It’s been a weirdly inauspicious few weeks for Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. He condemned Ipswich Town for playing ‘rugby football’ (which is an unusual insult in itself, it’s not like they were picking the ball up and chucking it around, or being incredibly polite to the referee, for example). He refused to acknowledge some Huddersfield Town players’ big days out with a shirt swap. Then he applied the coup-de-grace at halftime of Arsenal’s game against Everton this week by indulging in an expletive ridden rant (according to David Moyes, or nothing at all according to the Arsene Wenger – notoriously observant of his own player’s indiscretions) at referee Lee Mason.
I have no way of knowing what Fabregas did or didn’t say to Mason and his colleagues. Apparently, he shouted ‘How much were you paid?!’ at no one in particular. That’s not that bad is it? It would be harsh if that resulted in a red card, especially since it happened in the tunnel. I do know exactly what Wayne Rooney was shouting at Mike Dean when the referee sent Rafael da Silva off against Tottenham recently, and he didn’t get sent-off for that. It would be ridiculous if Fabregas was dismissed for doing in the relative privacy of the tunnel exactly what Wayne Rooney (and others, of course) do essentially on live TV on a regular basis – although the standards of Sky executives are unclear on that one.
Wenger has taken a similar view in his inevitable defence of his captain, criticising David Moyes for impinging on the sanctity of the tunnel. Claiming that he has heard much worse in his time, Wenger applied the spotless morality of the stag weekend: what happens in the tunnel stays in the tunell.
As with the Gray and Keys’ recent faux-pas, though, there is a bigger issue here than simplistic questions about the difference between private and public views.
If Cesc Fabregas, or Ryan Babbel, really feel that the referee was poor they should be allowed to come out and say so. In fact, they should be encouraged. Rather than censoring players, the FA should provide them with appropriate channels to air their views. Instead of regurgitating the inane party line regarding respect for officials (‘I have respect for all match officials. Their job is a very difficult one and their decisions are final’) Fabregas could, for example, have discussed the specific issue that upset him, Louis Saha’s apparently offside opener for Everton, and perhaps initiated discussion involve lawmakers, referees and players over a rule that no one seems completely sure about.
Apart from clearing up the confusion surrounding this specific situation, such outspokenness on the part of players more generally would have the beneficial knock-on effect of massively improving the standard of public debate around football. Currently, as Gray and Keys showed, this is conducted mainly through middle-aged mouthpieces in the form of ex-players and journalists who are worryingly out of touch with the modern game. If the players were allowed to speak for themselves then we would actually be able to find out about the life of the modern footballer from modern footballers, instead of blokes who were footballers a fair old while ago. The BBC, Sky, etc. would then have to find other, more interesting things, to talk about at halftime and between highlights, and probably more interesting people to do the talking too – which would be great.