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: Reckless or Excessive Force?

Mark Geiger (USA) and teammates Sean Hurd (USA) and Joe Fletcher (CAN) turned in a third very good performance in the World Cup Round of 16 match between France and Nigeria.  Mr Geiger’s fitness and presence were second to none and the offside decisions by the assistant referees were all 100% correct.

There was only one caution in the match, to France midfielder Blaise Matuidi in the 54th minute, for a challenge against Nigeria midfielder Onazi.  Referee Geiger was about three meters away from the challenge and immediately reached for his yellow card.

For consideration in this case study is whether this challenge was indeed “reckless” as decided by Geiger, or perhaps might have been executed with “excessive force”, which would require a send-off.

I think all would agree that this foul goes beyond “careless” and must be either “reckless” or done with “excessive force”.

Consider the following factors about this challenge:

  • It is a “50/50” (no player has control of the ball prior to the challenge)
  • The France player does not go “over the ball” when making the challenge
  • There was a reasonable chance that France player could win the challenge
  • The challenge is a split-second late (about 4 video frames or roughly .13 second)

Finally, consider the reaction of the Nigeria players.  There is no mass confrontation, no gesturing for a send off, not even a cross word to the referee (that we can see).  Based on what we see, they fully accept the decision of the referee.

Could this challenge have resulted in a send off?  Clearly, we can answer in the affirmative, and I don’t think many would argue, especially after seeing the replays.  This is a case where “in the opinion of the referee” applies.

Whether Signor Busacca agrees remains to be seen.

Case Study: Dowd Issues 2 Cautions in 10 Seconds

Select Group Referee Phil Dowd has certainly had his share of big decisions lately, sending off 5 players in his last 4 matches of the season. (In this referee’s opinion, all of those decisions were spot on).

But an incident in the match between Liverpool and Newcastle United was of particular note.

After Liverpool scored the second of two goals within just a few minutes to overturn a 0-1 deficit, Dowd found himself at the business end of some serious dissent from Newcastle forward Shola Ameobi.

While preparing to kick off after the second goal, Ameobi can be seen shouting and aggressively pointing at Dowd.  Such public displays of dissent must be cautioned, and Dowd obliges with a firm display of the yellow card.

But before restarting play – and for reasons that only he will know – Dowd calls Ameobi back for a chat, and is joined by the Newcastle captain.

Perhaps, Ameobi was flirting with a straight red for foul and abusive language and Dowd wanted to make quite certain that both Ameobi and his captain were aware of his precarious position.

In any case, Dowd hardly got a word in before Ameobi said something that made Dowd reach again for his yellow card – resulting in the send off of Ameobi for a second caution.

Perhaps the accomplished lip readers out there can make out what the parties said, but for the purposes of this post, that is beside the point.

Before I get to the point, let me be perfectly clear about one thing: Phil Dowd is an accomplished, professional referee in one of the best leagues in the world.  If he felt a need to call Ameobi over for an additional chat, I am certain he had good reason to do so.

This is a good reminder for the rest of us that a quick restart can often be the best salve for a wound.  Ameobi accepted his caution and had returned to his position, ready to restart play when Dowd summoned him for a further chat.  One wonders if the second caution who have been necessary had Dowd elected to restart play instead of calling Ameobi over again.

For those of us who referee at more typical levels of play, continuing discussion in this manner is very rarely advisable, and for the reasons that played out on our television screens.

P.S.: Have I ever mentioned how little use I have for Alan Pardew?  How many times will he get away with game disrepute?

Case Study: PK Sees Proper Mechanics from Ref Team

Let’s get this out of the way first: In my opinion, this isn’t a foul and therefore not a penalty.

That said, I likely would’ve reached the same conclusion as Mike Dean and crew.  Here’s why:

  • Dean is in perfect position to see this.  Another great example of not being a slave to the diagonal.  Apart from being on a jetpack and hovering 5 feet above the players, I’m not sure you could get a better look.
  • AR2 immediately signals for a foul (and a penalty, with the BPL-specific flag-across-chest signal; in the USA, our mechanic is similar, but at the waist, and with two hands.  Think of the substitution signal but at the waist.)
  • The defender goes to ground with a somewhat desperate attempt to block the cross he believes is coming.
  • The attacker (USA international Jozy Altidore) falls in a way that is clearly not contrived.

This reminds me of the old philosophy riddle: if you went to bed and there was no snow on the ground, woke up the next morning and, while it wasn’t snowing at that time, saw snow on the ground, could you conclude that it had, in fact snowed while you were sleeping?

As referees, we’d love to have incontrovertible proof for every decision, but we know that isn’t realistic.

What is possible, however, is that we can put ourselves in the best possible position and follow all of the training we’ve been given in order to make the best decision possible.

Dean & Co. do just that in this case.


Case Study: A Tactical Foul Is Always A Tactical Foul

The rest of the headline for this case study should read “Even When Committed in the Third Minute, And Therefore Must Be Punished Accordingly”.

I think you can see why it was necessary to shorten the headline a bit.

U.S. Soccer defines a tactical foul this way:

Tactical fouls are primarily fouls that don’t necessarily endanger the safety of an opponent but are committed either to break down a promising attack or to gain an advantage in attack. These fouls are often considered minor because they normally don’t involve hard, physical contact. . . Shirt pulling or using their body to make contact with the opponent and impede their progress are frequent examples. . .Normally, committed to prevent the ball and/or attacking player from getting into space behind a defender or behind the defense. . .Tactical fouls require a yellow card for unsporting behavior.*

Notable is what this passage doesn’t say: there is no mention of exceptions for cautions if a tactical foul is committed early in the match.  If you want to consider not punishing with a caution, you’ll need to convince yourself that the foul was not, in fact, tactical.

In other words, a tactical foul is always a tactical foul.  Howard Webb demonstrates this perfectly in the video below (click in the lower right hand corner to go full screen)

*Kleinaitis, Alfred. 100% Misconduct: Tactical and Red Card Tackles. Chicago: United States Soccer Federation, 2 Feb. 2009. PDF.