The Rio Report

Klinsmann’s cunning plan: Accuse and praise the referee before kick-off

The Rio Report

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Jurgen Klinsmann has already done a great job at the World Cup merely by guiding his USA safely through one of the toughest groups in Brazil.

He did so with the usual mixture of tactics guile, exuberance and luck that any team needs during a tournament. And as his team prepare for their last 16 match against the much-fancied Belgians, he's trying out a new tactic: psyching out the match officials.

The German blasted FIFA's decision to appoint Algerian referee Djamel Haimoudi for Tuesday night's game - openly suggesting that there is no way Haimoudi could be impartial.

"Is it a good feeling? No," Klinsmann said.

"He is able to speak French with their players on the field, not with us, and it is a country we beat in the last World Cup. Sometimes I don't understand FIFA."

Klinsmann then decided he'd gone a bit too far, and quickly backtracked.

"I know it is difficult to always choose the right referee for the right games," he added.

"We give it the benefit of the doubt. "We hope it is not a concern, we know he did two games already and he did them very well.

"We hope he continues to referee in the perfect way."

What was really going on here? Was Klinsmann just talking off the top of his head without having given the matter much thought?

Don't believe it for a second. We're talking about a man who, when he signed for Tottenham despite a reputation as a shameless diver, turned up for his introductory press conference wearing a mask and snorkel.

That gag - and the way he reinforced it with his 'diving' celebration whenever he scored thereafter - won him millions of fans in Britain. Believe us when we say that if anyone in the game knows the power of press conferences, it's Klinsmann.

What the German was really doing is clear: he was accusing the referee of bias in a fairly shameless way, then praising the same man to the hilt with his next breath. And as any psychology student (or, indeed, any parent of a child over the age of two) could tell you, this is a classic bit of reverse psychology.

It's a brilliantly ploy. By publicly warning the referee to beware of any possible bias, he virtually guarantees that Haimoudi will be striving to be as fair as humanly possible; by praising him as a brilliant referee, he has a good chance of ensuring that Haimoudi is so scrupulously fair towards the USA that he will err on the side of favouring Klinsmann's side.

It's obvious stuff, of course. The question is, will such a transparent ploy work?

History suggests that the answer is a resounding yes. The greatest example in recent footballing history was Alex Ferguson, who praised Howard Webb as "the best referee" in the country ahead of United's match against Chelsea in May 2011, just days after complaining that "we're not going to get the decisions in these big games" when denied a penalty against Arsenal.

People were shocked that Ferguson had tried to curry favour with Webb so outrageously, even suggesting that he should be fined or even given a touchline ban for his words ahead of the critical match.

And what happened? The FA merely warned Ferguson that time; Webb had a quiet game as United won 2-1; and less than a week later, United were awarded a highly contentious late penalty by Phil Dowd against Blackburn which rescued a draw for them, and confirmed them as champions.

There's no doubt that Ferguson's words played on the minds of both Webb and Dowd that year - but Ferguson's scheme wasn't the first, or the best example of the manipulation of referees.

That came by England cricket captain Tony Greig ahead of a tour of India in 1976.

At the time, Test match umpires were always provided by the host nation - and Indian umpires had become notorious over the years for their unwillingness to give any English bowler the benefit of the doubt, particularly with LBW decisions.

But when asked by the media if he had any worries about the standard of officiating, Greig merely beamed: "Indian umpires are the best in the world," he announced. "I have absolutely no concerns."

The result? The local umpires beamed back at Greig and his men as the series began, clearly delighted at the praise - and England got given the benefit of the doubt on a string of 50-50 decisions, helping them to a thumping 3-0 series victory.

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Tony Greig makes yet another successful appeal during England's tour of India in 1976-77

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