Sir Alex's antics hurt game

MORRIS DALLA COSTA

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

The whining and complaining is enough to make even the most ardent football fan turn in his supporter's scarf.

There has always been a certain amount of pontificating, posturing, playing mind games and playing political games in soccer. As in any sport, there's nothing wrong with attempting to gain an edge.

But in recent years, the level of complaining, criticizing and caterwauling has become a monumental distraction and embarrassment. It's easy to recognize the pressure soccer players and coaches are under. That results are a manifestation of that pressure -- blame a loss on anything except your own inabilities to coach or play.

Then there's the ego factor. Some coaches and players have come to believe they are bigger than the game. Let's face it, some managers carry themselves as would-be rock stars. The Jose Mourinhos, Alex Fergusons, Arsene Wengers and others in the football world, aren't satisfied with working their own backyards but feel justified in being critical of everyone else's.

Ferguson has become especially adept at referee baiting. It is a rarity that a Manchester United match isn't completed without Ferguson being critical of some call made by a referee. Of course, the match prevented his club from winning.

He isn't alone but he is by far the worst.

This usually brings a sniping response from some other manager who rightfully points out that Ferguson is a whiner and that Manchester United gets more than its fair share of calls.

That manager then goes on to point out all the horrible things that have happened to his team, usually from the officials. The referees are the one's who wound up getting beaten up by everyone.

But while it makes for interesting reading, it's the game that winds up with a black eye. It creates tension on the field, a lack of respect for the officials and a lava flow of hard feelings in the stands.

There's no question where the balance of power stands. Big money, high profile managers and players clearly have run amok, especially in the English Premier League.

Referees have been put under the hammer to the point they are afraid to make a decision on the pitch. Governing bodies allow players and managers to get away with pretty much saying whatever they want and when punishment is meted out it's a slap on the wrist.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez ranted about some of this in a press conference before his club's Premier League match this weekend. His main target was Ferguson.

Benitez talked about how Ferguson "is the only manager who will not be punished" for attacks on referees.

He talked about how United always benefits from the scheduling and used examples from two years ago including his club having to play Saturdays while United played Sundays. His club having to play early games while United played later.

Much of this was sparked by a comment made Ferguson that Liverpool might not be able to handle the pressure at the top of the Premier League.

For superstar managers, these guys are pretty sensitive.

All this is part and parcel of Ferguson getting under the skin of the opposition.

Benitez is probably right about all of the above but he allowed Ferguson to win another game -- the mind game.

Benitez probably felt that someone had to say something since the Football Association does very little to shut Ferguson up or to keep him under control.


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