There can be few football fans in this country who have not seen the photo or video of Louis van Gaal, the Manchester United manager, literally throwing himself down at the feet of Mike Dean, who was acting as fourth official at their game against Arsenal. It was done apparently to suggest to Dean that the Arsenal players were falling over at the slightest provocation. Dean stared impassively down at van Gaal’s crumpled figure, he only needed to scratch his head and it could have been a classic Laurel and Hardy comedy.
Although humorous, it does bring into focus how managers seem to interpret the duties of the fourth official. Of course we all know that the fourth official carries out such tasks as assisting with the substitution procedures, having the authority of checking the equipment of substitutes before they enter the field of play, Also, where there is the apparatus, they let everyone know how much time the referee will be adding for time lost at half and full time.
The main duty of the fourth official however, is assisting the referee to control the match and this might involve bringing to the referee’s attention any unseen incidents that require disciplinary action. Who can forget Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt in the 2006 World Cup Final, which was believed to have been spotted by the fourth official, who relayed it in detail to the referee?
How can fourth officials keep an eye on the game if they are being constantly harangued? Too many managers and coaches seem to regard the fourth official as their private verbal punchbag on whom they can vent their anger on any decision the referee makes against their team. Do they really think it is going to have any affect on the referee’s decision?
Do they never consider that the time the fourth official’s attention is diverted by their tirade, could be better employed watching the game and helping the referee control the match?