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It wasn't obvious obviously

Some of footballs laws are more ambiguous than others. Most red card calls are subjective judgements and as such will depend on the individual assessment of the referee. Whether a tackle is careless, reckless or uses force to excess is something that opinions will always be divided on though some are clearly more obvious than others. The decision as to whether a handball is 'deliberate` and therefore 'denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity` seems to create more uncertainty than it should. Most deliberate handballs are, or should be evident enough. In an effort to clarify one particular law I wonder whether the game has made the situation more confusing.

A change in the law enabling professional fouls to be defined as 'serious foul play` and thereby a red card offence was introduced in 1982 following the spectacularly obvious foul by Willie Young on Paul Allen in the 1980 FA Cup final. With some tinkering in between the law was changed after 1998 to define what is now included as part of Law 12. The change calls for the referee to determine, under Law 12 whether a player has committed the offence of 'denying 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`. On the surface it sounds clear enough except perhaps for the inclusion of the word obvious. It is an ambiguous enough law for the game to seek to establish its own criteria to decide whether the opportunity is obvious enough. This is usually promoted as the unwritten and therefore non-existent 'last man` rule by which if another player is close enough to impede the player then it might be determined that if an opportunity existed it wasn`t an obvious one. Similarly judgements are made as to whether the player was in control of the ball notwithstanding that he might have been if he hadn`t first been fouled.

Incidents over the season and particularly over the last two weekends make me wonder whether we might tinker with this law a little more. Koscienly was sent off against Newcastle having been judged to have brought down Nile Ranger closer to the touchline than the penalty area. An opportunity to score a goal might have resulted had he been able to go on but from that angle and the distance he still had to travel I wonder how obvious it might have been. The same referee, Mike Dean awarded a penalty against Wes Brown in the ManU/Villa game at the weekend. Though Browns defensive partner was also very near the play the ball had passed him and he had no chance of playing a part in defending the attack. That an obvious goal scoring opportunity was denied seems obvious enough, certainly far more obvious than Koscienly`s but Dean chose not to issue a red card for the denial on this occasion. Similarly Squillaci seemed to deny Saha an opportunity to score a goal in the game against Everton yesterday. This supposedly was deemed not to be obvious because Clichy might have been able to get to him though almost certainly not before Saha had got into the penalty box. The only factor that might have made the anticipated chance not an obvious one would probably have been that Saha would have had to take it with his right foot but that an opportunity would have arisen seems clear.

Maybe a red card is fair punishment for denying a genuine opportunity but for the most part it is invoked quite often when the opportunity isn`t such an obvious one so perhaps a different more appropriate punishment might be made. Instead of issuing a red card any professional or deliberate foul on a player through the last line of defence, outside but within a given distance of say 10 yards from the penalty box should be punishable with a penalty. It won`t stop opinions being divided over whether it was a foul or not or whether it was deliberate or not but obviously at present not all goal scoring opportunities are obvious either.

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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday November 15 2010

Time: 11:47AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
I think no matter how obvious a rule, foul or situation is, we're always going to have the "fors" and "againsts". We football fans are an extremely blinkered breed. With regards to recent weeks I think things have evened itself out for us, I thought Koscielny's red card was very harsh, no where near close enough to either dead ball line to be a goal scoring opportunity, but then Squilaaci got away with one yeseterday. As you say, it's all about personal interpritation of the rule, but there's ultimately only one opinion that counts.
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15/11/2010 12:02:00

I personally think its extremly harsh when they give a red card & penalty for being the last man. You have a 80-90 percent chance of going a goal down and playing with 10 men for something that might of been a tangle of legs or a slightly mistimed tackle.
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15/11/2010 12:17:00

But then isn't even the ten metres/yards subjective? Or are we just going to increase the size of the box by ten metres? The current system is flawed, but any other system employed in favour of it would also have its flaws. I suppose the one argument you can make for not giving a red card in a case like the Wes Brown one is, that in giving a way a penalty, he does not actually deny a goal scoring opportunity, he just denies you one opportunity for another.
Ozi Gooner
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15/11/2010 12:21:00

last man/goal scoring opportunity*
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15/11/2010 12:22:00

It makes no sense, even by the letter of the law, to send a player off for commiting a foul in the area for the penalty and then sending him off for "denying a goal scoring opportunity" .... because they have a penalty, the opportunity is still there and if anything the player has made that opportunity even easier. Bonkers.
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15/11/2010 12:34:00

Rocky7 and if they miss the penalty? Also I think to state that penalties are easier is a little bit naive. I think it all comes down to sportsmanship, if the opposing team is bearing down on goal 1-on-1 and they get hacked down then surely its only fair that player is given their marching orders. Maybe an unwritten rule perhaps.
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15/11/2010 12:42:00

TFN7, how many times is a penalty/red card given for a 100%, nailed on, definite goal? It's pretty rare. Cases like Luis Suarez punching the ball off the goal line are 1 in 1000, not the norm. In most cases when a penalty and/or red card is given the goal is no more likely before or after the decision. In some cases the penalty makes it much more likely. However, I'd agree that if it is both a professional foul and a clear penalty (which is far from always the case) then a red is the correct decision.
Ozi Gooner
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15/11/2010 12:50:00

If a penalty is sufficient punishment for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity in the box then it should be sufficient for denying the opportunity when outside the box. The decisions to make are the same - is it an obvious scoring opportunity and was it a deliberate foul? There's no need to extend the penalty area as such as the rule as at present is only designed to stop the professional foul and in many ways its fairer to the team that has been denied the chance.
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15/11/2010 12:57:00

I don't disagree with that, but your suggestion of 10 yards within the box is arbitrary. You can cut a player down 20 yards or more from the box and be denying a goal scoring chance.
Ozi Gooner
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15/11/2010 12:59:00

I'm not so fussed whether its 10 or 20 yards but it's just as arbitrary now. Logically the further away from goal you are the less obvious the opportunity is. There's got to be a pretty good chance that a goal would follow to warrant a penalty as it should now to warrant a red card. Some refs find it much easier to give red cards than penalties.
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15/11/2010 13:13:00

I think, taking Saha's injury history in to account, it was definately not a red card. Chances are he would've injured himself in that split second anyway! ;-)
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15/11/2010 13:35:00

What frustrates me (and this is clearly subjective) is when Brown brought down Ashley Young in the box; there was clearly no intention to win the ball. Surely that should be more important than whether he was the last man or not? Why is a cynical challange like Brown's where he clearly plays the man and not the ball a yellow card offence while a missed timed tackle trying to win the ball as the last man is a red card?
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15/11/2010 14:28:00

Good point Astriel but I suppose the sentiment might be that inside the box there is the additional punishment of a penalty. If it's a clear goal scoring opportunity then why not make the punishment the same?
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15/11/2010 15:20:00

Astriel makes a good point there, but once again giving Refs the job of passing judgement on intent. Also do you think that reffs make a quick decision on the quality of the striker (or person about to shoot) to determine if it was a clear goal scoring opportunity? And in fact should that be the case? Clichy one on one is a much clear opportunity than Walcott. So send them off if they bring down Theo but just give the pen if it's Gael.
No 10
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15/11/2010 16:16:00

Most simple way to do this is that if the defender is the last opposition player between the goal and the attacker then he has to go REGARDLESS were on the pitch the foul takes place.
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15/11/2010 16:49:00

Although Sunderland managed to totally embarrass Chelsea yesterday there was still a very poor decision from the ref with regards to goal scoring opportunities. Ibrahimovic should have seen a red card early in the game but for some strange reason known only to the ref he received a yellow. it was last man on goal with a clear goal scoring opportunity and he fouled from behind..... is THAT not a red card??? Or is it really your position in the league that really counts on the refs judgement?
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15/11/2010 19:14:00

lifeisagooner, I made that observation too; it was a cynical clip of Welbeck's left heel (or so) when he was bearing down on goal, with Ferriera a good 15 metres away. I feel it is all about consistency, on the part of the refs. How does Kos get a red for a foul, a good 35 metres out and Ivanovic (or Wes Brown) doesn't? Cynics will tell you if that were at OT and you did that to Nani or Shrek, are definitely gone! These grey areas of the game have got to be a source of concern for the game's governing body, but I am not sure what the best option is, other than to continue to favour the attacking side.
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15/11/2010 20:21:00

A friend and i were having the discussion yesterday around intent in professional fouls. Squillaci's was not a cynical trip, which i believe, rightly or wrongly, was why Webb did not send him off. Ivanovic tripped the player on purpose, you have to think he did it because he did not think the covering defender would make it. Same for kos, however far he was from goal, it was intentional. Like a lot of rules, this one suffers from tge increase in speed at the top level. Willie Young did not have tge recovery pace of a Gael Clichy!
Little Dutch
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15/11/2010 20:43:00

Amos has a good idea with giving the same punishment. I believe that issueing a red card for a professional foul is OTT. But I do agree that a penalty should be given and maybe a yellow card. Too often a player can be sent off for a harmless pro foul but a player can slide in with feet up and get a yellow. Stupid.
SFC Forever
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15/11/2010 20:56:00

That is the thing, LD. Consistency, instead of reliance on subjective discretion of the refs, should be encouraged. My reading is if Kos deserved a red, so should Ivan and Brown.

PS: LD, is there going to be a match report any time before the euphoria dies down?
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15/11/2010 21:15:00

* so did Ivan...
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15/11/2010 21:18:00

it was a red card tackle as ranger was heading towards goal, and had it not been fo the tug backs owuldve been on his own (defender in middle owuldnt have caught him), therefore it wouldve been a clear opportunity. interesting article nonetheless. personally feel penalty goals should be given for incidents like the suarez one. and if you are going to give penalties 10 yards outside the current box, why not just make the box bigger? (or draw another one as keepers still need restricted)
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15/11/2010 21:41:00

Making the box bigger wouldn't address the problem as such. There doesn't have to be a goal scoring opportunity for a foul in the penalty area to result in a penalty kick.
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15/11/2010 22:43:00

@ Astriel - Re the challenge from brown on A.Young, Brown is credited with what my brother likes to call "Man U Immunity" ...also known as "I don't wanna upset Sir Alex" ;)
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16/11/2010 03:12:00

Pretty good idea, but i think whats really needed rather than massive rule changes is COMPLETE video technology, Rugby League style. Its fast average time of 30-50 seconds and exciting for the supporters. We're lagging behind Rugby League, a sport invented in Huddersfield by pie men and mastered in Wigan by pie men
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16/11/2010 20:44:00

Something i read which i found interesting: "So it's one rule for Manchester United and another set of rules for everyone else? Having previously cautioned Ashley Young for taking his goalscoring celebrations into the crowd, the decision of Dean not to dismiss Nemanja Vidic - already cautioned for protesting the award of Villa's penalty - has been excused on the spurious defence that Vidic was pushed into the crowd by Wes Brown. There has been no explanation, however, for why Brown wasn't cautioned instead. Moreover, the question that must be asked of Dean - and may well take the form of a formal protest from Arsenal - is why Brown was still on the pitch having denied Young a clear goalscoring opportunity when the Villa forward was felled for the penalty he converted? Contrary to popular myth, the rulebook makes no mention of a last man, merely that a player has to be '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'. To state the argument that Arsenal ought to make in refusing to accept such indefensible inconsistency, Brown's let-off was an outrage given that that less than a week previously Dean had adjudged a foul by Laurent Koscielny made approximately 45 yards from goal and on the touchline as the denial of a clear goalscoring opportunity. Young was fouled around the penalty spot."
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16/11/2010 23:42:00


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