Wednesday 30 November 2011

Below the Belt

"After all, if the assistant was better at decision making he would surely have been promoted to the referees’ list."
Writes Graham Poll in his newspaper column.

At the highest levels, there are various reasons why some match officials embark on the path to become an AR or an R, and sometimes they have no choice in the matter. This should not diminish or devalue their development path in football officiating. Where the criticism of an official is overdone and over-the-top, then it smacks of hitting "below the belt".

Referee Mike Jones initially signalled a corner kick to Newcastle Utd but then accepts AR John Flynn's decision to overrule for a penalty kick against Man Utd

I agree that the AR John Flynn made a significant error during the EPL match between Manchester United and Newcastle United on Saturday 26 November 2011. Poll also highlights a similar error by another AR Paul Kirkup who overruled Referee Martin Atkinson during the EPL match between Liverpool and Manchester City on Sunday 27 November 2011.

Therefore, by all means criticise the performance of the ARs and keep it relevant to the specific match or matches. But by no means is it justifiable to criticise an AR for apparently not being good enough to be an R.

Related Post

Puzzled by Poll

Tuesday 29 November 2011

2011 UCL Incidents: AC Milan and Barcelona

The following incidents occurred during the UEFA Champions League group match beween AC Milan and Barcelona on 23 November 2011. The match finished 2—3.

Application of the Laws

In the 24', AC Milan player Alberto Aquilani (red 18) recklessly kicked Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas (blue 4). Referee Wolfgang Stark correctly cautioned Aquilani.

In the 30', Referee Wolfgang Stark awarded a penalty to Barcelona. This for a foul by Aquilani on Barcelona's Xavi.

There was no caution* awarded to Aquilani (and hence Aquilani was fortunate not to be sent off for second cautionable offence), which is incorrect. Instead, a yellow card was given to AC Milan's Alessandro Nesta (red 13). The reason(s) for this is unclear. However, whether it was a case of mistaken identity or for dissent, this incident again highlights the ineffectiveness of extra assistant referees (EARs) who in this match clearly did not help the hapless referee.

* Perhaps even a red card for DOGSO
At the highest levels, the difference between whether or not an obvious goal scoring opportunity is denied can be due to a yard or two. For example, in a similar incident in a match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid on 26 November 2011, the Referee dismissed Atletico's goalkeeper for DOGSO (comparing the two freeze frames below, it appears that the attacking player's distance to the ball is the determining factor here ... a matter of a couple of yards?).

During the penalty kick, Barcelona's Lionel Messi should have known better than to stop at the end of his run up.
Lionel Messi stops at the end of his run up

isn't it wonderful to see so many players (especially the slighted team) who did not hesitate to display their knowledge of the updated Laws of the penalty kick. The Referee correctly ordered a retake and correctly cautioned Messi for unsporting behaviour.

AC Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiata knows the updated Law ... how convenient!

But isn't it interesting that players ignore the Law about encroachment during penalty kicks?

During both penalty kicks, look at AC Milan's Gianluca Zambrotta (red 19). He encroaches both times.
Messi's penalty re-take (look at red 19)

The consideration is whether the Referee or his assistants would identify this encroachment had the penalty kick not been converted? Now that there are 3 match officials present during penalty kicks, it is surprising that their presence is not used optimally to help prevent encroachment. See previous post (Europa League Penalty Kicks and Encroachment).

Application of Competition Rules

I know this is not a strict ruling, but match officials in the Champions League have an official referees kit specific to this competition. They are therefore expected to wear them. For example, here are some of the UCL referee kits:
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund (2011 UCL Adidas referees kit)

Bayer Leverkusen vs Chelsea (2011 UCL Adidas referees kit)

AC Milan vs Barcelona (2010 WC Adidas referees kit)

It was strange therefore to see Referee Wolfgang Stark and his team wear the 2010 World Cup Adidas referees kit. I wonder what the problem was? Did one of the match officials forget their specific UCL referees kit? But then why did the match officials also have the 2010 WC referees kit with them when they knew they were officiating in a UCL match? Or had one of the match officials not yet received his UCL referees kits?

There are particular and there are peculiar competition rules regarding referees kits, although they may not be officially documented. For instance, in the past we have seen an unwritten preference toward a certain colour of referee kit (i.e. the cyan-blue 2010 WC referees kit during the 2009-2010 Europa League competition; see Blue is the ‘New Black’ in the Europa League).

The match officials were:

Referee Wolfgang Stark (GER)
Assistant referees Jan-Hendrik Salver (GER), Mike Pickel (GER)
Fourth official Peter Gagelmann (GER)
Additional assistant referees Peter Sippel (GER), Christian Dingert (GER)

Saturday 19 November 2011

Shinguards Should Protect Properly

What is the primary purpose of the mandatory use of shinguards or shinpads for players?

An England player wearing a pithy and pathetic excuse for a pair of shinguards during the recent international friendly against Spain on 12 November 2011. England won 1—0.

Shinguards are used for protection. In the referees' opinion, shinguards should offer reasonable protection, but what is reasonable? At the moment, the material of shinguards appears to be the only factor in determining the value of what is or is not "reasonable". For instance, the use of cardboard as shinguards is considered unreasonable at one end of the hardness scale, just as the use of stainless steel shinguards is unreasonable at the other end. Reasonable shinguards are made of material that fall between these two extremes because they offer protective and shock-absorbing properties whilst being lightweight and comfortable.

But what about size? Should the size of shinguards relative to the length of a player's lower leg be used to consider whether shinguards offer reasonable protection? It is about time that shinguard size relative to a player's lower leg size should be a factor. By applying the Laws of Physics, and for shinguards of the same material, the larger the surface area it covers, the more protection it offers both in terms of the total area of protective coverage and in terms of the dissipation and distribution of the incoming force.*

Basically, the larger the size of shinguards relative to the length of a player's lower leg, the better the odds in favour of protection. Referees, players, coaches and spectators should be made aware of this.

*This same principle of mechanics explains why someone who steps on your foot will likely do serious damage if they wore shoes with high stiletto heels compared with shoes with low, flat and wide heels. Ouch!

Thursday 17 November 2011

Snood, You Lose

In the 2012 European Cup playoff 2nd leg match between Croatia and Turkey on Tuesday 15 November 2012, there were some interesting attire adorned by the ARs. The match finished 0—0, and Croatia qualified 3—0 for the 2012 European Championships.

Snood-wearing, flag-waving AR2

Croatia coach Slaven Bilić stands near a snood-wearing AR1

The 4th Official

Considering the IFAB banned the wearing of snoods (neck warmers) from the start of the 2011-2012 season, it is a surprise and an embarrassment to see ARs wearing snoods.

It is common sense that match officials usually follow Law 4_The Player's Equipment as much as they can in a consistent manner with players. Obviously, referees are allowed to wear timepieces, carry whistles, cards, coins, pens, pencils and writing pads plus they are not required to wear shinpads. However, if match officials wear undergarments, they are the same colour as the predominant colour of their shirt sleeves and/or shorts. Since players are banned from wearing jewellery and clothing with religious or political or controversial slogans, then it is common sense that match officials will not wear these items either. And with the new clause about snoods, match officials should be consistent and not wear snoods too.

But because the two ARs wore snoods, the team of Portuguese match officials did not give a good image of themselves. They were:

Pedro Proença (POR)

Assistant referees

Bertino Miranda (POR), Ricardo Santos (POR)

Fourth official

Manuel De Sousa (POR)

Wednesday 16 November 2011

A Seriously Sound Idea

I applaud an interesting and insightful article (see below) suggesting that better sound monitoring around the football pitch, especially during high-profile matches, would have a preventative effect on poor player behaviour.

Everyone knows that UEFA President Michel Platini and FIFA President Sepp Blatter are against match officials using video technology and goal-line technology as an aid to their decision making. The presidents are so against it that they even brought in the experiment of using additional assistant referees (or as I call them extra assistant referees or EARs) in September 2009 which they claimed would have a preventative effect on player behaviour, such as players being less likely to hold opponents and simulate fouls especially in the penalty area. Most people know that EARs do not have a significant preventative effect on player behaviour (there are plenty of examples on this blog) and that the experiment is merely a useful exercise in delaying the use of goal-line technology at the higher levels of the game. Furthermore, continued observations have revealed that EARs actually have a detrimental effect on the performance of the match Referee.

Therefore, the rather excellent idea of wiring footballers for sound (by using strategically-placed microphones around the field of play especially near the penalty and technical areas and perhaps even on match officials) appears in principle to be much more effective than any number of EARs present or cards awarded in the attempt to help deal with unsporting behaviour and gamesmanship by players, substitutes and coaches. Fines could also be meted out, and very quickly players and coaches will learn that it is in their interests to "play ball", as it were.

If they knew more people were listening, perhaps potty-mouthed, ill-tempered and abusive players would be more likely to hold their tongues.

This is not about referees, but instead is something much bigger and more important. This is about creating transparency, encouraging fair play, improving player behaviour, cleaning up attitudes, and educating everyone who has an interest in the beautiful game. After all, FIFA does apparently endorse: "My Game is Fair Play".

What an excellent idea! This use of sound monitoring would only be applicable at the highest levels where millions of people watch and listen to televised matches, and consequently the impact from the trickle-down effect to grassroots would be substantial, significant and simultaneous. It is a seriously sound idea.

And just imagine what creative excuses Monsieurs Platini and Blatter will come up with if this idea of sound monitoring around the football pitch is seriously pushed onto the agenda?


Wiring footballers for sound may help keep mouths shut (by Associated Press)
Authorities slow to adopt methods to record referees' comments or check the on-pitch tirades, abuse and bad language of players
Nov 13, 2011

In the era of ubiquitous CCTV cameras, of eye-in-the-sky satellites that spy on the earth and telescopes that peer ever-deeper into the cosmos, it seems astounding that we can't hear much of what footballers players say to each other on a pitch. Perhaps it is time for some "Big Brother" surveillance in football, too.

More well-placed microphones, why not even broadcasting sound from the shirt lapels of referee Chris Foy and his assistants, perhaps might have helped determine whether captain John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand in Chelsea's ill-tempered 1-0 loss at Queens Park Rangers on October 23. Even if on-pitch recordings could not capture every word, maybe players would think twice before directing tirades at each other and at officials if football was more wired for sound, like rugby and other sports.

The idea of broadcasting match officials' on-field words to players, as rugby does, is not on football's agenda. The sport's lawmakers last looked at this in 2004. The minutes of their meeting show they were happy for officials to talk to each other by radio during a match but decided that "such a system ... must not be used for broadcasting purposes".

No surprise there. Fifa is hardly a trailblazer in the use of technology. Its progress is excruciatingly slow on picking which system football will use to determine when the ball crosses the goalline. And Thierry Henry of France will likely be an old man before football's ruling body accepts video replays that could have punished his handball that broke Irish hearts in 2009 during World Cup play-offs.

Still, that shouldn't stop us from exercising our imagination.

If players wore microphones, we might all have heard the "certain word" that Manchester United's Patrice Evra accused Liverpool's Luis Suarez of racially abusing him when the clubs met on October 15. That was a month ago, which is a long time for such an ugly allegation to hang unresolved over the Premier League. Striker Suarez denied it. United stuck by Evra. Which of them is telling the truth must wish there was audio to prove it.

But wiring up all 22 players would be overly intrusive, technically tough and of questionable use, at least for broadcast purposes. It would be smarter to broadcast at least some of what referees hear and say. That was tried with astounding effect in the 1980s, when David Elleray wore a microphone for a Millwall-Arsenal game. It recorded Gunner Tony Adams squealing at Elleray and calling him a cheat when he disallowed an Arsenal goal.

In Australia, officials looked into repeating something along those lines this season. They felt that broadcasting referees' comments to players might help spectators Down Under, where football isn't the No1 sport, better understand what's happening and improve on-field discipline. Fifa said "No" to the Australian federation's initial feelers. However, "there's still work being done to possibly bring it in, as a trial, not as a league-wide standard", A-League spokesman Mark Jensen said.

"The possibility with using microphones for referees and having that audio available is that players might realise they are being recorded and tone it down for their images' sake," Jensen said. "If you see Wayne Rooney ... screaming offences at a referee for a decision, kids watch that and pick up on that and they think it's OK. So putting things in place to possibly curb that is only good for future generations."

In the Canadian Football League, which plays gridiron football, the head coaches and quarterbacks of the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers agreed to wear live microphones for broadcaster TSN for a pre-season game in June. TSN built in a 10-second delay so it could interrupt the audio if the language got salty.

"As it turns out, we rarely used that," said Paul Graham, TSN's vice-president and executive producer of live events. "You could hear the coaches talking to the players on the sidelines and conferencing in with their assistant coaches, and you could hear the quarterbacks talking to their teammates in the huddle and then making their calls."

"From a viewer perspective, it was certainly entertaining," he said. "From a league perspective, worth the experiment, but I would be lying if I said they weren't nervous throughout the whole ordeal."

So, if football wanted, something could be done.

If they knew more people were listening, perhaps potty-mouthed, ill-tempered and abusive players would be more likely to hold their tongues.

Monday 14 November 2011

Wall Management, Encroachment, Handball

The following incident occurred during the 2012 European Cup playoff 1st leg match between Czech Republic and Montenegro on Saturday 12 November 2011. The match finished 2—0.

Referee Martin Atkinson (EPL Referee) correctly awards a DFK to Czech Republic (red) just outside the penalty area. However, his wall management is not optimum because it is clear the distance from the wall to the ball was not 10 yards. Next, there was additional encroachment and a handball, all of which were missed by the match officials. Here are the freeze frames:

Note: Don't trust the rather crude 10-yard distance arc from the TV, since it is clearly incorrect. Perhaps a better way is to look at the penalty mark (a Montenegro player in white is standing on it) as a frame of reference. The penalty mark is exactly 6 yards perpendicular to the edge of the penalty area, so if an imaginary line is drawn from the penalty mark parallel across the penalty area so that when it is directly perpendicular to where the ball is, then it should be obvious that the distance arc is not accurate. Worryingly even with an inaccurate "TV techno" arc, the players are still inside the arc.

The Referee was well positioned for the free kick but failed to spot the handball.

Late on in the match, Montenegro (white) were awarded a DFK and Referee Atkinson demonstrated the typical EPL standard of positioning during free kicks. Here it is:

Here is a previous example of this EPL type of positioning (see Webb Positioning).

From observation, the EPL standard of positioning during free kicks is not necessarily recognized or encouraged by FIFA or UEFA.

Note: It happens elsewhere too, for instance in the MLS (see here).

Friday 11 November 2011

Violent Conduct by Thierry Henry

The following incident occurred during the MLS match between Sporting Kansas City and New York Red Bulls on Saturday 15 October 2011. The match finished 2—0.

In the 28', Referee Kevin Stott sent off New York Red Bulls Thierry Henry for violent conduct. Here are the freeze frames:

RED CARD: Thierry Henry sent off for foul (YouTube clip)

Instead of walking off the pitch, Henry protested his innocence to anyone who would listen but to no avail.

1) What incident(s) led up to the act of violent conduct?
2) Could the offending player have avoided his actions?
3) Did the Referee have a good view of the act of violent conduct?

1) Immediately prior to the incident, New York Red Bulls' Thierry Henry became frustrated when challenged by a few opponents and eventually lost possession of the ball. This frustration boiled over when Henry saw the opportunity to mete out his emotions on an opponent who was on the ground (Roger Espinoza).

2) A good rule of thumb is for Referees to consider whether the offending player would perform the very same action toward his own team-mate. In such situations, the duty of care is with the player who is behind his opponent. It was quite possible for Henry to avoid running into the back of Espinoza but Henry chose not to and instead angled his knee toward Espinoza's back.

3) Referee Kevin Stott had a near and unobstructed view. There was no doubt in the Referee's mind that Henry's unsporting act was violent conduct.