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

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