Sunday 4 December 2011

In one EAR, out the other EAR

Finally, in a soccer world full of ineffective extra assistant referees we have found one effective EAR. An EAR who was willing to take a public stand because he knew the R had missed something significant.

The following incidents occurred during the Europa League group match between Tottenham Hotspurs and PAOK on Wednesday 30 November 2011. The match finished 1—2.

Incident One DOGSO Handball Call and an Ineffective EAR

In the 37', Referee Bas Nijhuis (Netherlands) decided a PAOK defender had deliberately used his arm to stop a goal-bound shot on the goal line, thereby deliberately handling the ball to deny a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. The R therefore sent off the PAOK defender (black 3) and awarded a penalty. Here are the freeze frames:

Just one out of five Spurs players in the area called for handball

Did the PAOK defender (black) deliberately move his arm towards the ball? Was his arm in an unnatural position?

This appears to be a harsh decision, even though in real time we must accept what the match Referee sees and decides at that moment. With post-match analysis, the discussion is whether this really was deliberate handball.

From the R's angle (and from one Spurs player's angle who was positioned at the corner of the goal area), it is understandable that they saw the ball hit the PAOK defender's arm. But note, only one of the five Spurs players in the penalty area claimed handball.

From other perspectives, it appeared the PAOK defender had his arm in a natural position and the ball first hit his torso and then deflected on to his arm. The point is the PAOK defender did not deliberately play the ball with his arm. This can be compared with the deliberate actions of Australia's Harry Kewell in the 2010 WC match between Australia and Ghana, and also of AC Milan's Alessandro Nesta in the 2010-11 UCL match between AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur. Those actions were clear deliberate arm movements towards the ball.

However, the R made his own decision and the EAR on that side of the pitch was ineffective.

Incident Two Reckless Challenge and an Effective EAR

In the 77', as a PAOK defender clears the ball from his goal area a Spurs player (Jermain Defoe) makes a reckless challenge and injures the defender. The R appears oblivious to this and play continues for a further 15 seconds until the ball enters the goal. Here are the freeze frames:

The Referee whistles at this point ... when the ball is already in the net

After the ball enters the goal, Referee Nijhuis signals that his assistant or assistants have told him "No Goal". At first, the TV cameras and commentators believe the AR has raised his flag, but later the TV focus on the EAR. There is confusion because the R has also made a strange signal with both his arms.
I say: "No Goal"
I say: "Because he said so!"
Now I say: "? ? ?"

What is this double arm signal?

If we forget the R, we can see that the effective EAR is calmly explaining to the players that there was a foul on the PAOK defender. It takes at least 20 seconds (and certainly longer) to explain this to the players who are approaching the EAR.

From the TV replays, we can clearly see the effective EAR communicating with the R. However, at that time the R has totally ignored his EAR and has allowed play to continue. This is unsurprising since from many observations of UEFA's experiment with EARs starting from 2009, the R typically ignores information from EARs.


Referee Nijhuis appeared too casual. In many instances he seemed to walk and stroll about the pitch as if he was passing the time away until it was time to go home. Incident Two highlighted how his "casualness" gave the impression of being indecisive even in the face of good assistance from his team. His effective EAR was clearly telling him that there was a foul on the goal line by a Spurs player on a PAOK player. And yet he never whistled until the ball went into the goal 15 seconds later.

It would have been even better had the R cautioned Spurs' Jermain Defoe for his reckless challenge. This would have given the clearest indication to players, coaches, fans and commentators that the R had acted on advice from his team about the reckless challenge. It would also have given the clearest indication to referees, referee assessors and referee chiefs that the R fully took in the EAR's advice and acted accordingly.

For this match, it seems the EAR was the most effective match official of the lot. At one time he even held the magic wand up like a radio or walkie talkie (perhaps inadvertently demonstrating that he prefers to talk and use the CommLink to communicate with the Referee). This EAR gave a good performance.

The match officials were:

Bas Nijhuis (NED)
Assistant referees
Angelo Boonman (NED), Rob van de Ven (NED)
Fourth official
Jeroen Sanders (NED)
Additional assistant referees (EARs)
Ed Janssen (NED), Reinold Wiedemeijer (NED)

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