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Lesson from John Obi Mikel’s suspension: Do your complaining on the field

Dec 6, 2012, 6:58 PM EDT

BRITAIN-POLICE-PROBE-RACISM-FBL-ENG-PR-CLATTENBURG-FILES Getty Images

The English FA came down on John Obi-Mikel today: three games, £60,000 fine for following Mark Clattenburg to the referee’s dressing room to berate the official after Manchester United’s visit to Old Trafford. Recall there was confusion on Chelsea’s side as to possible abusive language from Clattenburg. Per the narrative, Mikel pursued the match’s lead official post-game in response to the alleged abuse. (Clattenburg was later cleared by The FA and received an apology from Chelsea.)

There is no conceivable reason to pursue an official back the their dressing room. If you’ve been verbally abused, let the guy walk away and file a complaint. If you’re physically threatened, even more reason to let the guy walk away.

Anytime a player follows an official from the field, it should be an automatic suspension. There is no way to engage in such action without posing a physical threat. Suffice to say, game officials should be protected, and in that light, a three-game suspension for this type of threat is probably not enough.

Mikel’s actions unfortunately fit into a long line of referee abuse Chelsea’s engaged in since the José Mourinho days. Then, the former-Porto boss instilled the type of us-against-them attitude which, although trite, combined with a certain swagger (arrogance) and the squad’s personalities to bring in a new era of Premier League descent.

Players have always complained and rushed officials, but thanks to the likes of John Terry, Didier Drogba, and (the worst offender) Michael Ballack, Chelsea took the practice to new, embarrassing levels. It’s not coincidence the league’s weak Respect campaign came during this time.

Though Mourinho’s long gone and Premier League referees no longer have to worry about being forced into the face-to-face conversation with Ballack, seeds of Chelsea’s old attitude still remains. Hence the kerfuffle over Clattenburg. Hence Mikel’s actions.

Of course, when Chelsea do their complaining on the field, there are rarely repercussions (unless you’re Didier Drogba and scream into a camera). But those in-game actions aren’t much different than those that got Mikel suspended: unreasonable pursuit; (perhaps unintentional) physical intimidation; general behavior that should be dissuaded.

Our lesson here: If you’re going to be unreasonable, but unreasonable within a big green rectangle.

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