict their freedom of speech? The media are critical when they are stopped from saying things so why do they criticise football managers when they express opinions?

Yes, the way some players and managers treat referees is terrible and I would expect many people do not want to see referees receive abuse. However, if a manager feels wronged, should that manager really have to keep quiet? It could be argued that the manager should be able to speak out if thinking that a wrong decision has denied the team they manage points?

Also, could it be said that actually players disrespecting referees on the pitch is a bigger problem? Stopping managers from speaking out against referees could be being used as a method to stop abuse towards referees, but could it be argued that what actually needs to be done is having more rules to improve how players treat referees during games?

Additionally, is trying to prevent managers badmouthing referees actually working? Yes, in some cases it has stopped managers from saying to the media what they really think of a decision. However, some still criticise decisions and are fined.

While I believe it is important that referees do not receive unjust treatment and abuse against them, it could be said that managers should be able to express themselves more.
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