As the Premier League season is now concluded, the final thing to be decided in the Premier League is who gets the final Europa League place by virtue of topping the Fair Play league. England had been given an extra place as they have finished in the top 3 leagues in UEFA’s Fairplay rankings. Chelsea have topped the table, but as they have qualified for the Champions League, Fulham, the second placed team, had been in pole position for much of the season having not had a player red-carded in the first 37 games, but Zoltan Gera’s red card against Arsenal may have cost them their place at the expense of Blackpool (assuming they qualify for a UEFA license), who are the next eligible team.
Here’s the Fair Play league correct up to the end of April (it’s published monthly).
As you can see it’s not just as simple as counting the red and yellow cards each team accumulates. There are a lot of other factors to be considered, such as Positive Play, Behaviour of Officials, Respect for Opponents, Respect for Referee and Behaviour of Officials. The problem is that no indication is given of what criteria these
categories are judged on.
So does anybody know how the Fair Play League actually works?
At every Premier League game, there is an assessor, usually an ex-player or manager, who gives a score for each category. Positive Play is marked out of ten, Respect for Opponents and Respect for Referee are marked out of 7 and Behaviour of Officials is marked out of 6. The referee has some input on scores, as they can point out any on-field bad behaviour that the assessor has missed.
Red and Yellow cards is straightforward enough. Each team starts with ten points and you get a point deducted for each yellow card and three for each red. I’m unsure as to whether or not you can get negative points.
Positive Play seems a strange category to place so much importance on, as not only is it extremely subjective, it doesn’t really seem to have much to do with fair play. I don’t think it’s fair to penalise a team for playing (or being perceived to play) defensively, while it’s may not be good, there’s nothing unfair about that style of play. Looking at this category it seems that perception trumps reality for some teams. Blackpool (perceived to be an attacking team)are third in the Positive Play stakes, with only Chelsea and Arsenal ahead of them. If you dig a little deeper, some of the scores are baffling. Blackpool scored 55 goals in the league; Manchester City (perceived to be a defensive side) scored 60. Blackpool have accumulated 29 more points than City in the Positive Play standings. Similarly, Aston Villa (48 goals) have more points than Man United (78 goals). Have Villa really been a more positive team than Man United this season? I don’t think so.
Okay, it’s too simplistic to just use goals to judge what constitutes Positive Play. You’d think that teams that play a more physical game will be judged less favourably over teams that play a more attractive game. Stoke, for example, are renowned for playing a very physical style of football, with a lot of long-balls and long throws as part of their Arsenal. Wigan by contrast have won admirers for their short passing game and their insistence on playing ‘good’ football (sometimes at the expense of results). Both teams have scored a similar amount of goals (44 for Stoke, 40 for Wigan), but Stoke have more Positive Play points than Wigan. So it’s unclear just what the assessors are looking for.
Behaviour of Officials is a strange category too. Does that mean the behaviour of club officials to the opposing club’s officials on a matchday? Does it mean the behaviour of the coaching staff towards the 4th official during a match? It seems a pretty ambiguous term to me.
Assuming it means how coaching staff behaves on the sideline, Ian Holloway and his Blackpool staff have pissed a lot of people off this season judging by their low score. Similarly, Steve Bruce’s constant complaining about referees has not gone down well. What is strange is that clubs that you would not associate with poor touchline behaviour have accumulated low scores. Neither Roy Hodgson nor Kenny Dalglish is the type of manager who persistently lets rip at an official over bad calls. Neither is Harry Redknapp. Both Liverpool and Tottenham have terrible scores in this category.
Even in the other categories it is not really obvious what an assessor looks for. Respect for opponent and Respect for Referees are both subjective categories. You could argue that a player diving is disrespecting their opponents but you could also argue that that is disrespect to the referee as they are trying to deceive him. I’d say that outing a ball out of play for an injured opponent is a sign of respect. However, only the referee is meant to stop play for an injury so that could be seen as a sign of disrespecting a referee (as it could be implied that the player doesn’t have faith in the referee making that decision so takes it upon himself to do it).
What does seem weird is that the Premier League does not judge one category that UEFA does. Behaviour of the fans. Thankfully, the days of hooliganism in English football are by and large consigned to the past, so that would be judged on things like fans standing up, offensive chanting etc. If fans knew that bad behaviour in the stands could have a negative effect on their team possibly having a shot at European football, they’d behave better.
As I understand it, any incident can’t be counted twice (i.e. in more than one category). So you could have a player put in a bad challenge that leaves an opponent injured and while the assessor can deduct points for the red card, they can’t deduct points for disrespecting their opponent. Similarly, you can be given a yellow card for dissent but that doesn’t count against you in the ‘respect the referee’ column. That seems crazy to me.
Rewarding teams for fair play is definitely the right thing to do. However, the current system is too ambiguous and not enough information is given to fans so they can follow the standings themselves. That has to change.