Wednesday 19 August 2015

Referee Correct to Disallow Goal by Bournemouth

Much has been said about the injustice, and the appearance of injustice, to Bournemouth in their match against Liverpool on Monday 17th August 2015. However, the injustice of Christian Benteke's winning goal—which should have been called offside and wasn't—does not mean that there was also an injustice to Tommy Elphick's goal, which referee Craig Pawson correctly disallowed.

The media and Bournemouth wrongly believe that Bournemouth had two major decisions go against them ... when in fact it was only one.

Here are the freeze frames of the Cherries' disallowed goal:

Bournemouth's Tommy Elphick (black 5) fouls Liverpool's Dejan Lovren (red 6) to head the ball

Elphick clearly does not believe he did anything wrong as he headed the ball into the Liverpool net in the 11th minute, saying:
"It is really frustrating. I wouldn't like to be doing the referee's job. I got up ahead of him (Dejan Lovren), obviously you have to use your arms as leverage."
Is it obvious that players have to use their arms as leverage? No!

Referees know that if a player uses his arms against an opponent to prevent him from jumping, then it is an offence. Elphick effectively pushed his opponent down, which is a foul.

Friday 14 August 2015

Are ex-Referee Graham Poll's Views Relevant Anymore?

With the start of the 2015-16 EPL season referee Michael Oliver, who officiated Chelsea's 2-2 draw with Swansea, demonstrated why he is possibly the best referee currently in the premiership. Ex-EPL referee Graham Poll praised Oliver but then said something that seriously jarred against modern-day refereeing principles.

Referee Michael Oliver sends off Chelsea's Thibaut Courtois for DOGSO. Pic AP.

In his column Poll said: "Michael Oliver was right to award Swansea a penalty against Chelsea... but Thibaut Courtois did not deserve a straight red card".
He based his reasoning by insisting that "For DOGSO, the ball must be heading towards goal and, as replays show, it was not."

This is a very traditional, rigid and non-progressive take on DOGSO and I do not know of any referee instructors who still stick to this, especially at the highest levels. The problem is perhaps because Graham Poll no longer teaches in refereeing circles, and therefore is no longer up to date with the best current refereeing practices. Therefore, are Poll's views about referees relevant anymore?

Thankfully, the FA review panel rejected Chelsea's ill-advised and frivolous appeal against Courtois' red card and upheld the one-match ban.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Whose Blunder Is It Anyway?

Media reports have accused a Chinese goalkeeper of making a serious mistake. Sui Weijie's club Lifan has also fined him 50,000 yuan (about US$8,000) and faces a suspension. However, a bigger mistake was made by the match officials ... what was it?

Liaoning players (red) take a quick free kick against Lifan (white) in the Chinese Super League

You can see the video here (or watch below)

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 May, 2015

Quenching his thirst while on duty proved costly for Chongqing Lifan goalkeeper Sui Weijie, who has been fined for sipping water as their opponents equalised in a Chinese Super League match.
Relegation-threatened Lifan were leading 1-0 seven minutes from time in Sunday’s match when hosts Liaoning took a quick free-kick and midfielder Ding Haifeng darted past a group of static defenders before slotting the ball into an empty net, with Sui stood motionless drinking next to the goal post.

Lifan have since slapped Sui with a 50,000 yuan fine and he faces suspension.

Alternative angle

"I made a terrible mistake in Sunday’s game and let go a full three points," Sui, who was confronted by Lifan supporters at Liaoning’s Shenyang Airport on Monday, was quoted as saying.

"I won’t repeat the same mistake and will never lose concentration."

And Sui is unlikely to be a popular man in the dressing room - management had promised players a 1 million yuan bonus for a win, which was reduced to 400,000 since they only drew.

Sui was questioned by the ICAC in 2010 while playing in Hong Kong for Happy Valley in a match-fixing scandal, but never charged. 

Monday 18 May 2015

Rational Ref: Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

Colourful shirts undermine a match official's authority, or do they?

 Australia's NRL referees will no longer wear pink jerseys. Photo: Getty Images

The term "Men in Black" is more likely to conjure up images of Will Smith blasting aliens into outer space rather than referees carding players off the soccer pitch. That's because the game's leading law enforcers are mostly kitted out in lemon yellow, lipstick red, sherbet blue and even fuchsia pink.

Over in the rugby world, Australia's NRL referees have ditched their colourful shirts claiming their "Pretty In Pink" tops undermine their authority. Even though rugby referees command far better respect from players, there could be some truth to their feelings of insecurity based on the colour of their shirts.

Rugby referees will now wear dark blue or black uniforms that, according to Tom Heenan from the National Centre for Australian Studies, are more likely to encourage discipline.

"One of the arguments is a stronger colour denotes a more disciplined culture, so therefore a navy blue would promote more discipline than a pink," Heenan said.

But psychologist Chris Pomfret of Condor Performance said there was no evidence the colour of a referee's uniform made any difference to how he was perceived. "I'm not aware of any evidence the colour pink would make any difference to how an official is perceived by the people they are officiating over, the crowd, coaches or any other observers," said Pomfret.

He said by agreeing to scrap the pink jersey this suggested the NRL was too concerned with what players, coaches and supporters thought of referees.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez (right) tries to place the ball past Crystal Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni. Keepers who wear bright shirts increase their chances of putting off opponents. Photo: EPA  
"The colour of a uniform is irrelevant to the skill execution of referees, just the same as the colour of a jersey worn by players is irrelevant to their skill execution," he said. "In short, the colour of a uniform shouldn't matter as it doesn't directly impact on the performance of a referee, which ultimately has the most influence on their perceived credibility."

Scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Rugby referees are on to something and soccer referees can benefit from this kind of knowledge, too.

The science of colour psychology reveals that goalkeepers who wear bright flamboyant shirts may be better off than those wearing boring duller tops.

By heightening their opponents' perception levels, goalkeepers make themselves appear bigger than they really are. Goalkeepers wearing outlandish kits thus increase their chances of putting off their opponents who have only a split second to squeeze the ball past them and into the goal.

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge (left) controls the ball as Blackburn's Adam Henley looks on. Photo: AP 
There is another a study that showed teams taking penalty kicks performed worst when the winning team's goalkeeper wore red, which appears to be a powerful colour for players.

In England, records since the second world war reveal teams wearing red have averaged higher league positions and have won more league championships than teams wearing other colours.
Also in cities with more than one team, the teams wearing red outperformed their rivals wearing other colours. Manchester United and Liverpool spring immediately to mind. In Hong Kong, South China are the most successful local club side ever.

New York Cosmos' forward Raul Gonzalez (centre) vies with South China Football Club's Chak Ting-fung and Bojan Malisic during the Lunar New Year Cup. Photo: EPA 
In 1996, Alex Ferguson famously changed his team's grey away kit at half-time following a humiliating 3-0 onslaught by Southampton. Wearing blue in the second half, they lost 3-1. Of five games ever played in their grey kit, United lost four and drew one.

Would the public (and criminals) take police and prison guards seriously if their uniforms were bright pink or fluorescent green? Of course not.

Referees should be known again as the Men in Black. Instead of referees having to change their shirt colours due to kit clashes with teams, organisers should insist all teams including their keepers do not wear black kits. Ultimately, whatever colour they wear, referees in the modern era still need all the help they can get to become more commanding and effective on the pitch.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 March, 2015

UPDATE: Men dressed in red perceived as being more aggressive, study finds

Sunday 10 May 2015

Rational Ref: Chelsea's masters of the dark arts highlight a win-at-all-costs mentality

Chelsea's masters of the dark arts highlight a win-at-all-costs mentality

Chelsea's siege on Kuipers shows intimidation and bullying are acceptable in quest for glory
In sport what is more important: playing the game or playing games? Nowhere else but in soccer is this distinction more apparent, with plenty of cheating and gamesmanship instead of genuine sportsmanship and model behaviour.

Chelsea's siege on Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers during their Champions League exit to Paris Saint-Germain last week comes as no huge surprise. It is simply the logical consequence of the ugly, unethical and underhanded approach that has been allowed to fester and flourish to alarming levels.
The dark arts—comprising cheating, provocation, intimidation, faking injury and childish behaviour—is now so endemic it is considered the main source of entertainment, with media reports barely touching on the final score and team performances.

In one camp, John Terry, Jose Mourinho, Gary Neville and others believe the dark arts are entirely acceptable, whereas the likes of Graeme Souness, Jamie Carragher and most referees prefer a cleaner, honest and straightforward approach. Spectators will probably support whichever camp so long as it benefits their favourite team.

 Zlatan Ibrahimovic gestures to the referee after a tackle on Chelsea midfielder Oscar, who appeared badly hurt, but was on his feet moments after a red card was issued. Photo: AFP   

Chelsea captain Terry defended his hounding of referees, saying: "Every other side is as bad as each other."

"It's part of the game. Once they're charging the ref, the only thing we can do is respond. You can't as a group of players let them surround the ref, trying to get our players booked. Once I go [to influence the referee], four or five go with me. It doesn't look good, but that's part of the game."

Mourinho, obviously, backs his captain since he instils this kind of attitude in all the teams he has coached. As a manager, he upholds his reputation as the master of dark arts, with eye gouging a particular speciality.

In contrast, Souness labelled Chelsea players "pathetic" for their antics. Souness, who cemented his reputation at Liverpool as a tough but honest player, harks back to the old-fashioned era when sportsmanship and camaraderie took priority over rivalry and winning at all costs.

However, in the modern era of professional athletes and ludicrous salaries, the game's values have become ridiculously warped.

When Oscar was apparently seriously injured in his clash with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, notice how none of the Chelsea players showed any genuine concern to the well-being of their Brazilian teammate.

Not one of them went to see how Oscar was because they were all focused on pressuring the referee. Oscar was exaggerating the seriousness of his injury and as soon as Ibrahimovic was sent off, he was back on his feet as if nothing had happened.

Suppose you and a friend are involved in a car crash with another driver, what would be the natural reaction? Would you be jumping and screaming at the traffic policeman to reprimand the driver causing the accident or would you be more concerned about your friend?
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, a 'master of the dark arts'? Photo: AP

Chelsea's behaviour reveals the sad, twisted values that have taken over the game, where gaining a favourable decision is more important than the safety of teammates and fellow professionals.

In a match I refereed recently, two players jumped up for the ball and collided in a fair challenge, with one player apparently coming off worse for wear. Because he screamed loudly and made a big fuss about having an injury to his face, I whistled to stop play so he could be checked.

When I told him there was no foul, he became even more animated and miraculously forgot about his so-called "injury".

As a referee, I was more concerned about his safety. However, this player was all about getting a free kick for himself and a card for his opponent.
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard summed up the game's warped value systems by saying: "I think it's normal when you play games at that level. Players and managers want to win so much - players will try every trick in the book to try to get over the line and win matches.

"We've all been guilty of it throughout our careers by not always abiding by the rules."

The only way to appreciate this sentiment is that if we have all been taught to value only the destination and not to care about the journey in the "beautiful" game.

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 March, 2015

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Rational Ref: McManaman tackle exposes flaws in retrospective action

McManaman tackle exposes flaws in retrospective action

FA's mishandling of Wigan player's challenge puts safety at risk, shows system needs review

Wigan's Callum McManaman horror tackle on Massadio Haidara. Pic Focus Images

The most horrible factor about the 2012-2013 season's worst challenge, by Callum McManaman of Wigan, is not the tackle itself, but the fact it has been surpassed by an even worse scenario: the FA's pathetic, retrospective review of the incident.

In incidents where a major injustice has occurred on the pitch and where match officials have, for whatever reasons, shown they have not properly dealt with the offence, taking retrospective action is a sensible process. It protects players, supports referees and safeguards the image of the game. It allows justice to be, and seen to be, done.

Unfortunately, the FA's challenge turned out to be a feeble sidestepping of the issue. The FA used a technicality to excuse itself from not taking retrospective action against 21-year-old McManaman for his awful tackle on Newcastle's 20-year-old defender Massadio Haidara.

It exposes serious flaws in the system and is not limited to England since all around the world, including Hong Kong, the retrospective review system is often ineffective. It doesn't successfully protect players, match officials or the image of the game. In hindsight, the retrospective review process needs to be reviewed itself, for justice's sake.

Here is the FA's statement on the McManaman incident: "Where one of the officials has seen a coming together of players, no retrospective action should be taken, regardless of whether he or she witnessed the full or particular nature of the challenge. This is to avoid the re-refereeing of incidents."

Referee Mark Halsey was honest enough to admit that he did not see the incident. Due to 51-year-old Halsey's poor positioning, his view of McManaman's challenge was blocked by another player. However, assistant referee Matthew Wilkes admitted seeing the "coming together" of the players and the FA has shamelessly used this as an excuse for not taking retrospective action against McManaman.

First, the claim that the FA wishes to avoid re-refereeing incidents is hypocritical. They do it often and they do it to undermine the credibility of match officials. For instance earlier this year, the FA rescinded referee Mike Dean's red card for Manchester City's Vincent Kompany. That is the very definition of re-refereeing.

Second, the FA's ignorance regarding the poor accuracy and credibility of the witness' view is embarrassing. Just because a linesman saw the incident does not mean he had a "good, near and clear view" to make a competent decision. In fact, the distance between the linesman and McManaman's challenge was at least 32 metres coupled to the reality that his main priorities lie elsewhere on the field. We know the linesman made a poor decision in assisting Halsey, so why not allow a retrospective review? If the FA is so willing to re-referee, say, Dean's perfectly clear and competent decision to send off Kompany, then why is it less enthused about re-refereeing the poor decision not to send off McManaman on the basis that the linesman vaguely saw the "coming together" of two players from a distance of over 35 yards?

Justice has not prevailed and the FA is seen to be hiding behind excuses. Newcastle, clearly outraged, officially announced the FA's disciplinary process to be "not fit for purpose" and have demanded a change in the rule that allowed McManaman to escape sanction.

If there is no perceived justice, then fans will be angry and jump at the chance to form their own kangaroo courts. Players, too, will sense the injustice and may take matters on themselves on the pitch.

In McManaman's case, he will be jeered in future matches particularly by Newcastle supporters and, as is the nature of the game, when he eventually falls victim to a nasty tackle, there inevitably will be those who will cheer and claim that it is "justice" served. No one deserves an injury or to be put at risk of danger, but because the public perception is that McManaman has escaped a previous sanction then these very real human feelings may come to the fore among some fans. Therefore, the FA urgently needs to demonstrate that its retrospective review system is "fit for purpose". As it stands, the FA's mishandling of McManaman's challenge has endangered player safety, left match officials out to dry and tarnished the image of the game.

In the modern professional era, on the pitch there are 22 millionaire mercenaries all trying to harass, hound and hoodwink a standard salaryman referee trying his utmost to be correct, impartial and consistent. Since video replays are unacceptable in a game, the post-match retrospective review is the second-best means available to sanction players, act as a deterrent to unsavoury behaviour and ultimately protect the image of the game.

However, competition organisers around the world are failing the game with their pathetic process of retrospective reviews.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 March, 2013

POST ARTICLE: Have things changed at the FA?

Sunday 12 April 2015

Rational Ref: Professionals must remember only the ref can stop a match

Professionals must remember only the ref can stop a match

Professionals need to remember that only the referee can stop a match, even when a player goes down injured

Whatever happened to "play to the whistle"? By taking matters into their own hands and stopping play, players are only putting themselves in the dock, on the block, and up the proverbial garden path.

When a player apparently suffers an injury during play, referees are the only ones who have the authority to decide whether or not to stop a match. Players ignore this at their peril.

Tuesday's (20 November 2012) controversial goal by Shakhtar Donetsk against Nordsjaelland in the Champions League is a prime example. When a Nordsjaelland player went down injured, players voluntarily stopped play in the middle of the park. After the player had been taken off the pitch to receive treatment, the referee restarted play with a drop ball. It was uncontested and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Willian gently booted the ball back to his opponents' half. However, Willian's teammate, Brazilian Luiz Adriano, apparently did not realise a sporting gesture was being played out, and so ran on to the "pass" to the amazement of the static Nordsjaelland defenders, rounded the dismayed goalkeeper, and promptly scored.

Uefa has now charged Adriano with unsporting behaviour and he has been suspended for their next Champions League match (for "violation of the principles of conduct").

There are many levels of inquiry here, and one easy solution. First, in return for what most people perceive to be an unsporting goal, why did the Shakhtar Donetsk defenders refuse to allow their opponents a walk-in goal immediately after that misunderstanding?

"Half their team seemed to think [it would be fair], but the other half didn't," Nordsjaelland captain Nicolai Stokholm said. At that moment, Shakhtar Donetsk had no leader to tell the whole team what they should do. This would explain the team's mixed stance.

It also explains how seriously some players take their profession, with many having differing interpretations of how sporting behaviour fits into the game, if at all.

Second, why was Adriano seemingly unrepentant about his actions? "It was instinct, I see the ball and I dribbled and I scored a goal," he said. Adriano is basically saying a professional soccer player is supposed to win matches. Does this mindset override sporting gestures such as stopping play for an injured opponent?

Third, why did players stop play in first place? How did they know the player was injured and not faking injury? Are players trained in medical triage? With all these risks, why would professional players compromise themselves by taking up the referee's responsibility? It's not simply a matter of being sporting, since stopping play can also be trying to gain "brownie points" in the public eye.

And, why did the players not kick the ball out of play? They just stopped and looked around aimlessly, which reveals they really did not know what to do and were probably seeking guidance. Therefore, they should always "play to the whistle".

Players stopping play first came to prominence at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when Belgium played Spain in the quarter-finals. Even in the baking summer heat, and having to play extra time, whenever a player from any team went down his opponents would refuse to take advantage, and instead opted to kick the ball out of play. This was genuine and sincere "fair play".

But things have moved on since then, most notably professionalism and monetary rewards have brought increased cynicism and gamesmanship to the modern game.

This is why it is important to let one person, the match referee, decide whether or not to call a halt when a player is apparently injured. Referees will stop play only if, in their opinion, a player is seriously injured. A serious injury is something of the magnitude of a broken limb. However, judging by many players' reactions, it would seem a little knock or slap is plenty enough to stop a match.

At the amateur and parks level, stopping the game works beautifully for almost any injury, either real or apparent. But at the competitive and professional level, it is best left to the man in the middle to decide whether or not to stop play. This prevents players from duping opponents.

Remember the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain? No love was lost in this ultimately competitive match. With Spain eventually taking a 1-0 lead during extra-time, the Netherlands were frantically trying to find the equalizer. In the 120th minute, Spain's Fernando Torres pulled up apparently with a hamstring injury. The sporting thing to do would have been to kick the ball out of play. History shows the Netherlands did not give a fig about sportsmanship, as they continued to attack Spain's goal.

This week's lesson: At the professional level, sportsmanship is for suckers.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2012

Thursday 26 March 2015

Rational Ref: In search of the 'spirit' of the game of soccer

In search of the 'spirit' of the game of soccer

Authorities often talk of the 'spirit' soccer should be played in, but refuse to define it, leaving the game vulnerable to cheats

Exactly what is the "spirit" that is expected of players and coaches in the beautiful game? How do players and coaches understand and apply the "spirit of the game"? And, more importantly, how should referees interpret this?

These are important questions for Hong Kong because for the coming soccer season and beyond, the Hong Kong Football Association has asked players, team officials and match officials to sign a "rules of conduct" document, which previously was available only in Chinese.

According to HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe, the document has been translated for the first time into English as part of the association's commitment to become more bilingual. The document is important and will further develop into one based on Fifa's "code of conduct" to help fight match manipulation. Any player, coach or referee who refuses to sign the document will be barred from HKFA activities.

The first sentence of the English version states: "Players and team/match officials shall at all time [sic] play football in the spirit of the game."

Strangely, there is no official definition of "spirit of the game" available from Fifa or other bodies. It is simply assumed that soccer lovers intrinsically know what this spirit is. Therefore, the statement could mean all manner of things to all manner of people in all manner of situations.

The humour website Urban Dictionary states: "The spirit of the game is defined by the intended rules as perceived in reflection to the other rules. This most comes into [play] when the action in question is not governed by a set rule. In this case, you are bound to play by the spirit of the game."

It uses the board game Monopoly as an example.
"If after a considerable number of turns have been taken by each player, and one player gets into trouble and debt, instead of losing and congratulating the winner, he proposes to 'join forces' with another player - sharing money, property, and victory. Though this joining has no rules set against it, this is against the spirit of the game, though not implicitly stated. To join forces to tip the game in your favour is against the spirit of the game."

In this sense, the idea of not being able to accept defeat graciously, and instead attempting to manipulate the game in one's favour, is considered to be against the spirit of the game. This sounds very much like being a bad loser and trying to win at all costs.

How often do we see players, coaches and supporters behave like this? And how frequently do we see teams attempt to manipulate the game in their favour or to blame match officials for the result?

One example where an action is not governed by a set rule, but is bound by the spirit of the game, is when players deliberately stop the game so an injured player may receive treatment. When play resumes, players and supporters clap in appreciation of this gesture. From Rational Ref's perspective, the clapping is usually insincere, mechanical and superficial.

Consider further when a goalkeeper has the ball in his hands and an opposition player is down injured. The goalkeeper will throw the ball out so the injured player can receive treatment. Usually, the player is not seriously injured, probably the reason the referee did not stop the game in the first place.

Players who put the ball out of play take the risk of being duped. Nevertheless, after the injured player has been dealt with, his teammates will usually return the ball. Now depending on different people's interpretation of "spirit of the game", the way the ball is returned can take on different forms. Since the goalkeeper previously had the ball in his hands, it would be fair to return the ball directly to him; but this rarely happens. It is more common for the team to put the ball out over the goal line to force a goal kick.

Do players perceive a goal kick, rather than the goalkeeper kicking the ball out from his hands, to be more or less favourable? Occasionally, a team will return the ball over the touch-line and close to the corner flag for a throw-in. Are these actions - which are clearly not reciprocal - in keeping with the spirit of the game?

Moreover, is the fact that a player who pretends to be injured and therefore dupes his opponents into wasting time considered to be acting against the spirit of the game? Or is it in keeping with the spirit because it is better to be safe than sorry after receiving a knock? Without a proper definition from the authorities, these situations are both justified and vilified.

During tough competitive matches we rarely see the spirit of the game because teams go out to win, and not to make friends. Even the handful of pre-season matches being played this week in Hong Kong by the four visiting English Premier League teams (Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Manchester United) and HKFA Division One teams (South China and Kitchee) will be far from "friendly".

Considering there is no official definition of the spirit of the game, it is extraordinary how match officials throughout the decades have done their level best to ensure that matches are played fairly, safely and in an enjoyable manner that is in keeping with the "spirit of the game" … whatever that is supposed to be.

It is simply a fuzzy, hazy and unclear concept that is used to instil a sense of sporting behaviour and respect in the game.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 July, 2013

Monday 9 March 2015

Rational Ref: Where do we draw the line on persistent fouling?

Where do we draw the line on persistent fouling?

Talented players will always be a target for 'special' treatment, but when must it be stopped?

What's the best way to stop Eden from passing you by? Hazard a guess? Several kicks ought to do it.

Eden Hazard is the most fouled player in the English Premier League this season. The Chelsea star was on the receiving end of some "special" treatment in last week's Champions League encounter with Paris Saint-Germain, when he was fouled nine times in a match where the referee issued only two cautions.

Everyone knows a team's best attacking player is both a godsend and a liability. Such a player can turn a match in a heartbeat, but if he is repeatedly targeted and injured, the team will struggle with other options.

Specifically targeting an opponent is all part of the game and the rules are there to help referees discipline offending players for persistent fouls. Persistent infringements are repeated offences by one player on several others and also by several players on one opponent. Since there is no defined frequency on what is persistent, it depends on the referee's judgment to determine when enough is enough.

Is nine times enough, or five or two? Every player and coach has their own opinion. For instance, when a substitute enters the pitch, immediately fouls an opponent with a careless trip and gets cautioned, the referee is criticised for giving a card for the player's "first foul".
Eden Hazard has come in for some rough treatment this season. Photo: AFP
Others may also be puzzled by the yellow card for an innocuous foul.

However, what players, coaches and spectators often fail to realise is the referee has recognised that the team as a whole has repeatedly fouled an opponent and has therefore correctly penalised one player as a warning to his teammates.

Experienced referees are alert to the time-old tactic that players like Hazard — who Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has compared favourably to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — will always receive more than their fair share of special attention from the opposing team.

Even Mourinho has admitted he instructs his players to target talented opponents.
It's how players react to being targeted that reveals their true mettle. Players who lose their heads fail spectacularly because they believe the game revolves around them when in fact it is a team game. Mourinho said: "[Hazard] is pure. Today [in the Champions League] there were nine fouls. In the Premier League, it's no different. If he's another player he dives, stays on the floor, rolls in the grass, screams. He's asking for cards and cards and cards."

Messi is also pure, preferring to ride through challenges and letting the referee or competition organiser deal with errant players.

In contrast, Ronaldo has a quick temper and when challenged will prefer to go down easily. Earlier this year the Real Madrid star kicked out and slapped Cordoba's Edimar Fraga after enduring some special attention in a La Liga match. He was sent off and banned for two matches.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (left) hit out at Cordoba's Edimar Fraga after some rough treatment during their La Liga match in January and received a two-match ban. Photo: Reuters

Chelsea's Nemanja Matic has a similar temperament. Last weekend against Burnley he was on the receiving end of a horrendous tackle by Ashley Barnes. Referee Martin Atkinson did not have the best angle to see the incident and did not whistle for a foul.

But Matic reacted angrily by violently pushing Barnes to the ground, leaving Atkinson with no choice but to show him a red card.

Mourinho, forgetting that the foundation of his managerial career is based on using loyal but limited players in similar hard-grafting roles, blasted Barnes saying: "The player, if I can call him a player, should have been in the shower in minute 31."

In these modern times, even if the referee does not see a sending-off incident, the FA supposedly has a process to be able to take retrospective action. It depends on whether the FA has the will and wherewithal to help protect the safety of players and referees alike, as well as to uphold the image of the game.

Ashley Barnes' horror challenge, and Nemanja Matic was red-carded for his retaliation during Chelsea's draw with Burnley last weekend. Photo: Reuters

This also does not excuse Matic and Mourinho for their reactions. Players taking the law into their own hands and managers, who have the benefit of video replays criticising referees for making honest mistakes, are revealing the egotistical nature of the individuals involved.

If only there could be a way to stop, or at least minimise, this obstinate behaviour. On the pitch, referees have rules to help tackle persistent infringements. Off the pitch, competition organisers should similarly apply the rules and discipline all persistent offenders, thus allowing everyone to focus on playing ball without the media circus.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 February 2015

The statistics show Eden Hazard "wins" a yellow card for every 11 fouls against him, compared with Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez "winning" a card for every 6 fouls (see Why Eden Hazard Really Does Need More Protection From Referees).

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Rational Ref: Offside rules amended to keep everyone onside

Fifa revisits offside rules

Fifa's re-definition of key terminology should allow match officials to make clearer decisions

The much-quoted saying "If he's not interfering with play, what's he doing on the pitch?" is usually incorrectly attributed to former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly instead of Tottenham Hotspur manager Bill Nicholson.

Although decades old, it refers to the essence of the offside law, which is to penalise a player for being in an offside position when he is involved in active play.

The problem is the exact definition of being "involved in active play". This has generated much derision, denunciation and debate among disgruntled managers, players and supporters when a team are obviously disadvantaged by conceding a goal due to a contentious offside call.

The offside rule defines active play as either interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage by being in that position. Over the years, these three seemingly straightforward statements have been misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted.

An example occurred on Boxing Day last year when Manchester United were on the unfavourable end of a non-offside decision since Newcastle United's second goal was attributed as an own goal.

This was when Manchester United defender Jonny Evans stuck out his leg and diverted a Newcastle United cross into his own net. Controversy ensued because as the cross was played in Newcastle forward Papiss Cisse was in an offside position. However, a player being in an offside position is not an offence in itself. The consideration here is whether Cisse was involved in active play.

Assistant referee Jake Collins could clearly see Cisse standing in an offside position. Replays revealed the ball never made contact with Cisse as Evans deflected it past his goalkeeper. But Collins was unsure whether Cisse had touched the ball or not and, as taught in the top levels, correctly raised his flag to indicate an offside offence.

Referee Mike Dean was located centrally on the pitch and had an excellent view of the action. From his vantage point, Dean knew Cisse had not touched the ball and therefore correctly deemed he was not involved in active play by interfering with play or an opponent.

Dean showed his professionalism by approaching Collins to confer with him about the incident. So, although Collins had raised his flag to signal offside, Dean correctly allowed the goal to stand.
However, then Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson flew into a rage and vented his anger at the assistant referee, fourth official and referee. Incidentally, the FA chose to ignore Ferguson's blatant abuse of match officials.

In an attempt to resolve any confusions involving active play, Fifa has introduced amendments to official interpretations of "being involved in active play". These refer specifically to the terms "interfering with an opponent" and "gaining an advantage by being in that position".

By "interfering with an opponent", the previous interpretation was "preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent's line of vision or movement or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent".

This is now shortened to "preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent's line of vision or challenging an opponent for the ball".

According to the Boxing Day incident, Cisse neither obstructed the movement of Evans nor made a deceptive or distracting gesture or movement. To help clarify things for future seasons it can be seen that, should the same circumstance happen again, Cisse being in an offside position would still not prevent Evans from playing the ball.

In "gaining an advantage by being in that position", the previous interpretation was "playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position".

This is now explained as "playing a ball that i) rebounds or is deflected to him off the goal post, crossbar or an opponent having been in an offside position; and ii) rebounds, is deflected or is played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent having been in an offside position. A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage."

The upshot is that anyone who reads the laws will better understand Fifa's stance on offside.

Furthermore, following the retirement of Ferguson, it is hoped there will be less abuse of match officials on contentious decisions … although there is the notable return of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Rational Ref: Humble coin toss a match-fixer's dream

Humble coin toss will confound fight against football graft

Seemingly simple flip of a disc will confound those battling graft in football, since there are no rules on how refs must conduct it

How much is a coin toss worth? Can foolishly faking a frivolous flip and flick of a thin metallic disc prove financially tempting? You bet. Five years ago, the going rate was 100,000 yuan (US$16,000).

This was the amount Chinese referee Huang Junjie accepted from fellow referee Zhou Weixin to rig the coin toss between Manchester United and FC Shenzhen in 2007. Huang fixed the flip to ensure Shenzhen kicked off the match in Macau.

Huang and Zhou admitted this in court when they became the first referees to face trial in December 2011, following a two-year crackdown on soccer corruption in China. Soon after, Lu Jun, a former World Cup referee, stood trial. Lu was previously considered China's most respected referee, nicknamed the "golden whistle" for his impartiality.

Lu was found guilty of accepting 350,000 yuan for fixing a match in 2003 and subsequently received a five-and-a-half year jail sentence. In an instant, China's golden match official joined the ranks of corrupt referees on the mainland, who are dubbed "black whistles". These infamous black whistles also received life bans.

In recent weeks, major organisations have declared match-fixing to be widespread. A report by Europol revealed about 700 matches worldwide, including Champions League ties and World Cup qualifiers, were suspected of having been fixed.

And last week, Interpol met with Fifa officials at a conference in Kuala Lumpur jointly hosted by the Asian Football Confederation to set tougher laws in the battle against criminal syndicates suspected of match-fixing.

The AFC announced it had established a task force that would collaborate with all stakeholders and educate member associations on ways to tackle match-fixing in Asia.

Rational Ref is keen to see what kind of role, and support, match officials will be given in this initiative to combat suspect practices. Take, for example, the rigging of the seemingly straightforward coin toss.

The tradition of the coin toss is based on Western culture. Observe most Western referees and they will place the coin on top of their thumb and forefinger to flick the coin up in the air. The coin will twist and twirl in a blur and then be caught in the same hand that flipped it. Without looking at the coin and in one smooth movement, the coin is slapped onto the back of the other hand and then revealed.

This is the standard protocol of the coin toss, providing you are British, Australian, Canadian or American. Last Tuesday night, Australian referee Chris Beath performed the standard coin toss as expected during the AFC Cup match between Kitchee and Churchill Brothers from India.

But watch referees from continental Europe, Asia or South America, and the coin toss action varies considerably. Some cannot flip the coin using their thumbs, some catch the coin with both hands, some catch and reveal using only one hand, some let the coin land on an open palm, and others will let the coin fall to the ground after throwing the coin up without imparting any spin. Some referees are just clumsy and fumble the coin toss.

Furthermore, the rulebook assumes all referees know how to flip a coin. It states: "a coin is tossed and the team that wins the toss decides which goal it will attack and the other team takes the kick-off".

Since there is no accepted coin toss protocol, criminal syndicates have benefited. For instance, what's to prevent referees from catching the coin in an open palm, seeing the result and then deciding whether or not to slap it over on the other hand, depending on the desired outcome? There have been occasions where Chinese referees catch the coin in the open palm, with the wrist slap being optional.

Details are unknown about the infamous coin toss at the Manchester United versus FC Shenzhen match. If the referee did not rig the actual toss, he could have easily used another suspect method.
Hypothetically, the referee, having gone through the motions of the coin toss, could quickly look at the result and declare Manchester United would choose ends, thus leaving FC Shenzhen to kick off, which was the prearranged outcome.

Any visiting player to China, such as 33-year-old Ryan Giggs five seasons ago, could easily dismiss this as a cultural peculiarity and in any case would just want to get the match started without fuss. In hindsight, we know it was an easy 100,000 yuan for a black whistle to make.

Hence, this simple example of a corrupt coin toss is just the tip of the iceberg for AFC's new task force.

Rational Ref reckons referees on the right side of the law can assist the task force in its fight against match-fixing. After all, referees are whistleblowers.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 March, 2013

Wednesday 11 February 2015

Rational Ref: Genuine refereeing howlers are unforgivable

Genuine refereeing howlers are unforgivable, but it's important to know the difference

Errors in applying the laws of the game should be punished

Not all refereeing mistakes are equal; some are more equal than others. So can soccer lovers distinguish between honest mistakes and the inexcusable?

Many howlers such as incorrect handballs, offsides and penalties occur naturally as a consequence of human error, but unfortunately they obtain huge media exposure when in the English Premier League. If we cut through all the noise, vitriol and bias, many of these decisions are forgivable and only a handful are indefensible.

The unacceptable was Jan Vertonghen being adjudged offside when the Tottenham Hotspur defender should have been celebrating his second goal against Sunderland during the final seconds of the match.  

Replays clearly showed Jan Vertonghen was inside his own half as he ran clear to score a disallowed goal
Replays clearly showed Jan Vertonghen to be inside his own half as he ran clear to score a disallowed goal

Offsides are straightforward black-and-white judgment calls and assistant referees get them more right than wrong. These are genuinely honest mistakes, although referee assessors will still give ARs poor marks for judging them wrong.

However, the decision against Vertonghen was not a judgment call. Technically, it was an error in law, and referees know this is the worst kind of mistake they can commit.
Technical errors that involve incorrect application of the laws is tantamount to being declared incompetent and unfit for purpose. Vertonghen was in his own half when the ball was played to him by his teammate. He cannot be in an offside position, no matter what else has occurred.

Assistant referee Stuart Burt should have been rooted at the halfway line because his main task is to keep in line with the second-last defender or the ball.

Since the Sunderland goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon had gone up for his team's corner, there was no second-last defender in Sunderland's half during Spurs' counterattack and obviously the ball was way behind the halfway line when it was passed to Vertonghen. At the halfway line, Burt would have realised he was facing a no-offside situation. We can only assume he panicked and flagged.

The most infamous error in law was the "three-card trick" by former EPL referee Graham Poll when he gave Croatia's Josip Simunic a hat-trick of cautions in the same match during the 2006 World Cup.
English referee Graham Poll made possibly the worst howler in World Cup history when he booked Croatia's Josip Simunic three times before sending him off at the 2006 World Cup. Photo: AP
Asia's top referee, Ravsham Irmatov, made an unbelievable blunder at the 2013 Confederations Cup when Italy played Brazil. During a corner kick, Italy forward Mario Balotelli was hauled down by a defender and Irmatov blew his whistle and pointed to the spot.

However, moments later the ball reached Italy's Giorgio Chiellini, who promptly scored. Unfathomably, Irmatov changed his mind and awarded the goal, which is a major error in law.
Although indefensible, confident referees are chastened by such harrowing experiences and return stronger.

Irmatov quickly bounced back at last year's World Cup to set the record for refereeing the most number of World Cup matches and this year became AFC Referee of the Year for the fifth time.

In contrast, errors of judgment are simply honest mistakes. Anthony Taylor's incorrect yellow card to Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas for diving is forgivable.

Although not an excuse, the speed of the game can make it difficult to judge incidents in real time because referees are not infallible. Referees do not sleep well at night knowing that they have made errors.

Errors aside, the real problem is that players, coaches and supporters have become stubbornly accustomed to complaining about every referee decision going against them, regardless of whether it is correct or not.

In last weekend's Hong Kong Premier League match between Tai Po and YFCMD, referee Cheng Oi-cho made a courageous and correct call when he awarded a penalty to YFCMD in the final minute of added time, when the score was 0-0. Tai Po players were incensed, but video replays (watch here at 49:30) undisputedly revealed their captain, Lui Chi-hing, had manhandled YFCMD's Mamadou Hady Barry to the ground.
At the final whistle, Tai Po players rounded on the referee. Li Ka-chun bodychecked the referee, Jing Teng clapped sarcastically, Sze Kin-wai hurled abuse and to cap it off the Tai Po coach rushed over and confronted the referee, too.

The fact that the referee made the correct decision is beside the point. Players and coaches, no matter what the circumstances, cannot abuse match officials.

Competition organisers must publicly support referees, and the HKFA must punish Tai Po in the strongest possible terms for their unacceptable behaviour.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 January, 2015