Saturday 26 March 2011

Webb Scrutiny

The following incidents occurred during the English Premier league match between Blackburn and Blackpool on Saturday 19 March 2011. The match finished 2—2.

Incident One Poor Penalty Call
Referee Howard Webb awards a penalty to Blackpool's Gary Taylor-Fletcher (#12). And it appears everyone was taken by surprise.

Taylor-Fletcher gets his shot away and although technically the Blackburn defender (blue) makes contact, it is minimal and in a genuine attempt to play the ball (not the opponent) his foot is angled into the ground

Experienced referees would not put themselves in such awkward situations by awarding a penalty. This is why it is surprising that Webb, with all his experience, whistled for a penalty. Yes there was contact, but not every contact between players are fouls. It is difficult to justify giving a penalty in such an incident, and this may have affected how players regarded Webb during the remainder of the match.

Compare this with a very similar incident that occurred on the same day in a La Liga match between Athletico Madrid and Real Madrid on Saturday 19 March 2011. The match finished 1—2.

Here, Referee Fernando Teixeira Vitienes does the expected and does not award a penalty.

Real Madrid's Sami Khedira (white #24) gets his shot away

Although Sami Khedira rests up (and perhaps is trying to get sympathy from the Referee), the Referee correctly continues with play and (hopefully) does not allow the behaviour of players to influence the officiating.

Incident Two Good Offside Call
From a Blackpool free kick, the ball is put into the goal. The AR raises his flag for offside.

BBC Sport commentator Alistair Mann said he was:
Just not quite sure why the flag went up so late

This just goes to show that commentators are not up to speed with the LOTG and the principle of Wait and See. It is always better to be late and correct rather than quick and incorrect.

Incident Three Good Offside Call
Referee Webb plays advantage but unfortunately he cannot anticipate the resulting offside, which the AR correctly called.

AR Andy Garrett

Incident Four Getting into Unfortunate Situations
In the final two minutes of the match, Howard Webb put himself in an unfortunate situation. With Blackpool leading 2—1, the tactic was for Blackpool players to run down the clock. This meant taking the ball to the corner flag and holding up play as much as possible. This is a common tactic which experienced referees should be aware of and capable of handling well. It was just surprising that Webb did not handle the situation well.

Blackpool's Taylor-Fletcher (orange #12) evades two Blackburn players by the corner flag but is then sandwiched by two others. The ball is also kicked out over the goal-line by a Blackburn player. Webb awards a goal kick to Blackburn.

Taylor-Fletcher (orange #12) is clearly frustrated by what he perceives to be the wrong decision. He thought he should have been awarded a free kick, or at least a corner kick to his team. Webb is having none of it, but unfortunately since both are running back towards the halfway line Taylor-Fletcher continues to harangue Webb. This, as can be seen immediately in the next phase of play, influences Webb's thoughts about Taylor-Fletcher.

From the goal kick, Taylor-Fletcher (orange #12) fouls a Blackburn player by the halfway line. But Taylor-Fletcher is still incensed with Webb's earlier incorrect call down by the goal-line and therefore reacts with dissent towards Webb. Webb correctly cautions him.

And from the resulting free kick, Blackburn knock the ball into the Blackpool goal to make it 2—2.

Overall Howard Webb had a poor game. Let's hope Webb can bounce back for the remainder of the season!

Monday 21 March 2011

Studs Alert: A Cynical Challenge

The following incident occurred during an English Premier League match between Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers on Saturday 19 March 2011. The match finished 1—0.

In the 75th minute, with the score locked at 0—0, Manchester United's Jonathan Evans and Bolton Wanderers' Stuart Holden engaged in a 50-50 challenge. However, Evans approached the challenge cynically with his studs up and directed towards his opponent.

Referee Andre Marriner was correct to send off Evans for serious foul play.

Both players are equally committed to the ball, but is one player more committed to endangering the safety of his opponent too?

Stuart Holden is injured during this cynical challenge by Jonathan Evans (Pic from here)

Media Analysis
Pundits Mark Lawrenson and Alan Hansen, on BBC's Match of the Day, had this to say:

Lawro: Both these two boys are so committed to the ball that's there absolutely no doubt about it. And (sigh), look at them, both their feet are off the floor. The problem is for Evans is he actually catches the ball with his knee but he catches the player with his studs up. And I think there's no hesitation for the referee. But I think both players actually went for the ball.

Hansen: Yeah, I thought he [Evans] was unlucky. I thought he is a bit high but he gets a lot of the ball and I don't think there's any intent there whatsoever.

Gary Lineker: OK.

Does anyone (sorry, I mean, do any referees) understand what these pundits are talking about? What's their argument? Something about "committed to the ball" and "getting the ball" and "unlucky to get a red card"? When pundits say they cannot see any intent in such challenges, then ... they have been well and truly hoodwinked.

Post-Match Comments
In some news articles, the two managers were reluctant to put any blame on Jonathan Evans (see BBC Sport and Daily Mail).

Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson, as usual, tried to misdirect Evan's cynical challenge by saying: "Everyone knows Jonny is not a malicious player. I think the red card was probably given because of the injury. You can't have any real complaints, it was unfortunate, maybe."

Bolton boss Owen Coyle said: "In real time, it looked as though two players were committed going for the ball. There didn't seem any malice."

What's their argument? Something about "committed to the ball" and "not malicious" and "unlucky to get a red card, maybe"? When managers say they cannot see any malice in such challenges, then ... one manager is biased and defending his own player, and t'other manager has been hoodwinked.

Cynical is as Cynical does

The trouble with pundits and managers is that, in incidents when two players are both committed to the ball, they assume both players are acting in the same way when they engage in a 50-50 challenge. They assume both players are making a fair and sporting challenge for the ball. But is it fair when one player chooses to challenge by exposing his studs and the other player chooses to challenge with the side or top of his boot? Who is being fair and sporting, and who is being unfair, unsporting and cynical?

This blog has documented similar incidents where players become involved in 50-50 challenges.

In this example, Studs Alert: Stamp Out Stamping, one player is being fair and sporting, and the other is being unfair, unsporting and cynical.

And in this example, Webb's Weak Woeful Week (where there are also comments from readers), during the Tottenham Hotspurs and Sunderland match both players challenge fairly and sportingly because they both attempt to make contact with the ball using the side of their boots.

True, two readers have previously made the point that Sunderland's Lee Cattermole had both feet off the ground during the challenge. My (belated) reply is "so what" and "what else"? Players are allowed to jump and have their feet off the ground. But what is not allowed is when players expose their studs or perform other cynical actions that will, or have the potential to, endanger the safety of their opponent. Cattermole's challenge was not cynical, which is why that particular challenge was not serious foul play. Yes, Luka Modric was injured in the aftermath but Referees are not taught to assess the consequences or the potential outcomes of a challenge. Referees are taught to assess the nature of the challenge itself.

I hope this provides a reasonable answer to the two readers who previously gave their views (posted here).

Additional Tip:
For 50-50 challenges, to help Referees decide whether one player does not intend to play the ball but instead intends to injure his opponent (i.e. How to identify unfair, unsporting and cynical challenges), simply ask yourself whether the same player would do exactly the same if his opponent was actually his fellow team-mate, a relative or a good friend. So, would Jonathan Evans have jumped in with his studs up if another Manchester United player had also challenged for the ball?

Evans made an unfair, unsporting and cynical challenge and Referee Andre Marriner was correct to see that as serious foul play.

For the good of the game, let's Stamp Out Stamping

Related Posts (search: stamp)

Saturday 19 March 2011

How Many Match Officials Does It Take ... ?

... to manage a Champions League or Europa League game?

... to tell UEFA how to count?

... to change a lightbulb? (Please post humorous answers in the comments section!)

One, two, three, four, five ...

... and six match officials, right?

Referee Stephane Lannoy , and his assistants. Where's the 4th Official (who is also meant to be assisting)?

I have previously asked this Question: In matches that use extra assistant referees (EARs), are there five or six match officials?

Answer 1: Officially, UEFA states that there are five match officials (actually, they state there are "5 Referees"; see UEFA’s publicity campaign)

Answer 2: Technically, and observationally, there are six match officials

Here is another number-related question. In matches that use EARs, is the 4th official still called the 4th official? If UEFA are labelling ARs and EARs as "Referees", than the 4th official should also come under this same loose definition of a match official.

Remember, an important responsibility of the 4th Official is to advise the Referee on incidents that he believes the Referee has missed. So far, it appears that this responsibility of the 4th Official is ignored in the same way that the responsibility of the EARs is ignored. That is, advice from the 4th Official and EARs is, and is seen to be, totally ignored by the Referee. Therefore as it stands these extra match officials may as well not be present to "assist" the Referee.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Three Penalty Incidents: EARs in the Europa League

The following three incidents occurred during the Europa League first leg round 16 match between Sporting Braga and Liverpool on Thursday 10 March 2011. The match finished 1—0.

Incident One (Penalty Awarded)

Two freeze frames show the Referee awarding a penalty to Sporting Braga (red).

Referee Serge Gumienny (Belgium) has a clear view, right between two players, of the foul by Liverpool defender Kyrgiakos (black #16) on Sporting Braga forward Mossoro (red #8)

The Referee has a clear view of the foul inside the penalty area, and immediately and decisively makes the call. At least there is no embarrassing scenario of the AR overruling the Referee's decision (as in this case in Penalty One).

How is the EAR involved? Perhaps by affecting the patrol pathway of the Referee.

Incident Two (Penalty Kick encroachment)

This freeze frame is the resulting penalty kick from the above decision (Incident One).

Encroachment by Sporting Braga players (red) and a goal is scored

This blog has often mentioned the ineffectiveness of EARs. Perhaps the clearest scenario illustrating the ineffectiveness and redundancy of EARs is during penalty kicks. What use EARs?

Also, Referees appear unable to decide which side of the goal is the best position for them. Should they stand on the same side of the goal as the AR or the EAR? Either way, encroachment of players still occurs and Referees have still failed to maximize the presence of EARs during penalty kicks.

Incident Three (Penalty Not Awarded)

Line of sight: EAR—Foul Recognition—R. Is this optimal positioning? Do more match officials see more?

Sporting Braga defender Kaka (red #4) sticks out his left leg and makes contact with Liverpool attacker Cole (black #10)

Liverpool's Joe Cole is fouled in the penalty area, but not one of the match officials (not the EAR, R or even AR) made the call. Even if they had, it may not have been a credible call. The AR can be excused because traditionally and, with good reason, it is not the AR's call to make (since he is on the far side of the incident inside the penalty area). But EARs have been specifically introduced to assist the Referee's decision-making in such incidents (in addition to supposedly having a preventative effect on players who are more likely to foul in such incidents). The EAR has therefore failed in his primary objectives. Furthermore, the EAR has also negatively affected the performance of the Referee because the positioning of the Referee is no longer optimal for incidents in that part of the penalty area. The Referee could not see the incident because, in positioning himself by the D, there is obviously more likelihood of players present in the penalty area obstructing his view.

This specific incident in the penalty area—where no match official has a clear and unobstructed view and/or an optimum angle of view—appears to be increasing with every match that uses EARs (previous examples are seen here in Penalty Two and here where the EAR and R miss a push in the back and here in Incident One where a defender raises his arm to block the ball). This is almost certainly due to the presence of EARs.

Central Thesis

Here my main argument is not the fact that EARs are ineffective and redundant (which, in many incidents, they are ) or that EARs do not help or enhance the game. It is worse than that and much more serious. My main argument is the fact that EARs can have a detrimental effect on the performance of the match Referee and hence can contribute to ruining the game since match officials will be perceived to be making more, instead of less, errors.*

This specific incident which is largely created by the presence of EARs (where the line of sight is: EAR—foul recognition—R) so that no match official is optimally positioned to make the correct call appears to be an important scenario set to occur more frequently.

Are EARs the extra eyes needed in football?

Regular readers will know HKRef's answer! Lol.

* Does the phrase "Too many cooks spoil the broth" mean anything to UEFA, FIFA and IFAB?