During a recent Barclays Premier League match between Burnley and Chelsea, Burnley striker Ashley Barnes and Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic were involved in a controversial tackle in the Burnley attacking half of the field.
As Barnes passed the ball to a teammate, Matic came from a 90 degree angle and cut across Barnes, and deflected the pass. Barnes studs then made full contact with Matic’s leg, which resulted in Matic falling to the ground.
After a delay of 1-2 seconds, Matic quickly got up, rushed over and pushed Barnes to the ground. It was clear that Matic was upset about what he perceived to be a “leg breaker”: a very dangerous tackle.
In the dust up that ensued, Matic was sent off for violent conduct by referee Martin Atkinson. Chelsea fullback Branislav Ivanovic received a caution for dissent when he grabbed the arm of the referee in attempt to prevent him from showing the red card to Matic. No misconduct punishment was given to Barnes.
Everyone should agree that, independent of other events, Matic must be sent off for his response to the incident. Hopefully, this is plainly obvious, so I am not going to address it here.
What remains is whether or not Barnes should have been sanctioned by referee Atkinson for the tackle that initiated the incident. On the iTOOTR Facebook Page, some have argued that the referee was correct in not sanctioning Barnes for misconduct because the latter was merely following through on his passing motion, and that the subsequent contact was quite accidental.
I believe a clear and sober analysis of the facts of the case, along with a revisitation of the Laws of the Game will lead us to a conclusion that is soundly grounded in the Laws.
Here are the facts:
- Barnes makes contact with Matic after the ball has been played
- Barnes’ studs make contact with the lower part of Matic’s leg.
- Barnes’ knee is “locked”; that is, in a straight position whereby the energy of Barnes’ momentum will be fully transferred down his leg and into his opponent
- Matic is at significant risk of serious injury as a result of this tackle
Following are the relevant sections of the Laws of the Game:
A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:
- serious foul play
–from Law 12, “FIFA Laws of the Game”
A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play. (emphasis added)
–from “Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees”
It is also serious foul play if a player commits any tackle which endangers the safety of an opponent. In this case, the tackle may be from behind, from the side, or from the front. (emphasis added)
–from “Advice to Referees, 2013-2014“, published by the United States Soccer Federation
I stated earlier that Barnes’ tackle on Matic has put the latter at risk for serious (potentially leg-breaking) injury. Given that fact, the guidance from all of the official publications point only to one outcome: Barnes must be sent off for serious foul play.
There are no references in any of the official publications or position papers that stipulate a player may be excused of serious foul play for endangering the safety of an opponent if the referee believes the offending player didn’t intend to harm his/her opponent.
The Laws, Interpretations and ATRs (for those of us in the USA) are quite specific and very clear in this regard.
Why didn’t referee Atkinson punish Barnes accordingly? We will never know for sure, but looking at this frame, I think is is possible that Matic himself is screening Atkinson so that the referee cannot see Barnes studs make contact with Matic.