Monday, 16 January 2012

Similar Similar Means Different Part 1

Liverpool's Glen Johnson (red) challenges Manchester City's Joleon Lescott (blue) for the ball. Pic from BBC.

In the aftermath of the send off incident by Chris Foy the Courageous, it was inevitable that comparisons—those with any hint of similarity to Vincent Kompany's serious foul play—would be brought up. And so it happened ...

The following incident occurred during the Carling Cup semifinal first-leg match between Manchester City and Liverpool on Thursday 12 January 2012. The match finished 0—1.

In the 90'+1' Liverpool's Glen Johnson (red 2) challenges Manchester City's Joleon Lescott (blue 6) for the ball. Here are the freeze frames:
Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini looks perplexed and puzzled. Is he thinking: "Vincent Kompany red card ... Glen Johnson red card"?

Here are just some of the views from football players and coaches; Mancini, Ferdinand, Martinez and Reo-Coker:
"This tackle [Glen Johnson's two-footed challenge] was worse than Vinny's. Everyone can see it."
claims Manchester City coach Roberto Mancini

"It's stated clearly in the rule book, we get told before the season when all the referees go around the different clubs: a two-footed tackle is a red card. It's as simple as that."
claims Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand

"Two-footed challenges should be red cards, that should be the end of the debate. If you are player and go into a challenge with both feet that should be a red card. That's what the rules say, you can agree or disagree - are we losing the art of tackling or are we protecting the flair players? - but that's the law of the game."
claims Wigan coach Roberto Martinez

"Everyone can have such a long discussion on what tackle is deemed fair and what tackle is dangerous. I don't really think there are clear enough guidelines to know how you can tackle in the modern game."
claims Bolton midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker

Interestingly, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish maintained that he had not seen the [Glen Johnson] incident.*

And following Manchester United's 3—0 win of Bolton Wanderers on Saturday 14 January 2012, where Referee Peter Walton failed to send off Bolton's Zat Knight for DOGSO, Sir Alex Ferguson said:
"... these inconsistencies are confusing to everyone. Referees have to be given direction about what are the laws of the game and what should be permitted in terms of tackles. (Referees' chief) Mike Riley has to be given the rope to say this is not allowed, two-footed tackles are not acceptable, whether you take the ball or not. If he does that it would clarify the situation for all players, the referees and the fans."

The above views demonstrate that people like football players Ferdinand and Reo-Coker, and coaches like Mancini, Martinez and Ferguson do not reference the Laws Of The Game.* They do not reference the Laws Of The Game because ... they appear not to have read it and studied it. It would be fair to say that many people are ignorant of the Laws Of The Game.

And just as ignorance of the law cannot be used by guilty parties as a defence plea in a court of law, so ignorance of the Laws Of The Game cannot be used by football players and coaches when they have been sanctioned by the Referee. Indeed—and perhaps this is too optimistic a view—these are meant to be professional players and professional coaches so one would think that they would take their 'profession' and their livelihood seriously and at least attempt to understand what they can and cannot do on the football pitch.

* And if the coach happens to be from the same team as the player who made a terrible tackle (e.g. Liverpool boss Kenny Daglish), his vested interest does not allow him to comment specifically or in an accusatory manner.

Referee Lee Mason allowed play to continue. What should have been the correct decision?

What needs to be clearly discussed here are the differences and similarities between Playing In A Dangerous Manner and Serious Foul Play. Competent Referees will know and understand the difference, whereas it is likely that other Referees and many football players, coaches, pundits and fans will not have had the formal training, guidance or knowledge base that will help lead them to knowing and understanding the difference.

Yes, there is a fine line between PIADM and SFP, and the Laws Of The Game allow for this fine line to be defined. What it does not allow for is the varying interpretations from different Referees who have different perspectives, experience and other considerations that can muddy the waters when attempting to offer "alternative versions of the fine line".

Using the framework that describes PIADM and SFP, it should be possible to determine that Glen Johnson's two-footed challenge was similar but not the same as Vincent Kompany's two-footed challenge. But how many football people really know this, or really care about knowing this?

We can also forget about taking seriously comments and views from football players, coaches, pundits and fans unless they can demonstrate that they have read and understood the Laws Of The Game. However, the relevant authorities such as the FA and the PGMOL should engage all interested parties and help clarify the official position regarding what is and what is not acceptable. In addition, Referees as a group also have the responsibility in aiming to be consistent in their application of Law 12. In that way, the correct message will eventually get through to everyone else.

For more clarification, there will be an attempt to further explain in Part 2 of Similar Similar Means Different why Glen Johnson's two-footed challenge was similar but not the same as Vincent Kompany's two-footed challenge.

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