Case Study: Mike Jones and The Goal That Wasn’t

Case Study # 25-2013
Date 26 Oct 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Norwich City 0 – 0 Cardiff
Referee/Badge Mike Jones, Select Group
At Issue A decision to disallow an apparently legitimate goal is called into question.

As the match drew to a close, Cardiff played the ball into touch to allow treatment for an injured Norwich player.  When play resumed, Norwich took the throw in with the Cardiff goalkeeper fully expecting to receive the ball back, as sporting tradition dictates.

A Norwich attacker deviated from the script, however, and played the ball into an unguarded goal.

This incensed the Cardiff players, who immediately confronted the Norwich player who had shown a complete lack of sportsmanship.

Referee Mike Jones then disallowed the goal, ostensibly under the assertion that he had not given the signal to restart play.

Video of the incident indicates otherwise.

The facts of the matter can’t be disputed.  According to the Laws of the Game, Referee Jones had no authority to disallow a perfectly legitimate goal.

But what about the spirit of the LOTG?  Could an argument be made that Jones acted in the best interest of the game?

In order for that argument to be made, it still has to have some basis in Law.  Referees can’t go around making up decisions because they believe it upholds the spirit of the game.

In this case, I believe Jones made the right decision, and furthermore, there is clear evidence that his actions are indeed in keeping with the spirit of the game.

Recall that the IFAB made a subtle adjustment to the LOTG at the beginning of the 2012/13 cycle with regard to dropped balls.  Whereas before this season a goal could be scored directly from a dropped ball, now a second touch is required.  The reason for this change?  A quick reference to the FIFA memorandum from that year tells us:

There have been a number of occasions where goals have been scored from “uncontested” dropped balls. This has put a great deal of pressure on the referee as he has to allow the goal to stand. We then have the unseemly situation where the opposition allows the team to score from the kick-off without any players trying to stop them in order to rebalance the game. (Emphasis added)

Before you get hung up on the second sentence, let me point out that IFAB solved this problem for referees by making a change to the Laws.  In Mike Jones’ case, he had no such change to rely on.

The third sentence makes clear that IFAB does not want teams allowing an opponent to score an uncontested goal.  This was the prospect that Mike Jones faced as he dealt with the problem before him.

Allowing the goal to stand would be correct in terms of application of the Law, but clearly would’ve violated the spirit, based on the undeniable guidance from the IFAB.

Mike Jones’ decision is defensible on the basis of guidance from the IFAB.


Case Study: Card Mechanics and an Injured Player

Case Study # 24-2013
Date 19 Oct 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result West Ham 1 – 3 Manchester City
Referee/Badge Michael Oliver, FIFA
At Issue Oliver demonstrates the proper mechanics for dealing with simultaneous injury and misconduct

Michael Oliver continues to impress with his mastery of player management and match mechanics at such a young age.  This case study follows how Oliver deals with simultaneous injury and misconduct that could have quickly erupted into a flash point.

Early in the match, a fifty-fifty is being challenged by West Ham player Razvan Rat and Manchester City midfielder David Silva.  Silva’s tackle is a split second late, sending Rat into a dramatic tumble.

Immediately, some of the West Ham players (including captain Kevin Nolan) start remonstrating with Oliver for a send off.  Oliver remains calm and collected and proceeds first to check on the injured player, while simultaneously removing his yellow card from his pocket.  He respectfully keeps the yellow card behind his leg while he checks on Rat’s condition.

The removal of the yellow card communicates several important pieces of information to the players, including that the referee has made his decision, and that sanction beyond a foul is forthcoming.  This helps to set everyone’s expectations and reduces the drama inherent in waiting for a referee’s decision.

Bonus Footage!

I often try (and mostly fail) to read lips of referees and players alike to get a better read on what’s happening on the field.  Maybe I’ll have better luck with scouse accents, as I think I’ve accurately transcribed West Ham United captain Kevin Nolan’s helpful advice to Referee Oliver.


Case Study: How Much Contact Is Too Much?

Case Study # 21-2013
Date 24 July 2013
Competition CONCACAF Gold Cup, Semi-Final
Fixture/Result USA 3 – 1 Honduras
Referee/Badge Walter Quesada (CRC)
At Issue The referee allows heavy contact during the match, much to the chagrin of the USA coach.

USA won their semi-final match against Honduras 3-1, and with relative ease.  But Coach Juergen Klinsmann missed the finals after being dismissed with only two minutes of normal time remaining.  To the casual observer, it may appear that Klinsmann overreacted to a non-call when a Honduran player kicked USA captain DeMarcus Beasley in the stomach.  In fact though, Klinsmann had been upset with the refereeing for most of the second half.

While watching the match with my wife – who is no huge soccer fan – she asked me the following question in about the 80th minute:

“How many times is the ref going to let Honduras foul him [Beasley]? I thought you told me that was illegal?”

So, I started paying attention (read: I put down my iPhone), and noticed that the referee was allowing a lot of heavy contact.  I watched the entire second half again, this time counting fouls and watching the reaction of the players and coaches. Between the 52 and 87 minutes there were 8 incidents that resulted in a foul or at least made me wonder if a foul should’ve been whistled.

Watching Klinsmann’s reactions on the touchline, I could see his temperature rising and wondered if the referee was going to address it.

Klinsmann’s temper finally boiled over resulting in his dismissal by the referee.  Without excusing Klinsmann’s behavior, it is might be instructive for us to ask: could this have been avoided?  Do we really want a coach to miss the opportunity to be on the touchline during the finals of a “major” (well, it is here) tournament?  Could the referee have taken steps to avoid what was clearly coming?

Watch the video below and draw your own conclusions.  Note the reaction of the USA players to the level of contact that the referee is allowing.

After the clips from the USA v HON match, there is a short sequence from the Martinique v Mexico match from the group stage of the tournament. Mexico (white) player #13 is fouled hard from behind by a Martinique player.  The referee (Mark Geiger, USA) intervenes quickly and decisively, showing the universal “NO MORE” gesture.  Less than one minute later, a different Martinique player fouls Mexico #13 in much the same manner as the first foul (late, hard tackle with no attempt to play the ball).

What do you see that is different about the way Geiger approaches the problem?  Is it more or less effective?  Or just different?

Case Study: Illegal GK Touch Infraction Leads to Goal

Case Study # 22-2013
Match Date 12 July 2013
Competition Major League Soccer
Fixture/Result PHI 2 – 1 CHV
Referee/Badge Jorge Gonzalez, USSF Grade 3
At Issue The referee awarded an indirect free kick to Philadelphia after deciding the Chivas USA goalkeeper illegally touched the ball (a so-called “pass back” violation)

In the 79th minute of the match, a cross was played into the Chivas USA (red) penalty area by a Philadelphia attacher.  The Chivas USA goalkeeper attempted to collect the cross, but lost possession, resulting in the ball moving straight toward the top of the penalty area.  A Chivas USA defender who was moving toward his own goal made contact with the ball with his foot, and the ball was next touched by the Chivas GK with his hands.  The referee immediately whistled for an illegal GK touch foul.  The ensuing indirect free kick resulted in a goal for Philadelphia.

Do you agree with the decision?

Paul Rejer of PRO (the Professional Referees Organization) says “no”:

Law 12 states that: ‘An indirect free-kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a teammate’. The key word here is deliberate, that is what the referee has to decide.

In this play it is obvious that this was not a deliberate pass as the ball rebounded to the keeper from a challenge and not a contrived pass.

Mr. Rejer arrives at his conclusion that the kick by the Chivas defender is “obvious[ly]…not a deliberate pass” because “the ball rebounded to the keeper from a challenge and not a contrived pass”.

We need to parse Mr. Rejer’s statement in order to better understand his position.

“The ball rebounded to the keeper from a challenge”

The word “rebound” is found neither in the Laws of the Game nor in the Advice to Referees in the context of an illegal GK touch.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “rebound” as “to spring back on or as if on collision or impact with another body”.  I don’t believe the use of the word “rebound” adds to the understanding or analysis of this incident.  It’s at best confusing and at worst misleading.

“not a contrived pass”

Another term not found in any official publication, “contrived” is defined as “having an unnatural or false appearance or quality”.   In Mr. Rejer’s defense, I have to assume he misuses the word “contrived”, and actually means the opposite.  Antonyms of “contrived” include “natural” and “unforced”.  I would submit that there is an even better word to use in this case: deliberate.  If you’ll allow me a bit of artistic license, I’ll rewrite Mr. Rejer’s statement, substituting the definitions of the these two words for the words themselves:

In this play it is obvious that this was not a deliberate pass as the the ball sprang back to the goalkeeper after impact with the Chivas defender’s foot and not from a deliberate pass.

In other words this was obviously not a deliberate pass because it wasn’t a deliberate pass.  That’s not a very compelling argument, in my opinion.

I mean no disrespect to Mr. Rejer.  I am sure he knows much more about refereeing that I ever will.  However, I would humbly ask him to choose his words very carefully, as they are being read by thousands of referees all over the country.

To get back to the heart of the matter, let’s return to the Advice to Referees and use a very helpful tool provided to help make decisions in this case: The Test of the Triangle.

ATR Test of the Triangle

One last trip to the dictionary provides us the definition of “deliberate”.  Definition #2 defines it as “characterized by awareness of the consequences”.  So, we ask ourselves, does a professional soccer player realize that kicking the ball with his foot while under pressure from an attacker could lead to an infraction if the goalkeeper next touches the ball with his hands?

What is “obvious” to this observer is that the three sides of the triangle are present and accounted for: the defender deliberately kicks the ball which is then touched by the GK with his hands.  The referee’s decision was fully in keeping with the Laws of the Game.

If that isn’t the desired outcome, IFAB need to provide new guidance to referees.  Let’s not criticize referees for making decisions fully in keeping with the LOTG , the ATRs and the Interpretations.



Case Study: Dealing Firmly With Dissent Directed at an AR

Case Study # 19-2013
Date 19 May 2013
Competition Barclays Premier League
Fixture/Result Newcastle 0 – 1 Arsenal
Referee/Badge Howard Webb, FIFA
At Issue Webb deals decisively and firmly with dissent directed at an Assistant Referee

When a player displays dissent toward a referee, s/he has the ability to decide how much they are willing tolerate, and how to sanction the player, if at all.  Assistant referees, on the other hand, have no such authority.  Of course, they may give the referee information about misconduct, but it is still up to the referee to decide whether to act upon it.

It is because of these lines of authority (clearly dictated by the Laws of the Game) that referees must take extra care to “protect” assistant referees.

In this case study, Arsenal midfielder clearly fouls Newcastle United player Mathieu Debuchy.  Assistant Referee Darren Cann (himself a FIFA AR and a regular member of Webb’s international team) is literally inches away from play and signals for the foul.  Two Arsenal players, including Gibbs, immediately engage in dissent.

Had Gibbs stopped at this point, the incident likely would’ve been over.  But Gibbs – clearly aggrieved – re-engages Cann, moving off of the field of play and into Cann’s personal space.  Webb then arrives quickly with yellow card in hand, and, as he has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to do – gets into the personal space of the player, coming almost nose-to-nose with him.

I say this each time Webb does this, but it bears repeating: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.  At 6′ 4″, Webb is an imposing figure – and is a trained policeman to boot.

Gibbs retreats quickly and order is restored as Arsenal veteran Tomas Rosicky gives the young Gibbs a firm slap on the back, as if to say “settle down, son.”

Author’s note: I almost posted this in video form, but on the sixth or seventh time of watching, something caught my eye that might have been missed in the video.  You’ll know it when you see it.