WineCape's Referee Blog

IMHO – a South African Football referee's view


Laws of the Game

Manchester United vs Real Madrid: Stuffed by a Turkey?

Champions League: Manchester United vs. Real Madrid (Knock-out Stage, 2nd Leg, Mar13)


Ad nauseam the media and social networks remind us that Nani’s send-off in the 2nd leg of the knock-out round of the Champions League by the Turkish referee was not with excessive force and that Nani certainly had no intent or any malice (deliberateness) in his challenge to qualify for serious foul play and thus a dismissal. See image file of the incident below.

Nani challenging for the ball. Serious Foul Play (excessive force) ingredients ticked off: High, at speed, right angles, extended stiff leg, studs first, launched into air,  intensity of contact, speed of players.
Nani challenging for the ball. Serious Foul Play — all the ingredients for excessive force ticked off: High challenge, at speed, right angles, extended stiff leg, studs first, launched into air and intensity of contact.

The sequence frames can be seen here:

A clear impression is created in the media the absence of malice/deliberateness from Nani is the only reason why player Nani should not have been send off for serious foul play. Furthermore, most commentators reason that Nani’s resultant kick with his outstretched leg to bring an aerial ball under control did not endanger the safety or health of his opponent when his boot or studs connected with the chest of his luckless opponent.

As always, The Law as a framework and start point:

LAW XII: Any player who lunges at an opponent when challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent, is guilty of serious foul play.

Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent. A player who uses excessive force must be sent off.

Excessive force. There lies the rub. How do referees judge excessive force?

Most media opinions pontificate, without mentioning the FIFA mandated criteria referees should consider for conditions of serious foul play/excessive force, the Turkish referee made a shocking decision to dismiss player Nani. It certainly was, if the referee’s decision to dismiss the Manchester United winger was based on the malice factor alone. However, there was no malice or deliberate intent to harm his opponent. How do we know this?

Body language and movement of Nani. As can be seen in the CLIP SEQUENCE above, Nani is clearly looking at the ball about to drop into his path — his head turned, looking upwards — and it can be reasonably assumed he is not aware of the close proximity of his immediate opponent.

Note that referees cannot speculate what a player subjectively wants to do to his opponent, i.e. the “Sorry-ref-I-didn’t-intend-to-injure” apologies do not cut mustard. Referees are not mind readers and therefor don’t judge accordingly; they only judge the external bodily actions of players executing their challenges on the field of play, and they judge what those flailing arms/hands, outstretched legs, exposed studs etc. did, or could have done to an opponent.

I mentioned above  “criteria” to judge serious foul play. Before we get to these criteria/factors specifically and what they entail, a quick sidenote to illustrate that malice, or deliberateness to harm, is but only one of the criteria to take cognisance of in judging the seriousness of dangerous play and hence a possible dismissal under Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct (serious foul play)

To debunk the camp of football followers that believe the “absence of player intent to harm (malice) should imply no send off whatsoever” we have to pose the following two-fold pertinent questions:

(1) Should player malice be the only factor/criteria in assessing possible excessive force and thus serious foul play?

(2) If not, should player malice be the most important criteria in deciding if a player played with excessive force/serious foul play?

Answer: Absolutely not. To both posed questions. Why? Below is a graphic sequence of events for those that hold  the viewpoint the malice factor should be the only, or most important, criteria for a dismissal under serious foul play.

Incident (No Malice):

We have a player in the above clip doing a bicycle/scissors kick, and we can see he is, most probably, not aware of the close proximity of his opponent. And if he was aware of his opponent, it can be argued he was trying to play the ball only and not kick his opponent senseless in the execution of his overhead kick.  Thus, no malice on his part — or deliberateness — to injure his opponent can be made in this incident.

As can be seen in the above clip, he kicks his opponent, in the face, 6-7 feet off the ground. Are we now to reason that there was zero danger to the safety of his opponent? Or to reason that the above kick did not, or could not have, endangered his opponent’s health seriously because one criteria is absent, i.e. zero malice/intent/deliberateness on the player’s part? Of course not.

Therefor, referees cannot look at player malice as the sole defining criteria of potential dangerous challenges. Referees have to appraise additional criteria, the seriousness thereof, and assessing whether such challenges use excessive force. These additional criteria, according to Fifa’s instructions, are

*** Angles of player movement–[right angles potentially more severe injury]
*** Extended/stiff leg(s)– [Potentially more force used]
*** Launched off the ground– [gives greater speed and potentially harder impact]
*** Actual point and/or height of contact– [more vulnerable/exposed body parts]
*** Speed/intensity of contact — [increased danger the faster the speed of players]
*** Possible malice present– [judged by player’s body language/movement]
*** Atmosphere of match? [bad-tempered, highly contested match or played in good spirit w/ good sportsmanship]
*** Opinion of the Referee– [view/angle to incident and what he is aware of, or believe to have seen]

Lastly, Fifa’s instruction in a recent seminar I attended: if the referee has any doubt, aka as “orange card” incidents: Start with red card/dismissal, and find compelling reasons to not send the player off.

Are we now so sure Mr. Turkey made such an abysmal and clearly wrong decision given all above criteria to be considered, as mandated by Fifa? Could the referee rather have decided that non-malice -and possibly the match atmosphere – be the  overriding criteria?

Did the referee attach more weight to the other factors mentioned above? Obviously he did. Nani was dismissed. The Law empowers him with the words: In the “opinion of the referee” in conjunction with the FIFA instructed criteria for a dismissal under serious foul play.

Turkish Fifa Referee Cüneyt Çakir: EUFA had "no problem" with the dismissal of United's Nani for serious foul play (excessive force).
Turkish Fifa Referee Cüneyt Çakir: EUFA had “no problem” with the dismissal of United’s Nani for serious foul play (excessive force).

It is not such a watertight, black and white, open-and-shut case as the football media has made out to be with Nani’s dismissal, and so eagerly trumpeted as such. For one, the social and news media, including most football pundits, certainly don’t inform their readers on all pertinent criteria, as instructed by FIFA, as to how referees should assess these incidents under serious foul play/excessive force. Non-malice is but one factor in the referee’s appraisal and decision-making process.

A degree of judgement, how critical you might think it is, referee Cuneyt Cakir did exercise, as empowered by Law 12 and the relevant mandated FIFA additional serious foul play criteria, and for that reason UEFA’s Referee Committee did not disagree with his dismissal decision made, overseen by the watchful eye of none other then Pierluigi Collina, present at the stadium on match night.


Fifa and IFAB’s latest Law changes for 2011

Missed criterias, clothing bans, triple punishment and vanishing spray

The International  Football Association Board (IFAB), the lawmaking body tasked with authorizing changes and amendments to the Laws of the Game, convened for its 125th Annual General Meeting in March 2011, in Wales.  Their rule changes sanctioned will come law on 1 July 2011. Up for consideration were some of the following vexing issues:

Goal Line Technology:  

FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter announced that none of the ten companies which had been invited to test their technology had so far been successful in meeting the specific criteria set out by the IFAB meeting on October 20, 2010. IFAB therefore agreed to a one-year extension of Goal Line Technology tests. Blatter explained:

If you have no system which is responding to the criteria that has been fixed by this entity, you cannot just jump in.

We must first have the answer to our basic principles – accuracy, speed – which means the immediate delivery of the result – and a system that is not too complicated to implement. And we haven’t achieved these three things so far with our independent laboratory.

Therefore, it is a question of one year. What is one year? It is nothing. Just a little bit of patience is needed. But it was a very positive approach in the meeting …. and there was not one single person there, despite the fact that we had a lot of special guests today, going against the tests.

The ten systems all had to demonstrate they were 100% accurate and that they could transmit the result of a goal being scored, or not, to the referee within a second. Blatter said the issue of Goal Line Technology would be brought back to the attention of IFAB next meeting – March 2012, in London – when a final decision will be taken.

Chuck Blazer

FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer, one of the body’s delegates to IFAB and General Secretary of CONCACAF said:

“It has got to be reliable, quick and affordable and nothing has worked at the moment. If anyone can meet that criteria I continue to be open to it. I don’t have a problem with keeping the testing open until we get something that works.”

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke mentioned that the world governing body are “ready to pay”  for further goal line technology tests. The goal-line system developed by a British company, Hawk-Eye, was not one of the tested systems. FIFA has given the British company the assurances that they are still under consideration.

Hawk-Eye, the most established technology, having already conducted stadium testing at Reading in England, declined even to take part in FIFA’s experiment prior to the 125th AGM, apparently in anticipation of the difficult testing environment. Their version of the specific technology needed a stadium environment for their cameras. Hawk-Eye remains confident its system would pass Fifa’s tests – the company is in the process of being taken over by a larger company and it will be eager that IFAB will give them some  guarantees that IFAB will want to continue with goal line technology in the future.

The ten technology Companies had only a few months to attain Fifa’s criteria of 100% accuracy and relaying results back to the officials with speed – and it proved too difficult a task for them.

IFAB is made up of representatives from each of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland’s FAs, plus FIFA, the international governing body for football. Each UK association has one vote and FIFA has four. IFAB deliberations must be approved by three-quarters of the vote, which translates to at least six votes. FIFA’s approval is necessary for any IFAB decision, but FIFA alone cannot change the laws of the game and requires the support of at least two of the UK members.

The Welsh and Northern Irish Football Associations, which until now had backed FIFA in opposing any goal line technology, about turned their stance and are now also leaning towards supporting more tests on goal-line systems.

Fifa has announced a timetable for goal-line technology during 2011. Companies, interested in presenting their goal-line systems, need to declare their interest before 3 June 2011 to Fifa headquarters in Zurich and have to formally apply one month later with a $20,000 registration fee.

Germany's GK, Neuer, fails to save England's shot by Lampard in World Cup 2010, a catalyst for FIFA to re-evaluate their stance on goal-line technology.

Presented systems will be tested during the first phase between September and December 2011, and all systems reporting a 90% or higher accuracy in simulated match conditions would be invited back for the second phase of testing, being conducted between March and June 2012. The second phase will be more rigorous, entailing the evaluation of the qualified systems under different weather conditions, shock resistance, immunity to electronic interference and under different types of playing surfaces. Trails will be held behind closed doors and manufacturers can choose their preferred stadium for conducting such tests.

Ben Buckley, GM of the Australian Football Federation, offered his federation's services as guinea pig for FIFA's goal-line technology tests.

Australia’s Ben Buckley has already offered Fifa his willingness to help out evaluating and testing goal-line technology within the Australian Football Federation. Said Buckley in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph:

“We believe the infrastructure of the [A] League is of high enough quality to give it a meaningful trial. [Australia] took the initiative on using video technology to penalize simulation retrospectively, and pleasingly you now see very, very little of that in our game. Everyone wants to see the correct decisions made by the officials, and this seems to be a way of supporting them in that.” 

AAR’s during the EURO 2012: 

Europe’s (EUFA) president, Michel Platini, wants extra officials behind each goal line instead of technology. (Getty Images)

A presentation was also made to IFAB on the use of  Additional Assistant Referees (AAR’s) behind each goal line and IFAB approved  the continued experimentation thereof in the  EUFA Leagues and sanctioned it for the upcoming European Cup, EURO 2012, to be held in Poland and Ukraine.

Vanishing spray: 

The English Football Association (FA) asked IFAB to consider the use of ‘vanishing spray.’  The usage of coloured vanishing  spray is common practice in Brazil and South America where officials use a spray on the grass to prevent the defensive wall encroaching on the 10-yard gap at free-kicks. The spray evaporates after a minute. The small canisters of spray are carried by referees in velcro clasps during matches. The CONMEBOL football federation was granted approval to trial the use of vanishing spray in their football associations.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct : ‘DOGSO’s ‘Triple punishment’: 

The punishment of players, when send off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, coupled with a penalty kick if this occurs in their own 18-yard area, as well as the follow-on administrative expulsion – guilty players may have to sit follow-on matches out due to specific league rules with regard to red cards offenses) was discussed. IFAB ruled that this issue, as well as the possible usage of radio communication  in the technical area should be postponed and referred them both to FIFA’s Task Force Football 2014 team.

Snoods, Undergarments and Performance clothing  worn underneath playing kit: 

IFAB ruled neck warming scarfs (snoods) are not permitted as from 1 July 2011

Snoods, or neck warming scarfs and/or hoods, are to be outlawed as from 1 July 2011 under Law 4 – Player’s Equipment. IFAB also clarified and re-iterated that the colour of  the increasing popular usage of performance clothing (leg tights or baselayers), if worn, must match the colour of a player’s shorts.   //

FIFA considers neck-warming snood ban


The International Football Board (IFAB), the sole body tasked with football law changes, is about to discuss the next round of possible changes to be effected, or not.

The games’ law-making body will meet on March 5 with Fifa and a specific topic, marked “V.1.b” on the “Any Other Business” section of the annual meeting agenda, will be of interest to referees and some football players wearing certain garments, called snoods or neck warmers.

Arsenal player Samir Nasri wearing a snood, soon to be out-lawed by Fifa?

Fifa raised health and safety concerns, citing the issue as follows: 

“We want a debate whether it could be dangerous. There may be a safety issue – if for example a player was running though on goal and an opponent grabbed his snood, that could pose a potential danger to his neck,” a FIFA spokesman was quoted.

Players Samir Nasri (Arsenal), Argentinian Carlos Tevez (Manchester City) and Emmanuel Adebayor (loaned to Real Madrid) are among the adherents in the professional game wearing the snood winter accessory. Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has banned his players from wearing them. Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger, is of the opinion that snoods actually protect against injury, in reference to thermal characteristics of these garments on a player’s neck.

Law 4 – The Players’ Equipment, states:

“A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery).

It is debatable how dangerous the wearing of snoods really are, given snoods are made of soft clothing and are nothing more then a warm scarf wrap-around, usually used in those countries where players play in close to zero temperatures. This argument is apart from the issue whether players should be fashionistas, or not, in today’s modern game. The use of certain player apparel – gloves – are defined and interpreted by referees, while not mentioned anywhere in Law 4, as posing no risk of injury to player and opponent. Most referees allow snoods to be worn, being of the opinion, based on their interpretation of Law 4, that these items pose no risk to players. Or do they?

They’ve all gone soft – Roy Keane, former Manchester United Captain, on players wearing neck warmers

A scarf or snood has a higher chance of getting snagged onto a cleat, a boot, a hand, a finger, an arm.  There is a risk of neck injury, a very susceptible, exposed and weak body part due to the proximity of vertebra.

Though the chance is admittedly small that this might occur, the danger to players’ safety can be considerable. Parallels can be drawn to the Roman Law of Delict, where one of the defining principles of negligence can be summed as follows: If the chance of an incident occurring is quite remote or unlikely, but if does occur and then result in major/serious damage to property or person, then steps must be actively taken to negate or diminish such possibility of remote damage. In the absence of such active steps to prevent injury, a party or person can be held liable for negligence.

Although Law 5 (Decision 1 of the International F.A. Board) define the role of match officials, inasmuch that they cannot be held liable for any kind of injury a player might suffer due to a match official’s decision to “….allow or not to allow a player to wear certain apparel or equipment”, Fifa is of the opinion that player safety is of tantamount importance and should outweigh any thermal benefits – or fashion trends – of snood-wearing players.

Fifa wants to give guidance and clarity to referees in allowing these specific garments. By wishing to define Law 4 with possibly concrete examples of clothing items that should or should not be allowed on the field of play, Fifa endeavors for consistency in the exercise of a referee’s discretion. The issue of defining the Laws for clarity and consistency, whether such considerations to do so are based on player safety or uniformity, is akin to IFAB’s ruling a few years ago that “jerseys or shirts”  must have sleeves.

The snood has been an popular piece of kit for the professional footballer and shot to fame after Manchester City star Carlos Tevez began wearing one.

I venture to say Fifa, couching their rationale into player safety and health terms, will have a greater chance in having IFAB agreeing with their opinion in possibly having these items out-lawed. Players, for the most part, did and still do without them, and the benefit of neck protection certainly is negligible, despite their thermal attributes. Contrast this with thermal undershorts, where the player’s leg muscles are constantly stretching and flexing due to running and kicking motions, where the player is at far greater risk of pulling a leg muscle than having a neck muscle going into spasms due to lack of thermal clothing.

There is no empirical incidents detailing injuries by opponent’s studs or body parts snagging onto thermal legging under garments, as a safety hazard, and causing thus serious injury. Can the same (soon) be said for snoods if their use become more prevalent, especially since they are close to a very vulnerable part of a player’s body, his neck? I doubt it.

In my humble opinion, neck warmers are potentially far more dangerous then their benefit as thermal wear, and certainly unimportant, irrelevant, immaterial, inconsequential and trivial if snoods are to be worn for fashion reasons on the football playing field. Ultimately, referees should adhere to the following FIFA guideline pertaining to extra equipment used: thoroughly inspect said equipment  before kick-off and ascertain whether the extra equipment worn are to

(1) physically protect the player (e.g. from adverse weather elements,  or from further injury during the match where the injury was sustained earlier etc.)

(2) and  are, in the opinion of the referee, not dangerous to the player or anyone else.

If the above conditions are not fulfilled, then the referee must instruct the player/management of the team to do away with the “snood goods.” For good.

“Paradinha” – no consistency and clarity

EDIT 19 May 2010: Fifa has legislated via IFAB on 18 May 2010 the specific feinting procedure allowed at penalty kicks. See end of article.

Penalty! The penalty kick, Law 14. Is the penalty kicker allowed to feint in the execution of the penalty kick? Well, it depends on what – admittedly artificial – type of feints you classify them into, or the Football Association you belong to, or the discretion of the referee if no guidance is forthcoming from his association. FIFA is apparently not 100% sure about where the line should be drawn either; the International Football Associations Board (IFAB) has reviewed the rule with regard to feinting at penalty kicks on 6 March 2010. They propose outlawing run-up feints to the ball altogether.

The issue of “feinting” underwent a significant change in 2000. Prior to that, the kicker was expected to make one continuous, uninterrupted move to the ball; in 2000 (based on the FIFA Questions & Answers), certain forms of feinting or deception were allowed. FIFA clarified in 2002 that the kicker may seek to deceive (or feint) at the taking of a penalty kick.

As a good starting point, the current Law:

Feinting to take a penalty kick to confuse opponents is permitted as part of football. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the feinting is considered an act of unsporting behaviour, the player must be cautioned.

Simple, or is it? The rule makes it clear that feints, in principle, are part and parcel of football. It forms part of player’s repertoire of skill, to be able to feint and get your opponent off-guard. Reading the second sentence, the rule clearly implies that not all feint acts should be allowed. The Law puts an over rider in the second sentence, subjecting some feints to the discretion/opinion of the referee if it crosses the boundary into unsporting behaviour. Not all feints are equal in the eyes of the Law.

Buffon of Italy unable to save a penalty, World Cup 2006, Germany. Voted by Fifa as best GK during the World Cup 2006 Finals.

Which feints then are considered as being unsporting? Well, in the absence of examples, or criteria, we don’t really know. And Fifa doesn’t say. FIFA leaves the unsporting examples to the interpretation of the various football associations or to the referee’s opinion – a very broad discretion. It is up to referee and his common sense or sensibility. And this is the dilemma. What is actually considered legal? What actions cross the line from sporting to unsporting behaviour? Should we, in some form or not, take pity on the poor goalkeeper’s reduced chance of stopping a penalty kick? Or should it be a case of “Basta, tough luck dude, you wear gloves. Use them.”

The type of feints witnessed during my career are the following:

  1. Stop-start runs before getting to the ball on the penalty mark;
  2. Stop-start runs when getting within playing distance of the ball (1 metre);
  3. Stop-start kicking actions where the kicking foot feints behind the ball;
  4. Stop-start kicking actions where the kicking foot feints over the ball.
  5. A combination of any of the above 4  (see video 2 – first kick – at end of this post)

It can be argued that making a distinction on the type of feints are all artificial. Some argue that if (1) and (2) above are allowed, but not actions (3) and (4), that it comes down to not being consistent with the definition of a “feint” and with Fifa’s general statement that feints are in principle allowed. The argument further goes that all 5 of the above feinting actions are allowed during dynamic play on the field, so why should it be any different during a penalty kick versus the goalkeeper and thus not allowed? [I don’t subscribe to this view. I sympathize with goalkeepers and their slight chances to save penalty kicks.]

A  possible problematic situation arises for the referee’s decision-making process: the penalty kicker, due to his feint, induces the goalkeeper do move off his goal line before the ball is kicked. If the goalkeeper saves the penalty kick, do the referee now recall the penalty kick due to the goalkeeper’s Law 14 infringement in those instances where the referee rule the feinting actions to be sporting behaviour?  Should the referee here apply the reasoning the penalty kicker cannot avail himself to a penalty kick recall if the kicker’s antics were the very reason for the goalkeeper’s infringement? Moreover, should this reasoning  be applied to the analogous scenario where the attackers take a quick free-kick while some defenders have not fallen the required 10-yard distance back and thus intercepts the ball? As an upcoming referee on the Ask the Ref forum posted:

“My head hurts!”

BIG SIDENOTE: Statistically, penalty-taking success is heavily loaded in favour of the penalty kicker. In World Cup finals dating back to 1982, the penalty success rate ranges from 73% to 80% in 1998, the year after FIFA changed the law to allow goalkeepers to move on their goal line.

When it comes to the World Cup Final, it is a passion, and when it goes to extra time it is a drama. But when it comes to penalty kicks, it is a tragedy. — S. Blatter, Fifa President, 2006

“Hit your penalties as hard as possible,” is still a good option according to researchers at the University of Greenwich. Research there indicates that a penalty struck at more than 20 metres per second (73 km/h+) stands a greater chance of hitting the back of the net than a slower one, as a goalkeeper has less time to analyse visual clues and react.

Exhaustive analysis in competitive international football during the World Cup, European Championships and the Copa America show some fascinating results regarding kicks from the penalty mark (penalty shoot-outs). [Jordet et al, 2006, Journal of Sports Sciences]

The average % success rate converting penalty kicks in World Cups are 71.2% compared to 82.7% in Copa America versus 84.6% in European Championships, possibly reflecting the greater importance and consequent pressure being on a bigger world stage for kick outcomes. The success rate of each penalty kick changes throughout the competition:

  • 1st kick 86.6%
  • 2nd kick 81.7%
  • 3rd kick 79.3%
  • 4th kick 72.5%
  • 5th kick 80%
  • ‘Sudden death’ kicks 64.3%

For the most part a penalty kick is a zero-sum game according to empirical and statistical evidence. (For an interesting take on the game theories behind penalty kicks, read this article.)

Once the penalty-taker kicks the ball, it takes roughly 0.3 seconds to hit the back of the net—unless the goalkeeper can somehow prevent it from going in. That is simply not enough time for the goalkeeper to pick out the trajectory of the ball and intercept it. He must guess where the striker will kick and move just as the ball is being struck. Therefore, a goalkeeper who does not guess correctly where the ball is going to go has no chance.

Game theory, applied to the problem of penalties, says that if the striker and the keeper are behaving optimally, neither will have a predictable strategy. The striker might favor his stronger side, of course, but that does not mean that there will be a pattern to the bias.

… each choice of [penalty shot] should be equally likely to succeed, weighing up the advantage of shooting to the stronger side against the disadvantage of being too predictable. If shots to the right score three-quarters of the time and shots to the left score half the time, you should be shooting to the right more often. But as you do, the goalkeeper will respond: Shots to the right will become less successful and those to the left more successful. It might sound strange that at this point any choice will do, but it is analogous to saying that if you are at the summit of the mountain, no direction is up. – Tim Harford

One irate forum dweller succinctly posted the following in trying to define the line between unsporting and unsporting feints.

“There is only one (almost immobilized) defender during a penalty kick on the goal line, 12 yards away. The goalkeeper. What little chance the goalkeeper has to stop the ball going into goal consists of a “good guess” where the ball is going. Should we now allow the penalty kicker to feint drastically to eliminate the “good guess” possibility?”

Yes says Brazil. No says South Africa. What you allow in your country is not sporting, according to my association, SAFA. By now, you get the point. At best it is, in the absence of FIFA giving direction in classifying certain type of feints as permissable or not, a murky situation. At worst, it’s downright confusing in delegating the discretion to various associations trying to come up with a solution to consistency and clarity. After all, Fifa has previously given clearer direction in certain rule applications for the sake of clarity and consistency.

I propose FIFA should do so again. Or, at the very least, give some examples as a guiding light to our broad discretion. That’s what I want as a referee. The players deserve that too. I don’t expect the Law to cover any and all possibilities. And FIFA, as custodian of world football, owes the football fraternity clearer direction on the referee’s wide/broad discretion when feints are unsporting behaviour, or not.

So what do I propose? I humbly suggest (c) below. This proposal will still be compatible with Law 14 (Penalty Kick) and Fifa’s current stance pertaining to feints:-

(a) allow feints at penalty kicks

(b) allow no feints, as the opposite extreme

(c) if (a), then some criteria or basic examples what types of feints are permissible, or not.

Currently FIFA is dictating (a) above without giving any criteria/examples, save for the referee’s very broad discretion/opinion. And now Fifa is proposing (b) as a possible rule change on 6 March 2010! Unclear indeed, wouldn’t you say?

In the absence of clear direction, clarity and consistency falls victim to confusion and inconsistency. Each referee/Association will use his/their discretion to try and define and make a distinction what type of feints are permissible or not. If you are, as national referee, lucky enough in that your Association gives direction and concrete criteria as to how you should apply your discretion, well… you are the blessed few.

Laws loath to narrow discretions down to simple examples, lest they not cover all eventualities. If you believe this to be spot-on and correct, be warned. You cannot have a wide discretion as defined in the Law and have consistency in its application. My applied discretion as referee, in the absence of any criteria from Fifa and/or direction from my association, is based on what I believe, subjectively, as to what feint acts are unsporting. My opinion is certainly not going to be necessarily consistent or in line with a referee from another association, another country or continent, or even from the same country! Clearly to be avoided, you would think.

Some Football Associations do try and clarify the line between sporting and unsporting behaviour at penalty kicks. The USA Soccer Federation (USSF) for example, in a memo dated October 2004 on this subject, identified 4 specific actions by the kicker that could constitute unsporting behaviour:

  1. the kicker delays unnecessarily after being signaled by the referee to proceed,
  2. the kicker runs past the ball and then backs up to take the kick,
  3. the kicker excessively changes direction during the run to the ball,
  4. the kicker makes any motion of the hand or arm which is clearly intended to misdirect the attention of the goalkeeper.

USSF referees have to abide by the above ruling. My association, SAFA, agrees with actions 1, 2 and 3. SAFA has yet to consider/rule on #4 with concrete examples. SAFA may come to the same conclusion as the USSF on this point. Most of the EUFA associations also loath the “step-over” feinting action (kicking initially over the ball in the air).

A valid argument can be made (and added) if the kicker feints so well with his stop-start run-up action and thus duping opponents and team mates alike into entering the 18-yard penalty area before the ball is kicked, that such actions are an example of misconduct and to be cautioned with a yellow card. This type of mass confusion at penalty kicks are frowned upon, particularly in the USSF and in most EUFA associations.

It’s not that the above notable endavours by various Associations to try and classify certain feints as sporting/non-sporting are without merit. They are striving for some clarity.  Its Fifa’s lack of direction for so long in allowing the various Associations their own interpretations, which sows confusion. With Associations stepping in and instructing their national referees how the Law should be applied, we have the scenario where no two associations might – and do not – agree. What feints are allowed in, say for example Brazil, will not be allowed in my country South Africa, or England. Again, inconsistency in interpretation from country to country, association to association.

Should FIFA re-examine the definition of “feint” to get some clarity?

Feints are maneuvers designed to distract or mislead, done by giving the impression that a certain maneuver will take place, while in fact another, or even none, will; A deceptive action calculated to divert attention from one’s real purpose; A mock attack or movement designed to distract an adversary. — Webster Dictionary

Back to the Law. Fifa opinions that feinting is part of football. Movements to mislead, or maneuvers to distract or mock attacks to confuse opponents are allowed. This ties in with FIFA’s basic premise that the lawmakers (IFAB) do not want to take feinting skills away from such players. Thus, all player movements connected directly to the action of executing a feint should, in principle, be allowed anywhere on the field.

In practice, all body actions/movements of the players arms, legs and torso to distract or confuse while taking the penalty kick should then be allowed. For example, stepping over the ball and not kicking/touching it during the player’s initial kicking motion  falls within the ambit of the Law and the definition of a “feint.”

This is the stance and reasoning at one end of the spectrum, as followed by some South American countries, in particular Brazil.

In Brazil they call a well-executed feint a “paradinha.” Portuguese for “little stop.” A little stop in the run-up to the ball on the penalty mark, a little stop in the actual kicking motion of the kicker. In Brazil a step-over is legit. No artificial feinting distinctions for Brazil. The viewpoint, as per my Association, that  kickers are only allowed to feint in their run-up action and that it’s not legal to feint with the actual kicking action/motion once players arrive within kicking distance of the ball (defined as 1 metre) are being scoffed at. It’s too artificial a distinction for Brazil!

In the land of the 5-time World Champions, it is reasoned – reasonably some would say – that to feint is a God-given talent. And skill damnit – Pele and company put it on the map decades ago! It’s a real art to feint properly, to feint completely, to feint with conviction. For Samba players, fooling an infield player or the goalkeeper for that matter should be no different, so they argue.

FIFA disagrees with Brazil. Said Sepp Blatter on the “paradinha”:

This is cheating. This “stopping” must be stopped.

In Brazil, the reasoning is that there is no point in run-up feints only. This type of feint alone is just not that convincing. Whether it’s the run-up action or the kicking action itself, it’s all legal. They are classified as feints and as such should be allowed. Brazilian referees seem to agree. Have a look at the examples below.

For the record, the first two examples below are NOT allowed in South Africa.  In Brazil there seems  no sympathy for the goalkeeper if he gets thoroughly fooled by the deceptive actions of the penalty kicker…

And this one from Fred in Vasco-Fluminense …

The gods certainly smiled in this example, taking pity on the poor shot-stopper’s soul …

I propose: Bring back clarity and consistency will follow!

Edit: The International Football Association Board (IFAB), soccer’s rule-making body, amended on 18 May 2010 Law 14 (The Penalty Kick) as follows:

Feinting in the run-up to take a penalty kick to confuse opponents is permitted, however feinting to kick the ball once the player has completed his run-up is now considered an infringement of Law 14 and an act of unsporting behaviour for which the player must be cautioned.

The decisions concerning the Laws of the Game taken by the International Football Association Board will come into effect on 1 June 2010.

“We saw some video examples, which make it clear it’s very unsporting when the player gets to the end of a run up, feints to kick completely over the ball, the goalkeeper goes in one direction, the player pulls his foot back, and kicks the ball in the other direction,” IFAB member Patrick Nelson, chief executive of the Irish Football Association told reporters. “It’s clearly unsporting.”

Fifa general secretary Jerome Valcke admitted it would be a race to introduce the new rule in time for the World Cup on 11 June 2010. “We have to make sure the referees, players and coaches understand what it is about and will use videos as an example for the players to see where we are coming from.”

Fifa decided to go for option (c) as suggested above. In my humble opinion the most reasonable decision. Only run-up feints (stop-start runs) will be allowed. Kicking action feints will now be sanctioned with a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.

There we have it; clarity at last!

Tactical Fouls

Tactical fouls are not sporting tactics

The referee’s ability to identify tactical fouls is tested virtually every game.  This is particularly the case given the speed of the modern game and the counter-attack style many teams employ.  In addition, the severity of punishment for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity and a tackle that involves serious foul play (both = red card + expulsion) “forces” a  player to foul further away from his own goal and to look for other ways in stopping the progress of an attacker respectively.  The skillful and creative player in the center of the field or the speedy winger is often targets of such tactical fouls.

What is a tactical foul? Trying to find a definition (any definition!) that fits all possible scenarios is never easy, but for the purpose of this article, let us define it as follows:

A tactical foul is a foul that stops a promising attacking move, thus gaining a clear advantage for the defenders. They have a tactical implication because they are designed to normally impede the progress of an attacking opponent.

Tactical fouls require a yellow card for unsporting behaviour. [See also 12th UEFA Advanced Course for Elite Referees, page 5, Madrid 2004)

I am deliberately refraining from using the word “professional foul” in describing tactical fouls for two reasons. Firstly, Fifa does not use the term “professional foul” anywhere in the 17 Laws of the Game or in the Additional Instructions to Referees. Secondly, it leads to confusion as this term is normally being used (in my humble opinion, incorrectly!) to describe the known red card offence of “denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity” to an opponent.

Referee Frojdfeldt cautioning Gattuso for a tactical foul.

Since the idea is to stop or slow down the opponent and his attacking play, tactical fouls are tackles/challenges that do not (necessarily) endanger the safety of an opponent. Often, such fouls are “minor” and easily escape punishment as referees do not recognize the tactical implications of the challenge and fail to read the tactical, attacking advantage that has been denied. They are usually non-reckless, being mostly careless in their nature. Sometimes tactical fouls are commented on as being “cynical.”  Such a subjective term is not really helpful to a referee. He needs a more objective set of criteria to identify tactical fouls.

How to identify cynical/tactical fouls? As referees, we are instructed according to Law 12 (Fouls & Misconduct)  that careless challenges per se don’t warrant cautions for unsporting behaviour. We know the Fifa formula: Reckless challenges = free kick + yellow card. Careless challenges = free kick only. Since tactical fouls are mostly careless, we can clearly see the difficulty in identifying now a careless challenge suddenly as also warranting a yellow card for unsporting behaviour!

The Laws of the Game don’t offer much guidance to referees with regards to criteria for tactical fouls, save a short mention regarding blatant handball to deny an opponent getting possession of the ball, or blatant shirt pulling in preventing an opponent from taking up an advantageous position.

The Oracle: “Why was the foul committed here?”

Reply: “Whadda you mean …. WHY?”

Tactical fouls are not deserving of a yellow card on its own merit, if seen in isolation. But when taking the match situation as a whole into consideration, the foul warrants a caution. Therefore, as a first step in identifying a criteria for tactical fouls, referees should ask themselves the “HOW as well as the “WHY the foul was committed. It is the “WHY”  that unlocks the identifying process. This will enable referees to identify the true nature of certain fouls as being tactical fouls.

As mentioned, tactical fouls are committed in order to strip a team of an effective promising attack. As such, a tactical foul is one for which the tackler is willing to accept the likelihood of getting a yellow card in exchange for stopping or slowing down a promising attack.

Paul Tamberino & Brian Hall identifies six common characteristics of tactical fouls:

  1. Tactical fouls occur usually close to the attacking end of the field. Defenders commit the foul because they are aware the attackers will have a credible opportunity to attack their goal with a high degree of effectiveness. The attack may develop from a counter-attack after dispossession of the ball, and speed is of the essence to get the ball/player into the attacking half of the field.
  2. Tactical fouls are used to gain a numerical advantage for defenders to stop or hinder the attack.
  3. Tactical fouls give defenders time to defend. It gives the defending team time to get goal-side of the ball, thus creating a numeric advantage for defenders.
  4. Tactical fouls prevent the ball and/or player from advancing with his promising attacking move (e.g. deliberate handball or obstruction or holding attacker). The foul is committed to prevent the ball and/or attacking player from getting into space behind a defender or behind the defense. It is the theory “if the ball gets by, the player doesn’t or “if the player gets by, the ball doesn’t”. Look for open areas/space that the ball would normally be played into or where an attacking player would run into if they were to receive the ball. The open areas would be behind a defender and close to or in the attacking half of the field.
  5. The defender knows he is beaten. The defender knows that he has not the skill and/or the speed to stop the attacker. Tactical fouls usually occur in one-versus-one situations. Not to be confused with denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (red card).
  6. Tactical fouls are usually minor in nature, i.e. they are more often then not careless in nature as opposed to being reckless. These fouls are often considered minor because they normally don’t involve hard, physical contact. Due to their “careless” classification, these fouls often go unpunished. Shirt pulling or using the defender’s body to make contact with the opponent and impede his progress are frequent examples.

Referees should ask themselves, “why did the player commit the foul here?” Often, tactical fouls occur in the wide open channels and spaces (close to the sideline) on the field, so it is critical that assistant referees also be aware of these characteristics and provide the referee with the necessary assistance via communication.

As play develops, referees and assistants need to anticipate potential actions by defenders that wants to slow down the attack. Recognizing these warning signs will aid referees in positioning themselves pro-actively prior to the defender’s challenge, so that they have a better angle of view of the tactical foul. Also, it may aid the referee by increasing his presence (getting closer to the ball) and thereby preventing a foul by a defender. A well positioned referee will be in the defender’s vision and his presence may deter the defender to initiate a tactical foul on an attacker.

Assistant referees should feel empowered to provide assistance in identifying and bringing these tactical fouls to the referee’s attention when the referee has not been successful in identifying the tactical nature of the foul. The assistant referee should utilize a signal – agreed upon prior to the game – if the assistant believes the situation warrants a caution.

Let us look at some examples of tactical fouls.

Example 1: Everton FC vs MLS All Stars, 2009(Move the video clip to 5:16 and then play onwards to 5:30)

Blue counter-attacks in their own half and the ball gets passed with speed to his team mate, Fredrik Ljungberg. The defender (white) knows he has no support or cover behind him so his only options are to either stop the ball or stop the attacker.

The defender sees the speed of the attacker and the ball has clearly bypassed him. He identifies his only option: Deny the attacker from getting into the space behind him! He clips (trips) Ljungberg. The referee is well-positioned to spot the tactical foul.

In the above video clip, the speed and skill of the attacker puts the defender in a position of having to foul in order to eliminate the potential for a dangerous attack. The referee does a good job of recognizing the nature of the foul and makes a correct decision to caution the defender for unsporting behaviour.

The simplest method to prevent the progression of the attacker is to deliberately interpose his body between the attacker and his pursuit of the ball. Remember, players work hard to disguise tactical-type fouls and to make them difficult for officials to recognize.

You should watch the tackler and analyze his actions/movement. Useful Indicators that will help the referee to identify tactical fouls are:

  • The defender’s eyes are not on the ball but on the attacker he is about to tackle;
  • The ball is past the defender when he initiates contact with the attacker.
  • The defender takes a few steps into the attacker’s movement path while making no attempt to chase the ball that has been played behind him into space by the attacker.
  • The attacker and ball are moving faster than the defender can.
  • The defender may put his hands up in the air during/after the tackle to disguise the infringement.
  • One-on-one situations. There are no players supporting or covering the defender in his attempt to close down or slow down the attacker.

In closing, still snapshots illustrating and highlighting the criteria mentioned above.

Example 2: LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, MLS CUP Final, 2009. Here we have a scenario where all the tactical foul indicators are fulfilled, making it very easy for the referee to spot the nature of the foul and caution the defender for unsporting behaviour.

White Attacker played the ball (earlier) past the Red Defender in a promising counter attack. Defender is only interested in taking out the Attacker due to his eyes only following the Attacker. The Attacker is moving faster than the Defender. This is an one-vs-one situation where the Defender knows he's beaten.
Red Defender prevents the Attacker from advancing into space with his promising attack. He puts his hands in the air to disguise the tactical foul.

Fifa’s 2010 AGM to look at goal line technology…again

Agenda of Fifa’s 124th Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 6 March 2010


 Goal line technology is up for discussion (again) on Fifa’s 2010 annual general meeting come March, as promised by Mr. Blatter.

 Points up for discussion and consideration are proposals/amendments submitted under the regulations of IFAB, the International Football Association Board tasked with changes to the 17 Laws of the Game.

 For a self-explanatory and detailed breakdown of the agenda, see Fifa’s Agenda for the March 2010 AGM. (PDF document, 640KB)

EDIT: 6 March 2010: Fifa decided, inter alia, not to pursue goal line technology.

But it seems Fifa has pulled the plug on all forms of technological aids for referees, judging by this statement:

The 124th Annual General meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Zurich on 6 March 2010, which, as is the case with every FIFA World Cup year, was chaired by myself on behalf of FIFA, … IFAB decided not to implement technology in football. FIFA supports this decision, based on the following points:

The universality of the game: one of the main objectives of FIFA is to protect the universality of the game of association football. This means that the game must be played in the same way no matter where you are in the world. If you are coaching a group of teenagers in any small town around the world, they will be playing with the same rules as the professional players they see on TV. The simplicity and universality of the game of association football is one of the reasons for its success. Men, women, children, amateurs and professionals all play the same game all over the world.

The human aspect: no matter which technology is applied, at the end of the day a decision will have to be taken by a human being. This being the case, why remove the responsibility from the referee to give it to someone else? It is often the case that, even after a slow-motion replay, ten different experts will have ten different opinions on what the decision should have been. Fans love to debate any given incident in a game. It is part of the human nature of our sport.

 The extended use of technology: the question has already been raised: if the IFAB had approved goal-line technology, what would prevent the approval of technology for other aspects of the game? Every decision in every area of the pitch would soon be questioned.

 The nature of the game: association football is a dynamic game that cannot be stopped in order to review a decision. If play were to be stopped to take a decision, it would break up the rhythm of the game and possibly deny a team the opportunity to score a goal. It would also not make sense to stop play every two minutes to review a decision, as this would go against the natural dynamism of the game. — President of Fifa, Sepp Blatter [] 

Fifa HQ's, Zurich, Switzerland

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