Tuesday 14 December 2010

Self-Censorship at UEFA

It is notable that UEFA, from its official match reports and video highlights, does not mention any controversial decisions like the two missed penalty decisions (as posted here) in the Marseille and Chelsea Champions League final group match on Wednesday 8 December 2010.

This is perhaps a reason NOT to watch official highlights or read official match reports from competition organisers (to avoid being exposed to self-censorship and inherent conflicts of interest).

In contrast, the BBC News Sport report mentioned the two missed PK decisions and shows a dynamic photo (below, courtesy of Getty Images) of Chelsea's Florent Malouda being sent flying by Marseille's Souleymane Diawara in the 16th minute.

Note: Some people (like Martin Rødvand) believe Malouda exaggerated his fall; which is a fair comment.

Other sports pages also commented on the controversial non-penalty decisions such as:

Brandão leaves Carlo Ancelotti feeling blue as Marseille beat Chelsea (Guardian)

Marseille 1 Chelsea 0: Brandao strikes as problems pile up for Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti (Daily Mail)

Caption from Daily Mail: Not guilty: Souleymane Diawara holds his hands up as he is let off the hook again as Solomon Kalou takes a tumble inside the box

Generally, competition organisers such as FIFA, UEFA, AFC, EPL, etc, will provide non-controversial content on their official websites. But when it comes to reading and commenting on significant incidents, and reviewing performances of players and officials, it is better to go to dedicated sports sites that have a proven and reliable track record.

Related Post

More about Extra Assistant Referees or EARs

Friday 10 December 2010

More about Extra Assistant Referees or EARs

This is yet another follow up to UEFA’s experiment with additional assistant referees, which this blog prefers to call extra assistant referees … mostly because the acronym EAR can be used in the half-humorous semi-serious phrase:

“Are EARs the extra eyes needed in football?”

To illustrate the ineffectiveness of EARs, two controversial penalty incidents occurred during the Marseille and Chelsea Champions League final group match on Wednesday 8 December 2010. The match ended 1—0.

Both penalty incidents—in the 16th and 43rd minutes—occurred inside the penalty area and questions are asked of the Russian match officials. In particular the referee, Vladislav Bezborodov, was officiating his first Champions League match, so his courage, confidence and conviction come into focus, as well as the interaction with his team of match officials.

Note: Apologies for the long string of freeze frames in this post. Please skip to the end of this post for the summary.

Ultimately, the issue of whether EARs are effective comes to the fore … yet again. Here are the two penalty incidents that were not given to Chelsea.


In the 16th minute, Florent Malouda of Chelsea (green) heads towards the goal line and Souleymane Diawara of Marseille (black) trips him. The referee is right up with play and initially awards a penalty. [Note: this decision appears to be correct because the path of the ball does not change, suggesting that Diawara did not get the ball … and instead got the man]. However, the AR uses the intercom and indicates that Diawara did make contact with the ball and therefore says it is a corner kick. Questions to ask here are: Did the AR have the better angle of view than the R? Was the AR 100% sure that there was contact with the ball? What was the R's pre-match brief to his AR regarding fouls in the penalty area?

This turn of events gives a poor impression on the match officials, and in particular cuts down the credibility and authority of the match referee.

[Note: does the EAR have an optimum angle of view? Should the EAR assist?]

[Malouda (green) can not believe he is going to take a corner instead of a penalty kick!]

[This camera angle shows a good view of the incident]

[Referee Bezborodov instantly strikes a pose and confidently points to the penalty spot!]

[But wait ... the AR is saying that there was no foul and that it's a corner kick ...]

[As is expected, Chelsea captain John Terry (#26) questions the referee's judgement]


In the 43rd minute, Solomon Kalou of Chelsea (green) heads towards the goal line and Souleymane Diawara of Marseille (black) trips him. Both the EAR and R are close to play. But do they have the best angle of view? [Note: the path of the ball does not change, again suggesting that Diawara did not get the ball … and instead got the man]. So, was the presence of the EAR helpful? If the R did not think it was a penalty, then why not caution Kalou for simulation? In either scenario, the EAR did not (or perhaps could not) assist.

[Both the R and EAR are near to the incident. Between them, they should be able to decide whether it was a penalty or simulation. Or are they in the best positions to see clearly?]

[Kalou can not believe he did not get a penalty!]

[This camera view provides an optimum angle of view between the players. Clear foul.]


It would be interesting to know what the R’s pre-match instructions were to his ARs and EARs. However, in usual practice, any decision inside the penalty area should be the match referee’s priority or first call unless he absolutely has no angle and the AR has the better view. It would appear that the teamwork between the Russian match officials was not optimal.

For the first penalty, the AR undermined the R’s penalty decision. In fact the R, from about 12 yards behind play (see pic below), had a good view of the incident inside the penalty area, and subsequently made an immediate and decisive call. Unfortunately, the AR took matters into his own hands and subsequently eroded the R’s credibility and authority. Furthermore, the EAR most likely had the best view compared with the R and AR. So why didn't the EAR help out? From the relative positions of the R, AR & EAR, it certainly seems the EAR had a better view than the AR.

For the second penalty (see pic below), the EAR is close to the incident but perhaps does not have the correct angle to see contact between the players. This may be a reason why the EAR did not assist the R in making a penalty decision. The R, with his confidence unsettled by the first penalty call 27 minutes earlier, probably did not have the courage to make this penalty call.

These incidents add weight to the ineffectiveness of EARs. In particular, the wide camera angle (see pic below) for the second penalty gives the best angle of view. Neither the R or EAR had particularly great views. This also brings up the altered positioning and limited narrow runs of the R, when EARs are used in matches. Referees no longer feel the need to run wide, and hence can no longer obtain an optimal angle of view such as that seen by the camera angle (below).

[From this optimal angle, it is a definite penalty]

“Are EARs the extra eyes needed in football?”
No. It would appear not.

In UEFA’s publicity campaign, UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina, says: “Now we see more”

However so far, EARs do not appear to assist refereeing decisions or have a preventive effect on players’ conduct. EARs do not significantly enhance or help the game.

The question now is how long will UEFA stick with their calamitous experiment, and will UEFA release proper data and results of their experiment?

Related Posts

Now We See More. Yes, But Do Referees Perform Better?

Self-Censorship at UEFA

Wednesday 8 December 2010

South China Get Their Man Butt

Following a successful guest appearance for South China last week, Nicky Butt will return to action in Hong Kong in late January 2011.

Nicky Butt with South China (Pic courtesy BBC sport)

Butt is expected to play until May, with the main goals to help the reigning Hong Kong league holders retain the First Division title and to progress significantly better than ever in the AFC Cup. Along the way, Butt is expected to help nurture and guide his new team-mates.

South China chairman Steven Lo Kit-sing said the club would pay Butt similarly to an English Premier League player, which means the 35-year-old former England player could be earning between £25,000 and £30,000 per week.

Following his Hong Kong and Asian adventure, Butt has plans to start his coaching career in Europe in May.


Record Signing (The Standard)

Caroliners get their man as Butt signs (SCMP; subscription required)

Sunday 5 December 2010

Nicky Butt Gives Hong Kong Two Lessons

Hong Kong’s oldest club South China Athletics Association is in the midst of enticing Nicky Butt out of football retirement. The former Manchester United, Newcastle United and England player hung up his boots last season, after helping the Magpies secure promotion from England’s Championship to the Premiership.

However, Hong Kong has clearly embraced Nicky Butt and relevant parties are currently negotiating a short-term contract so that Butt can primarily help South China in its quest to win the AFC Cup.

As a tantalizing prelude, on Tuesday 30 November 2010 Nicky Butt made his South China debut in front of 8,253 fans, the largest crowd this season in Hong Kong. The 1st Division league match between South China and TSW Pegasus was played at the Hong Kong Stadium, and the match finished 2—1. Butt scored South China's equalizer from a free kick in the 65th minute, missed a penalty in the 70th minute, and helped set up the winning goal in the 90th minute. [Match highlights can be viewed here]

At least two little lessons were picked up from Nicky Butt’s debut

Lesson ONE

To quote a cliché, Nicky Butt was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. He was composed, always made himself available to his team-mates, read play well, and perhaps unexpectedly spread the ball around the pitch as if he was a clone of Paul Scholes or David Beckham. The surprising thing (because this is expected of him) was that he did not appear to want to tackle and when he did attempt to tackle, his timing was way off, as could be seen for instance in the 85th minute when he made a late lunge at an opponent about to counterattack. Butt did not make contact with the ball or the player and fortunately, as he stretched despairingly at his opponent, did not injure himself.

He also scored from a direct free kick. Here is a clip of Nicky Butt’s debut goal in Hong Kong.

Nicky Butt Debut Goal South China Hong Kong

Take home message: Six months after hanging up his boots, this performance says a lot about Butt’s quality … and also says something about the quality of Hong Kong football.

Lesson TWO

In the 70th minute, a penalty kick was awarded to South China. [Question: Was it a penalty? The incident occurs from 1:26 here]

Here is a clip immediately after the referee awarded a penalty to South China, with the score level at 1—1. The TSW Pegasus players (yellow) are incensed at the decision and attempted to crowd and exert pressure on the referee. This is why the nearside AR has run over to support his colleague.

Nicky Butt Penalty Kick on Debut South China Hong Kong

Nicky Butt shoots from the penalty spot and hits the crossbar. The ball rebounds towards Butt, who cannot resist the urge to have another crack at goal. Unfortunately for Butt—for all his experience as a professional player at the highest levels of football—his second attempt at goal automatically became void as soon as he touched the ball. The nearside AR instantly spots this and flags for an indirect free kick to the defending team.

Take home message: The nearside AR did an excellent job in assisting the match referee prior to and during the penalty kick.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Webb’s Weak Woeful Week

Professional referee Howard Webb had a very busy week recently, officiating three highly competitive matches within days of each other. Despite what some people might say, referees are human—that is, to err is to referee—so it was not surprising that Webb would make some mistakes. However, what was surprising was some of the mistakes he made!

Note: Apologies for this rather long post (because of the pics). You can jump to the final few paragraphs for the summary (see The Big Decisions).

The three matches Webb officiated were:

AC Milan v Real Madrid (UEFA Champions League group match) on Wednesday 3 November 2010;

Liverpool v Chelsea (English Premier League) on Sunday 7 November 2010; and

Tottenham Hotspurs v Sunderland (EPL) on Tuesday 9 November 2010.

In the first match, there were lots of incidents involving playacting, mass confrontation, offsides and dangerous challenges. Here are some examples:

[Real Madrid's Ronaldo is held around his neck ... and then playacts just like Rivaldo (at the 2002 World Cup between Brazil and Turkey) but to no avail]

[Webb likes to use his physical presence to man-manage players]

[AC Milan's second goal was clearly offside. Inexplicably, the AR did not raise his flag to indicate offside. Understandably, Real Madrid felt hard done by.]

[Webb is positioned nearby during the sliding challenge from AC Milan's Prince-Boateng on Real Madrid's Di Maria]

[Webb cautions Prince-Boateng]

The surprise here (or perhaps, knowing that Webb shies away from giving send-offs especially during his exploits at the World Cup final, some might say this is expected) is that Webb did not think Prince-Boateng’s challenge was excessive, despite having a clear and near view. Excessive force does not always mean that a challenge has to be forceful or powerful and results in severe injury. A challenge that is deemed to be unfair and of “excessive force” depends crucially on the area of contact and the mode of contact. For example, use of bony forearms or elbows on the fleshy facial region does not require a strong force to be deemed “excessive”. Also, the SIAPOA criteria used as a guide by referees to help assess the severity of the challenge do not all have to be present for a referee to determine a send-off.

Prince-Boateng’s unfair challenge should have been a send-off due to the area of contact (ankle area), mode of contact (studs), and various SIAPOA criteria (such as speed, intent and aggression). Furthermore, Prince-Boateng even turns his back and lifts his feet to maximize the severity of his challenge on Di Maria.

The second match was actually a relatively smoother affair. Rather than mentioning the officiating, most news reports were waxing lyrical about Fernando Torres scoring two wonderful goals. Indeed, they were fantastic goals of the highest order.

[John Terry points his finger at and questions Howard Webb]

A refereeing incident to mention is what happened immediately prior to Torres’ second goal. Before Torres scored in the 44th minute, Webb played an advantage that obviously didn’t play out the way he wanted. It was for Chelsea’s Ashley Cole in his own half after Liverpool’s Lucas had fouled him. The advantage did not pay off (you can see the position and circumstances of Webb’s advantage here at this link). Webb clearly signals advantage, indicating that he saw the foul on Cole.

It was a difficult advantage to give because Ashley Cole, being left footed, was running into the centre of the pitch from the left side with at least three Liverpool players closing him down and team-mate Drogba getting in his way. Therefore Cole’s opportunity to put the ball into an advantageous attacking position were severely limited. Subsequently, Cole lost the ball because he was quickly closed down (and probably couldn’t kick the ball effectively with his right foot into an advantageous position).

In such scenarios, it would have been better for the referee to whistle and award a free kick to the defending team. As it turned out, the advantage actually turned into a huge disadvantage because Liverpool scored from a situation that was supposed to have favoured Chelsea the defending team.

In the third match, there were again mistakes with news reports highlighting incidents such as a handball before Rafael van der Vaart’s goal for Spurs, a penalty shout for Spurs that was seen as simulation, and a meaty challenge between Lee Cattermole and Luka Modric. Perhaps the fatigue of travelling and officiating three highly-competitive matches within a week affected Webb?

Here, I will comment on the challenge between Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole and Spurs midfielder Luka Modric in the 69th minute. Various news reports (e.g. here and here) have played up this incident, saying that Cattermole should have been sent off. Modric and Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp believed Cattermole intended to injure because he “went over the ball”. Here are the freeze frames:

[Cattermole (red) challenges for the ball, and the impact forces his right foot to bounce up and into Modric (white)]

[Webb has a clear and near view of the challenge]

This is a fair 50-50 challenge for the ball between two players. Both Cattermole and Modric had every intention of playing the ball. Because Cattermole had fully committed to the challenge (this is the type of player he is; no half measures), his right foot bounces off the ball and up into Modric's left lower leg.

Many people do not realize that referees are not trained to assess the consequences of a challenge to determine the nature and severity of the tackle. It seems Modric, Redknapp and others only consider the consequences (their faulty logic being: if someone suffers a bad injury or broken leg, then it must have been a bad tackle deserving a send-off!
). Nevermind the fact that Cattermole and Modric actually both played the ball fairly in a 50-50 challenge.

Just compare this to a 50-50 challenge where one player does not intend to play the ball, but rather intends to injure his opponent. This is a crucial distinction in 50-50 challenges.

[Webb again uses his physical presence]

[Webb cautions Cattermole for a "reckless" challenge]

Webb subsequently cautioned Cattermole, but it can even be argued that no caution was necessary. It was not a mandatory caution. For comparison, remember just 6 days earlier Webb cautioned Prince-Boateng for an unfair, studs up, back turned, sliding body challenge direct into Di Maria … and now he also cautions Cattermole for his fair 50-50 challenge with Modric. A question of consistency arises here for Howard Webb because these two yellow cards were awarded for two very different challenges: one challenge being worthy of a red card, and one challenge not necessarily worthy of any sanction except possibly a free kick.

The Big Decisions

Q: Does Howard Webb appear to get the big decisions correct most of the time?

Let's start by saying it is laughable that Graham Poll compares Howard Webb with the universally respected Pierluigi Collina. Poll suggests their “hands-on approach to officiating” is what makes them similar. If that’s the case, then any number of referees who take a “hands-on approach to officiating” can be said to be like Collina! One might as well say that any bald-headed referee is similar to Collina. That is, Poll should not bother making such superficial comparisons.

What sets Webb apart from Collina is the former’s poor ability to make “Big decisions”. Webb is a good, competent referee; no doubt about it. Plus, he appears to be a great, down-to-earth guy who can hold his own in media interviews. He’s also from Yorkshire, has a good sense of humour (I would think) and is approachable! However, professional referees are paid and trained to get the “Big decisions” correct.

Whether he likes it or not, Webb will forever be remembered for his “painful” performance at the 2010 World Cup Final, and therefore whenever he shies away from the “Big decisions”, observers (like HKRef) will likely take notice.

It has been publicized that sports psychologist Professor Ian Maynard from the Centre of Sport and Exercise Science at Sheffield Hallam University has worked with Webb for more than five years on his mental strength. Maynard said: “[Webb] doesn't hide when a decision needs to be made. That's why he has got the [World Cup] final.”

In hindsight, the headline “Howard Webb not afraid to send off World Cup superstars” was completely regrettable. When it comes to his fair share of “Big decisions”, Webb still has a problem with making a good percentage of them.

On some sites and forums, Howard Webb has even been labelled “Coward Webb”. This is harsh and IMHO disrespectful and completely wrong. A referee who has reached the highest level (and even the pinnacle of officiating by being appointed to a World Cup Final) can never be called a coward. A coward by definition is someone “who shows disgraceful fear or timidity”. Let’s be clear, Howard is no coward. He deserves recognition for his achievements as a referee.

However, it would not be dishonest or disrespectful to say that Webb does appear to get a fair proportion of his “Big decisions” wrong. And by having a sports psychologist proclaiming that Webb does not have a problem with making big decisions—when it seems that he does have a problem—then unfortunately, that is the yardstick by which Webb is measured. Does Howard Webb generally get the Big decisions right?

A: From the evidence of these three matches this week (along with the background and recent history of Webb's exploits), it would appear not.

Finally, in the words of the great Collina himself: “The best referee is one who has the courage to make decisions even when it would be easier not to.”