Thursday 12 May 2011

Nasty Tackles EPL Round 36: Part 2 of 2

Link to Part 1 of 2

Aston Villa v Wigan Athletic on Saturday 7 May 2011. The match finished 1—1.

Head injury vs playing advantage

In the 33rd minute, Emile Heskey of Aston Villa is fouled by Wigan's Antolin Alcaraz. Even from the distant wide-angle camera view, the left arm of Alcaraz can clearly be seen to be used against Heskey. However, Referee Mike Jones (infamous for the "beach ball and poor application of the Laws" incident) plays advantage. The first thing to consider here is whether there is a head injury to Heskey. The second thing to consider is whether Alcaraz led with his forearm and elbow (e.g. Leading with elbows is serious foul play). The third thing to consider is whether playing advantage is the correct option (since it is 2 attacking players against 4 defending players; plus the fact that there are grounds for issuing a card) or to award a direct free kick in a potentially dangerous dead-ball position.

The second consideration appears to have been missed by everyone; no one (commentators, coaches, fans, journalists or referees) raised a query about Alcaraz's unfair challenge on Heskey. It seems everyone were too consumed and distracted by Heskey's reaction and later actions, to consider what Alcaraz may have got away with.

Following a foul and a head injury to Emile Heskey (maroon), Referee Mike Jones waves "Play On"

I know all this sounds difficult and possibly complicated for Referees to do (consistently well), but this must be tempered by the fact that all EPL match officials are full-time professionals. They are trained and prepared to know what to do in these type of incidents, so they are expected to get these decisions more correct than wrong. Professional Referees set the benchmark for the rest of us.

The following is what Heskey did next.

Violent conduct towards Referee

After the defending team commits a foul and the subsequent advantage peters out, Heskey gets up and charges Referee Mike Jones.

The Referee whistles play to stop and Heskey walks away. Heskey then returns and adopts an aggressive and threatening stance right in Mike Jones' face. Heskey walks away but then returns again and holds two fingers up (indicating that he is telling the Referee that he has been fouled twice).

Eventually Mike Jones shows a yellow card to Heskey

Does anyone know what the restart was?

According to match reports (here's one example), Heskey continued to cut an angry and frustrated figure and continued to harass Jones for the remainder of the half. At half-time Heskey confronted Jones again, this time in the tunnel. Even Gary McAllister, Aston Villa's caretaker manager in the absence of Gerard Houllier, understood Heskey's unstable mental state, and promptly took him off and allowed him to leave the stadium without needing to stay to watch the second half.

Referee Mike Jones therefore had two opportunities to send off Heskey, and failed both times. Jones' leniency is to be condemned, particularly in light of the EPL's new campaign launched only last month calling for renewed respect to match officials and a curtailing of player and coach abuse toward match officials (see Education, Education, Education).

Contrast this to the bold Brazilian Referee who took immediate and decisive action against a player who did a similar thing to what Heskey did to Jones (but without the physical contact). This should be the benchmark.

Let's repeat what Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore regards as unacceptable behaviour:
"As to what we think is unacceptable; it's vitriolic abuse towards match officials and that has on occasions gone unpunished; the surrounding of referees is unacceptable; the goading of referees into trying to get opponents sanctioned we think is unacceptable; and also the undue criticism, where it spills over into questioning the referee's integrity or his honesty is also unacceptable."

It is always nauseating to read or hear commentators, coaches and playing colleagues describe that such-and-such a player is a "gentle giant" or a "gentleman", in much the same way as others describe such-and-such a player is a "tough tackler" or has a "nasty streak", as if this is supposed to exonerate and excuse such players for their immediate "uncharacteristic" behaviour during a present match. We've seen it with Harry Redknapp (in Part 1 of 2) saying it was "uncharacteristic of Charlie Adam" to do what he did, and the TV commentator John Motson effectively said much the same thing about Emile Heskey who is "sometimes accused of being too gentle for a big man to suddenly flare up like that". Referees do not have that luxury to consider. Yes, Referees should do their homework and prepare for likely scenarios according to previous behavioural traits in some players. But for every match, Referees can only make decisions based on what has actually happened during that match. Referees do not have the luxury, nor should they need to have, to base their decisions on a player's previous history.

Therefore, Referees do should not care whether Emile Heskey is a gentle giant most of the time, or whether he is an intimidating and imposing big black bulging player some of the time. Referees should only care about what happened there and then in real-time and in the moment. It would be interesting to know what was going through Mike Jones' mind during the incidents with Heskey (just as it would be interesting to know what Jones was thinking during the beach ball incident too).

NOTE: It appears something is not quite right with Emile Heskey. Some people have claimed that Heskey's frustrations are due to his and his team's erratic form this season. This is pure speculation. Only Heskey and those close to him may know why he had such a sustained emotional outburst, and the reason(s) for this may not necessarily be football-related. We simply do not know. It will be interesting to observe how Heskey is over the next few matches.


Whether they like it or not, professional Referees set the benchmark for the rest of us. And when players, coaches and fans witness any leniency or incidents that are poorly dealt with in the professional arena, it makes it that much harder for the rest of us in the semi-professional, amateur and youth ranks who are trying to apply the Laws consistently to facilitate matches that are fair, safe and enjoyable.

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