Sunday 28 August 2011

Player Behaviour: Acceptance and Dishonesty

Let's be honest and state for the record that in the main footballers are dishonest. However, once in a while it is also a delight to observe a player behaving graciously in the face of injustice.

The following incident occurred in the opening minutes of an MLS match between Real Salt Lake and New England Revolution on Independence Day 2011. The match finished 3—3.

In the 3rd minute, Referee Yader Reyes sent off Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers for what the Referee deemed to be DOGSO. Here are the freeze frames:

Real Salt Lake's Nat Borchers (red #6) connects with the ball and then New England Revolution's Benny Feilhaber (white #22) kicks Borchers' leg and falls over

And here is the Referee's position at the time of the incident:
Does Referee Yader Reyes (yellow) have a good clear and near view of the incident?

The Referee's position at that moment of the incident should tell us that a decisive call would have been very tricky to make. Unless the Referee was 100% certain of what he saw, a penalty call and subsequent DOGSO decision would always be controversial. The Referee would have had to have had a clear and unobstructed view between the players and to be able to see the ball too.

Furthermore, the least that the AR could have done was to give assistance based on his view of the incident ... unless of course prior to the match the Referee had briefed his AR not to interfere with his decisions in the penalty area.

This means the players involved in the actual incident are the ones who most likely know what happened. Borchers should be commended for accepting the Referee's decision with good grace, calmness (in the face of incredulity) and little fuss. If we compare the behaviour of his teammate goalkeeper Nick Rimando, there is a marked difference between how these two players reacted to and accepted the Referee's decision.

Real Salt Lake's Nat Borchers (red) accepts the Referee's decision graciously, whereas goalkeeper Nick Rimando (black) does not

The other concerned party who knew what happened is New England Revolution forward Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber knows he dithered too long to take his shot, and because of that allowed Borchers the opportunity to sneak in and kick the ball from underneath him and up onto his face, which then went over the goal line for what should have been a goal kick. Feilhaber, by letting the Referee's wrong decision stand, is therefore guilty of dishonesty. He knew his opponent was wrongly being sent off, and did not say anything to keep things honest and fair. Isn't Fair Play meant to be encouraged? Apparently not.

Benny Feilhaber (white) sympathizes with Nat Borchers (red) but that's as far as he is willing to go in terms of "Fair Play"

NOTE: the prime example of recent times of Unfair Play is Thierry Henry's deliberate handball when France played Ireland in a crucial 2010 World Cup qualifier. At that time, Henry kept quiet so that his team would benefit from his deliberate unsporting act and only the day after, after being put under continuous media scrutiny, did Henry later admit to his unsporting behaviour and apologise for his deliberate handball (which didn't mean much, if you ask any Irish supporter).

Thierry Henry's deliberate handball which helped France qualify for the 2010 World Cup Finals at the expense of the Republic of Ireland (see link here)

Players who cheat and who deliberately allow a player to get sent off should be publicly reprimanded, and perhaps fined by their clubs, as a way to deal with unsporting behaviour that is out of the control of match officials. If FIFA and other competition organisers are serious about promoting Fair Play, then the culprits should be identified and then publicly named and shamed.

I was not able to watch the whole MLS match; however in spite of that, it is not difficult to sense that perhaps the Referee had lost a lot of credibility during the match as a result of that dubious decision. There was 6YC and 2RCs meted out in total.

The only silver lining from this incident was the gracious behaviour of Nat Borchers.

Friday 26 August 2011

Assistant Referees and Blind Spots

The following incident was missed during the EPL match between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs on Monday 22 August 2011. The match finished 3—0.

In the 87th minute, an offside decision was missed during a Manchester United throw in. Subsequently, a goal was scored (United's third goal by Wayne Rooney) which brings, or should bring, some concern to match officials who wish to avoid such situations from happening in future.

Throw in to Manchester United (red), who are attacking Tottenham Hotspurs' goal

The thower is in an offside position when the ball is played forward by his teammate

ARs should be especially careful when play is close and right in front of them. It is a challenge to keep in line with the second-last defender and to keep a perspective of the situation unfolding in front of them. With play so close, the situation can be likened to a potential "blind spot"since it is difficult to focus and see clearly when something is happening right in front of our eyes.

HKRef Tip: Perhaps the AR should try to stand a few yards back from the touch line and keep in line with the second-to-last defender.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Many Missed Red Card Incidents In One Match

For many years now, the leniency shown by Referees in the EPL has been and still is unhelpful, and possibly harmful, to all other Referees around the world. Experienced Referees all over the world will roll their eyes and heave a sigh, knowing that their jobs are made more difficult by the leniency shown by EPL Referees and broadcast regularly to all four corners of the world. And it's not just Referees who will suffer.

Players, coaches, fans and commentators will also suffer because they will not be able to understand why Referees from other countries "appear" to be harsher when the English Referees are more lenient. Players themselves will be quickly cautioned and even sent off for the exact same discretions that they have previously got away with in the EPL. See examples here of a Law-abiding decision (Referee in Brazil sends off player in the first minute for Offinabus) and a lenient decision here (from EPL Referee Mike Jones).

The leniency example in this post happens to be associated with Referee Howard Webb, but there are other EPL Referees who also show too much leniency. Remember: Professional Referees set the benchmark for the rest of us.

The following incidents, many lenient, occurred during the EPL match between Sunderland and Newcastle on Saturday 20 August 2011. The match finished 0—1.

Watching Howard Webb "manage" and officiate this North-East derby simply made me think about the plight of non-EPL Referees around the world. In a future post, I will address the stance of ex-EPL Referee Graham Poll who said of the North-East derby that the "game was absorbing and a great advert for the Premier League for which Webb deserves great credit".

Incident One: DOGSO with hand (unseen)

In the 13th minute, Sunderland's Sebastian Larsson stops the ball from entering the goal with his left arm.
Referee Howard Webb stoops to indicate that perhaps he did not have a clear and unobstructed view on the incident

Larsson (red#7) tries to influence AR Scott Ledger by claiming the ball hit his face. This is clearly dishonest behaviour (cheating) and the FA should perhaps consider charging players like Larsson for unsporting behaviour and for failing to uphold the principles of Fair Play

The BBC's Match of the Day has a new feature this season, where they attempt to give the Referee's View. NOTE: This is a great post-match analysis tool (to help match officials), but the software programmers must remember to do things properly ... for example, take a look at Sunderland's goalkeeper (yellow)

Incident Two: Studs up challenge (unseen? Lenient)

In the 25th minute, Newcastle's Yohan Cabaye (Black#4) makes a cynical challenge on Sunderland's Phil Bardsley (Red#2). Webb eventually cautioned Cabaye.

Cabaye's (Black#4) high and studs-up cynical challenge on Bardsley (Red#2)

Webb's position around the time of the incident

Incident Three: Studs up challenge (unseen? Lenient)

In the 89th minute, Sunderland's Phil Bardley makes a cynical challenge on Newcastle's Fabricio Coloccini. Again, Webb only gave a caution (it was Bardley's second caution of the match).

Bardsley (Red) goes over the top of the ball and into Coloccini's (Black) lower leg

Did Webb have the optimum angle? Should he have consulted with AR Ledger?

Incident Four: Elbow Used As A Weapon (unseen)

Newcastle's match-winner Ryan Taylor elbowed Asamoah Gyan. Since this was missed by the match officials, perhaps there should be another review of the evidence by TV replay?

[Apologies, I do not have a Pic of this incident]

Incident Five: Second caution (Lenient)

Sunderland's Lee Cattermole made some crunching tackles throughout the match. There was a reckless challenge on Joey Barton which Webb, rather predictably (even to the BBC commentator Guy Mowbray who said: "If I know Howard Webb, he will just have a word with Cattermole"), only gave a public warning to Cattermole. Later in the match, Cattermole recklessly scythed down Jonas Guiterrez and received a caution. That could have been his second caution.

Cattermole (Red) on Barton (Black)


Throughout the North-East derby, Webb used his typical lenient approach by being reluctant to give out cards to players, physically man-handling them, and talking to the players (when it is plain for everyone to see that players who are familiar with Webb do not actually listen). Is this technique really what Referees throughout the world should learn to adopt?

Graham Poll says there could have been 4 players sent off with straight reds, and instead says that Howard Webb deserves great credit … presumably for not sending off several players in the feisty North-East derby. Hmmm ... is Poll correct?

Thursday 18 August 2011

Corner Kick Offence Is A Symptom of Disrespectful Player Attitude

The following incident occurred during an MLS match between DC United and Houston Dynamo on Saturday 25 June 2011. The match finished 2—2.

DC United corner kick. From this camera view, the ball does not appear to be on the corner arc.

There appears to be a creeping prevalence of players sneaking the ball closer to the penalty area from corner kicks on the Referee's side of the pitch. These are professional players, not junior players, who can supposedly drop the ball on a dime anywhere in the penalty area from a corner kick. So the matter of sneaking a few extra centimetres should be of no concern or benefit to them. And yet, this kind of incident occurs time and again. Why? Why do players sneak a few centimentres from corner kicks?

There are several reasons that can be proposed ... but this post will discuss one.

One possible reason comes exclusively from the Referee's perspective of how players behave with respect to Sportsmanship and with respect to the Laws of the Game. The Respect campaign attempts to tell players to respect opposing players and to respect match officials. For example, in a Champions League match we have seen Referee Jonas Eriksson tell players the following:
This is the word respect. Respect for the two teams between the players, and for the referees.

And yet, do players respect their opposition? And do players respect match officials, who are present to uphold the Laws? Hardly (see Education, Education, Education and Referees in Tune with Team Tactics, as examples of player behaviour).

In the competitive game, players do not give respect to opposing teams or to match officials. Granted, there are exceptions, but generally speaking players and coaches and fans just want their team to win ... and usually at any cost. They will contest and challenge every decision that goes against them, and they will accept every decision that comes their way ... with little or no regard to upholding Sportsmanship or complying with the Laws of the Game.

Observers can see this behaviour in action whenever the ball goes out of play. Players will yell out "corner" or "goal kick" depending on whether they are the attacking team or the defending team, respectively. They will claim it is their throw in when the ball crosses over the touch line (and also when the ball does NOT cross over the touch line). Where's the Sportsmanship? Where's the respect for the Laws of the Game?

So, let's get back to the question: Why do players sneak a few centimetres from corner kicks?

Answer: Because players go out there on the field of play with the unsporting and disrespectful attitude that every decision should be to their advantage with little reference to the play unfolding before them. If they can cheat their way into claiming a throw in or a corner kick, then this attitude logically lends itself to players sneaking a few centimetres at corner kicks even though, at the professional level, they do not gain any advantage from doing so. That's the disrespectful attitude of many players that match officials have to deal with all over the world.

As mentioned in a previous post, match officials:
have to rely on their resilience, tolerance, inner-strength and education to rise above the uncouth behaviour of players, managers, fans and commentators.

The best foundation for Referees is to ensure, and be seen to ensure, complete integrity, honesty and commitment to the Laws of the Game.

Monday 15 August 2011

Stamp Out Stamping

The following incident occurred on the first day of the English Premier League 2011-2012 season during the Newcastle and Arsenal league match on Saturday 13 August 2011. The match finished 0—0.

Arsenal's Alex Song (red) stamps on Newcastle's Joey Barton (black). Pic from Reuters.

Referee Peter Walton (blue) apparently missed the incident even though at the time he was positioned nearby

None of the match officials (Referee Peter Walton and his team) apparently saw this incident, and the amount of ill feeling in the match manifested itself with 8 YCs and 1 RC. Since all match officials missed the incident this lends itself to a review of video evidence.

If the FA are to be consistent with cracking down on these nasty incidents, they will give Arsenal's Alex Song a three-match ban for his stamp on Newcastle's Joey Barton. A similar incident occurred last season where Birmingham's Lee Bowyer maliciously stamped on Arsenal defender Bacary Sagna (and where coincidentally Peter Walton was the match Referee).

Player Attitude, Gamesmanship and Dishonesty ...
Joey Barton (black) makes his feelings known to Alex Song (red, middle)

Shaking hands

... But then the players literally kiss-and-make-up. What's that all about?

Remember, Referees have to deal with complaints from players. And when the same players who have just been at loggerheads then exhibit this 'friendly' attitude, what are Referees to do? Perhaps this little blog can highlight the inconsistency, irrationality and immaturity of players.

Stamp Out Stamping (related posts)

Friday 12 August 2011

Goalkeepers and Handling or Possession Rights

The following incident occurred during an MLS match between LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday 25 June 2011. The match finished 0—0.

In the 85th minute, an Earthquakes attacker (blue) kicks the ball towards the Galaxy goal. The goalkeeper Mike Magee—who was the third-choice keeper following an injury and a send-off, respectively, for LA Galaxy's first- and second-choice keepers—parries the ball with his hands and then gives up handling rights by kicking the ball a few times along the ground to the side of the penalty area. Then when an opponent (blue) attempts to challenge for the ball, Magee picks up the ball with his hands. Here are the freeze frames:

Has the goalkeeper (black) committed an offence?

The Referee (Juan Guzman) allowed play to continue. Furthermore, there was no outcry from commentators, coaches, players and fans. Did anyone at the match know the Laws of the Game? What is the correct decision here?

The Laws clearly state that: an indirect free kick should be awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, touches the ball again with his hands after he has released the ball from his possession and before it has touched another player.

Also, take a look at the third-choice goalkeeper's attire.

Galaxy goalkeeper Mike Magee is wearing a #12 shirt with #18 shorts

Magee, being an outfield player but made goalkeeper during the match, did not have the correct goalkeeper shorts but nevertheless perhaps some white tape to cover up the #18 could have been the minimum effort afforded to avoid any potential misunderstandings and complaints. In addition, in this day and age, it is perhaps inconceivable that a squad of professional soccer players does not possess spare goalkeeper shorts.

In summary, it was a challenging match for the referee, and it is a given that he learned many important lessons from this match. Referees who watch this match can also learn many valuable lessons.