“If you gave all of those…”
This ubiquitous footballing punditry phrase is normally saved for rare but mostly correct decisions on penalties, usually followed by a knowing look to camera was rolled out by Mr Shearer on Match Of The Day last week after Rafael Van der Vaart was made to retake his penalty after encroachment into the box by one of his team mates.
The phrase implies that there would be something wrong with a referee making a correct decision because it would lead to players being penalised more often and that trying to change the present grey area status quo would in some way make things worse.
But that is exactly what the authorities did with giving red cards for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. A rule was clarified and enforced on nearly every occasion – allowing for human error now and again.
I am not sure whether this has led to an increase in red cards, or whether that is a good thing and I sure everyone’s view on the balance of this rule may be different but at least now there should be very little room for ‘interpretation’. I think also the feeling that defenders often used to get away with a yellow card for purely cynical fouls that prevent goals – see the infamous Ronald Koeman moment (around 18 seconds in on the video)below for details – has been remedied.
There have been ongoing complaints that the standard of refereeing is too low and that it is very inconsistent, with decisions differing between the various officials but also discussions about how the referee should be able to you use his common sense in decisions. Unfortunately I think these two points are rather contradictory in nature and by allowing officials to make decisions based on the context and position of the game, it will invariably lead to inconsistencies from game to game.
I would, therefore, tighten up the rules and the officiating. The response to the initial pundit’s posit, which is now almost clichéd itself, is that if a couple of weeks were spent refereeing games to every single character, comma and full-stop of the rule-book and few games ended with 7 or 8 players on the field, then the players would soon learn that they are not going to be able to get away with bending the rules any longer and they would decide, or their coaches would tell them, to start acting differently.
What is the point of having rules that no one follows and are not enforced? If it is just to catch the major offenders and allow those who only commit only minor offences carry on then change the rule so it achieves that or if the rule is not wanted at all, then get rid of it but the situation at present leave referees in an awkward situation as it is impossible to ensure consistency between games if they are not just following rules for each decision but applying their judgement as well.
This principle is most apparent in decisions about dissent. As Calum’s article alluded to on Monday, one of the most distasteful parts of modern, top-flight football is watching snarling, always angry players offering a barrage of expletives to officials after extremely marginal calls that they are not in the best place to see go against them.
Referees seem to have taken a decision at some point, guided by bureaucracy or not, to allow some of this to happen. Like children who realise their teacher will not punish them, players now seem to think that they can get away with saying whatever they like to whoever they like on the field. I am not a skilled lip reader but I am sure that if I said some of the things that I can tell they are saying to the referee in my low level of football then I would not be spending many minutes on the field.
Officials, in my opinion, need to stop pandering to players and pundits alike about the need for ‘common sense’. Sure Van der Vaart’s penalty may have had to have been retaken four or five times and Wayne Rooney might find himself sent of a couple of times for dissent but if consistency is to be provided across all games in the sport, referees need to be able to follow a set of laws without having to worry about mitigating circumstances.