Monday 1 April 2013

What is SFP?

The following incident occurred during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers in Europe between Ukraine and Moldova on Tuesday 26 March 2013. The match finished 2—1, and there were 2YCs and 1RC.

Red Card during Ukraine and Moldova on Tuesday 26 March 2013 (YouTube)

Ukraine's Taras Stepanenko (yellow 6) is guilty of serious foul play for using "excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play". Stepanenko endangered the safety of an opponent. Here are the freeze frames:

Although Referees and readers on this site are never going to be a homogenous group (meaning there will always be dissenting voices, as seen by the sometimes pithy and unconstructive comments left on this blog) … looking at Stepanenko's action, I would think that the majority of sensible Referees and readers would agree with Referee Kenn Hansen's decision to issue a straight Red Card.

Now compare Stepanenko's action with the Nani—Arbeloa incident, and I would think that amongst sensible Referees and readers, some would think "Yellow Card", some "Red Card", and others may not even think a direct free kick is necessary. That is, in general there are mixed responses to Nani's action.

The fact that Cuneyt Cakir's decision to send off Nani has raised so many mixed responses (compared with Hansen's decision) amongst sensible Referees and readers should tell us that there is something significantly wrong with the interpretation of serious foul play (SFP).

Just for good measure, now consider how Referees and players accept the use of the scissors or bicycle kick (as demonstrated often by Peter Crouch and other players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic) especially in crowded areas where contact with other players is highly likely. At most, Referees award a yellow card when a player connects with an opponent's head because it is only deemed to be acting "with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent".
Question: When players perform scissors or bicycle kicks and connect with an opponent's head, why is this not considered "endangering the safety of an opponent"?

We know that the FA and PGMOL in England do not consider bicycle kicks to be send-off offences. But perhaps Pierluigi Collina and his Referees committee at UEFA may think so? We simply do not know (yet).
However, what we do know is that Collina and UEFA take a relatively harsher view in its interpretation of Law 12 because we know that for Nani's action the FA probably would not award a Red Card, whereas UEFA has interpreted it to be SFP.

Conclusion: the interpretation of SFP remains a grey area.

Note: Referee Kenn Hansen (Denmark) was excellent in his man-management skills. He knew the offending player (Stepanenko) would be subjected to criticism and even possible physical retaliation from players of the opposing team. Therefore Hansen quickly cordoned off Stepanenko from other players. This is optimum officiating and Hansen deserves praise and plaudits for his sensible and sensitive handling of the situation. Here are the freeze frames:
 Referee Kenn Hansen cooly and calmly cordons off Stepanenko from other players


If Referees need to physically step in to separate players, then this is the best approach. Hansen was cool, calm and collected and knew what he had to do.

The worst approach is to use brute force to physically separate or push players away … which is demonstrated often by Howard Webb's physical approach to man-handling players. Webb's way to separate players is way too physical, excessive and untidy (examples can be seen here, here and here).


  1. Seems to me this is more akin to assault and battery than SFP. Of course, within the boundaries of a soccer pitch this is SFP. Anybody who thinks otherwise needs their head examined. The fact, this needs pointing out illustrates the complete breakdown in communication within the confines of referee supervision, worldwide.

    If I was the victim I would seriously consider filing charges for assault and battery or whatever similar criminal charge is appropriate in the jurisdiction of this crime.

  2. Great Job HKRef in continuing this discussion. I hope UEFA's Collina would address Nani's incident in a way that " his experience and his incredible ability to manage people" would show us a better understanding of SFP. Its VITAL because Nani's send off had a significant impact on an incredibly important game monetarily and the instincts of every soccer competitor.
    John M Spfld MA


    Is this SFP?

  4. Thank you Anon. This is a videoclip from the UCL QF 1st leg match between Bayern Munich and Juventus on Tuesday 2 April 2013. The match finished 2—0, with no RCs awarded. The Referee was Mark Clattenburg.

    The question to ask is whether Franck Ribery, who launched his studs into the calf of Arturo Vidal, used:
    1) excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play, or
    2) excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball.

  5. For me it was a clear red card, even if Ribery goes for the ball. A tackle dangerous to health more or less.
    Clattenburg did not even award a free-kick which is a pity.
    Excellent post by the way!