Use Caution When Interpreting Case Studies

Hello fellow referees.  It has been quite a while since I posted anything new here.  I continue to be surprised at how much traffic the site still receives.

Please note that almost all of the case studies here were posted prior to the major rewrite of the Laws of the Game in 2016.  I believe there is still a lot of good advice here, but some of the actions taken by referees would be different given the changes to the Laws. This is especially the case for case studies involving denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO).  So read on, but if something doesn’t sound right, check your LOTG app!


Grace Under Pressure

It is very hard to keep your cool when those around you are losing theirs.  It is especially difficult when you as the referee are the recipient of the remonstrations.

But, it can be done successfully, as the referees in this montage so professionally demonstrate.

Remember: model the behavior you want the players to follow.  If you want them to calm down, you have to be calm.

My favorite is the clip featuring referee Michael Oliver.  The player is clearly upset, and Oliver allows him to have his say, all the while making his intentions clear by holding the yellow card low in his hand.  He’s allowing the player to blow off steam and enforcing the Laws of the Game with regard to dissent.  Just good, common sense refereeing.

Case Study: Composed Player Management

In refereeing circles, we often discuss the importance of “player management”: influencing player behavior through verbal and non-verbal interaction, as well as the usual tools of foul selection and misconduct appropriation.

The referees in the Barclays Premier League are especially accomplished at this art; they need to be, given the egos of the multi-millionaire players whom they referee.

FIFA referee Mark Clattenburg provided (another) fine example of this in a recent match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.

After whistling for an obvious foul – and possible misconduct – Clattenburg summoned the offending player over for a chat.  Clattenburg successfully employed facial expressions, verbal communication and gestures, all while remaining calm and composed.

Note that Clattenburg makes strong eye contact with the player, but his body language is not threatening or demeaning.  I would describe it as firm and professional.

I’m not a great lip reader to begin with, but add in a Geordie accent and I’m completely lost.  So, I can’t tell you every word Clattenburg says, but I’m fairly certain he begins the conversation with “That’s your first foul” and ends it with “I’m not having it”.  It’s pretty clear from the gestures that the middle part of the conversation is about making challenges when the ball is already gone.

Although there is a time and place for it, players generally don’t like being yelled at or treated with disrespect, even when they may deserve it.

Model the behavior you expect from players and good results will usually follow.  If your model is constantly telling off, using a raised voice, yelling, etc, you shouldn’t be at all surprised when players respond in-kind.


Case Study: Form and Fitness

CAUTION: The Laws of the Game have changed since this case study was written.  Action taken by the referee may be different under the current Laws.

In a recent Round of 16 Women’s World Cup match between Colombia and USA, referee Stephanie Frappart (FRA) demonstrated why fitness and athletic form are of such paramount importance to referees.

The Columbian players had received the benefit of a lot of foul decisions in the first half, so it was important for the referee to be close to play as the second half began.  This allowed her to be close to play and be in a better position not only to see fouls, but to sell a decision to give (or not give) a foul.

In this sequence, the referee is close to play as Columbia attacks in the USA defensive half.  She decides (correctly, I believe) not to give a foul for contact between the Columbia attacker and USA defender.  The USA defender then collected the ball, played it quickly to a midfielder, who in turn quickly played it to a sprinting striker who ran on to the ball in the Columbia penalty area.

That the Columbia goalkeeper fouled the USA attacker is not in question, and neither should be the decision for a send-off.  These two decisions should be obvious to even referees of far less experience.

What is noteworthy is the distance the referee had to cover to make the decision.  Recall that her run started just outside the USA penalty area and ended inside the Columbia penalty area.  This sprint covered a distance of about 80 yards (73 meters).  There are three observations worth noting:

  • The referee kept good position where she could see the space between players, allowing her to make the correct decision
  • The referee’s running form is excellent: head up, shoulders back, arms pumping
  • At the end of a long sprint, as she is showing the red card, the referee doesn’t appear to be breathing hard, which demonstrates a very high level of fitness

Our lessons:

  • Fitness is crucial, even at the “lower levels” of the game where we work.  18 year old players are much faster than this 50 year-old referee, so if I want to referee 18 year old players, I have to be fit.
  • Proper running form is essential (head up) so we can see what is happening
  • “Finishing a run” is essential.  The play in this case study could’ve easily turned out differently, i.e., the goalkeeper could’ve won the ball cleanly, but since we cannot predict the future we must be there.  This decision cannot be sold when made from the centre circle.

Case Study: Locked and Loaded

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.

Locked and Loaded FI

Case Study: Raise Your Hand

With all due apologies to Eddie Floyd, today we look at a case study where a player clearly raises a hand to the face of another player.  The fact that this is a sending off really shouldn’t be open for debate (the ignorant protests of commentator Danny Mills notwithstanding).  It’s what the US Soccer Federation refers to as “100% Misconduct” and must result in a send off.

What is more intriguing for those of us who referee (well) below the Premier League level to consider is whether a similar issue in one of our matches could be avoided.

You’ll have to wait until about half way through the clip to see a replay of the entire sequence of events, but one wonders whether this ugly incident might have been avoided by whistling for a foul.  There were several possibilities to choose from for referee Neil Swarbrick.

That said, at the Premier League level, players are expected to play through physical contact, and are further expected to control themselves, even when they feel aggrieved by the play of an opponent.  So, it is understandable that referee Swarbrick chose to allow play to continue.

At the lower levels, however, and especially in the youth game, raging hormones and still developing psychology can conspire to create opportunities for misconduct like this.  Given that play was at the halfway line, a foul given in either direction would be very unlikely to have any impact on the outcome of the match.

Referees should consider that “finding a foul” in a situation like this is an opportunity to settle the game and remove some of the ingredients found in a typical recipe for misconduct.

Case Study: Keep Your Eyes Off The Ball

When we train new referees, we often tell them this about being an assistant referee: “if you’re doing your job as an assistant referee, you’ll miss most of the match”.

Among their several duties, the trailing assistant referee provides eyes behind the back of the referee, spotting off the ball nonsense that the referee may not see.  As such, it is imperative that ARs not get caught “ball watching”.

FIFA Assistant Referee Peter Kirkup illustrates this brilliantly when he spots violent conduct on the pitch, behind the back of Referee Craig Pawson.

Just as coaches tell defenders, we tell new assistant referees: don’t get caught ball watching!