Ruddy Card Rule Needs Overhaul As Norwich Lose Last Man

It was difficult not to feel a little sorry for John Ruddy as he defiantly trudged towards the touchline at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.  Having delicately tickled the onrushing Ramires’ ankle, he was dismayed to see that the referee immediately pulled out the red card in what must have become a familiar feeling for the modern goal-keeper.

It’s never been easy to be a goal-keeper.  After being bullied from an early age into standing between the sticks and roundly judged as being fundamentally strange for wanting to do so from then on, any particular mistake or minute error in judgement they make more often than not leads to goals conceded and games lost.  The present interpretation of the ‘last man’ red card rule though has accentuated this pressure.  One small misjudgement that may be neither intentional, clumsy or malicious can end a game for the player in an instant.

There are also suspicions that the rule is neither consistent nor fair.

The law reads that “a player, substitute or substituted player is sent off and shown the red card if he… denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.”

The question has to be asked though; did Ruddy deny Chelsea a clear goalscoring opportunity?  The obvious answer seems yes; Ramires had all but rounded the keeper and was well placed to shoot into an empty net.  The consequence of him being stopped though was a penalty.  There are few more obvious chances to score than from the penalty spot.  So was the opportunity denied or was it merely postponed?

There is a suspicion that in conceding a penalty and a red card, teams are being punished twice for the same offence. 

When the same situation occurs outside the box a free-kick is awarded.  A free-kick, of course, cannot be called an obvious opportunity to score (unless you are Wayne Rooney at the moment) so the red card is warranted for preventing one.


The alternative would be to issue a yellow card to the player who commits a ‘last man’ offence inside the area and a red card to those who commit it outside the area, when a penalty will not be awarded.

The practicalities of this would be a little tricky.  It feels unnatural that the card issued for a crime committed closer to the goal – where presumably less can go wrong in the bid to score a goal – should be less severe.  It would also open a debate into preventing a goal by handling the ball.  At present the same punishment is given as a ‘last man’ offence; a penalty and a red card.  You could suggest, using the same argument as above, that a penalty is enough.  I’m not so sure.

What is clear is that this rule has never really been perfected.  This is partly due to the rather arbitrary spatial nature of the penalty area and the difficultly in judging intent; should an intentional hack at a forward clean through on goal be punished more harshly than a clumsy, inadvertent bundle?  It would seem though that with a tinkering of the rules ‘keepers like Ruddy might be able to breathe a little easier.

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4 Responses to Ruddy Card Rule Needs Overhaul As Norwich Lose Last Man

  1. James says:

    I totally agree with you. Being sent off and also conceding a penalty is a double whammy. Being booked and conceding a penalty is slightly less so and would, I think, be a much fairer system.

  2. Tom says:

    The penalty/free-kick is a reinstatement of the attacking team’s possession, while the red card is punishment for committing the offence. It’s not as if Ruddy has to throw himself down at Ramires, everybody knows the rules and the consquences.

    Personally I think that as goals are what the game is all about, a player being punished for illegally preventing a chance to score one should be punished on the harsh side.

    Plus, imagine if a red card wasn’t given out for ‘last man’ offences – immediately it’s in defenders’/keepers’ interest to foul anyone about to have a crack, as most keepers nowadays would prefer to face a pen than a chance from open play – look how many are being saved at the minute. Plus you can’t compare a penalty to the chance Ramires would have had if he’d got past Ruddy and had an open goal in front of him

    And lastly – how many punishments in football ‘fit the crime’? If a defends stands on the corner of the area and handles the ball, it’s a pen – 6″ future out and it’s a free-kick. Does that 6″ in where handball takes place justify difference between penalty and free-kick? No, but them’s the rules – and it’s a game, not a court case

    • Graham says:

      That’s all fine, and I tend to agree with you… but that is not what the rule says at present. The rule punishes the prevention of a clear goalscoring opportunity whereas that has not been done. At the moment the rule is either badly writtten or is in need of change.

      Not sure about the final paragraph. You make it sound like punishments should be arbitrary, irrespective of the foul committed and that because it is the rules then they should just be accepted. he game has been improved many times by tinkering the rules. Who is to say a change to the penalty area wouldn’t help again?

  3. David says:

    Penalty goals might be worth exploring. It would have rightly put Ghana into a World Cup semi-final had it been adopted for a hand ball that prevents a goal. It could be used in other situations too. I agree Graham, the rule needs looked at.

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