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Does the FA strike the right balance on players’ and managers’ media comments?

Van Gaal and Mourinho
Monday, 16 March 2015 By Lydia Banerjee

Manchester United’s game at Cambridge United in January was part of a surprising weekend of FA action.  Manchester City lost 2-0 to Middlesborough, Chelsea lost 4-2 to Bradford and Manchester United drew 0-0 with Cambridge United.

In that context you could be forgiven for missing the post match interview in the comparatively dull goalless draw.1 After the results had sunk in and the teams returned to Premier League action the FA charged Van Gaal with bringing the game into disrepute.

The comments drawing the attention of the FA were:

Every aspect of a match is against us. We have to come here, the pitch isn’t so good, that can influence that you can play in another style. The opponents always give a lot more than they normally give and defending is always easier than attacking. Then you have seen the referee – it’s always the same. Everywhere I have coached these games, and I have coached them with other clubs, it’s always the same”.2

The comments are said to be in breach of FA Rule E3(1) (the “Rule”)3 which prohibits conduct which is improper or brings the game into disrepute. In addition Rule E1(e) and (f)4 make breach of the ‘rules or regulations of an Affiliated Association or Competition’ or ‘an order, requirement, direction or instruction of the Association’ as misconduct. The allegation against Van Gaal is that his comments were “improper conduct in that they allege and/or imply bias on the part of the match referee and/or bring the game into disrepute”.5 Van Gaal denied the allegation of misconduct and requested a personal hearing. An independent regulatory commission conducted the hearing on Wednesday 18 February 2015 under Schedule B to the FA Rules,6 and found that his comments breached FA Rules in relation to media comments. Van Gaal received a warning for his conduct.7


Other recent offenders

Van Gaal is by no means the only manager to have fallen foul of the Rules. Other recent examples include: Arsene Wenger’s charge for post-match comments made about referee Damir Skomina for which he received a £33,000 fine and a three match touchline ban in the Champions League in 20128; Jose Mourinho’s formal warning for pre-match comments encouraging a strong performance from the referee ahead of the Stoke City game in December 20149; and Jose Mourinho’s comments about a campaign against Chelsea by officials after the Southampton game on December 28 2014 which led to a £25,000 fine.10 In the last scenario, the FA found that Mourinho’s comments were improper conduct but not implying bias.

The use of disciplinary proceedings to control criticism of match day officials is not limited to football. Similar rules exist in to the sport of rugby union.11 Indeed Pat Lam is currently being investigated on a charge of misconduct by the Pro12 in relation to comments he made about an official during a game between Cardiff Blues and Connacht.12

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Lydia Banerjee

Lydia Banerjee

Lydia is an active member of the Littleton Chambers Sports law group. In line with the broader chambers specialisms Lydia’s core areas of practice are commercial law and employment law.  Lydia’s commercial practice encompasses disputes including contractual interpretation, professional negligence and directors’ duties.  Lydia’s employment work has a particular focus on disability discrimination but also incorporates all areas of tribunal disputes and high court action in relation to bonuses and restrictive covenants.

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