A Villainʼs Charter?

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (December 8th 2014)

A Clean Slate

This week the Championʼs League and Europa League will reach the business stage of deciding which teams will continue in the knock-out phase, drop down to the Europa League, or finish their participation in either competition. Soon the consequences of a rule change on carried over yellow cards will bite.

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Prior to the start of this seasonʼs tournaments UEFAʼs General Secretary Gianni Infantino explained the reasoning behind European Footballʼs governing body taking the decision to follow FIFAʼs lead to give players a clean slate for the final stages of the Championʼs League and Europa League for the current season. Like the World Cup yellow cards will be wiped clean at the quarter-final stage.

UEFA says it wanted to avoid the risk of top players being suspended for the latter stages of the competition. But does it? The World Cup-winning French midfielder and current Strategic Advisor of Greek champions Olympiacos, Christian Karembeu told Empower-Sport that he supported the changes.

Of course”, Karembeu said. “This is normal. I think that … every player deserve to play final, for example, and I think itʼs logical to give the chance to everyone when you dream about the finals – you dream about it”! But will it?

Christian Karembeu 2

Villainsʼ Charter

But the flair players – the ones spectators pay to see – are the victims of the persistent fouling, the ʻenforcer tacklesʼ designed to discourage them from playing and much more besides. This leads to them getting frustrated on occasion and reacting.

Remember David Ginola trudging off the pitch unhappily after being sent off for elbowing Lee Dixon when Arsenal played Newcastle United in the Coca Cup as it then was in January 1996. “They wonʼt let me play football”, he said. And they hadnʼt. Dixon had been fouling Ginola throughout the match, ensuring that Ginola could not function and the officials had allowed it. Finally a very frustrated Ginola retaliated by elbowing Dixon. He was sent off. The referee had no choice, but as Kevin Keegan then manager of Newcastle observed, flair players were not being protected.

And then there are cards picked up for deliberate blocks or non-violent cheating. The deliberate hand-balls, the shirt-tugging to prevent an attack developing and of course the simulation all deserve cards and the full consequences, donʼt they? Wonʼt this change in the rules encourage players to offend more as the consequences for doing so diminish?

The recent World Cup was ruined by a combination of excessively lenient refereeing and this rule. The quarter-final between Brasil – the most persistent offenders – and Colombia was destroyed as a spectacle by the failure to enforce the rules of the game. This happened under the auspices of Luiz Felipe Scolari – a manager who once declared the ʻBeautiful Game Deadʼ and the man that also said he wanted his team to foul more. What did they expect to happen other than the anti-football inflicted on the world that night?

Foul and Fouler

Far from guaranteeing the participation of the top players, these changes rewarded persistent offenders whose job it was to prevent the most talented from playing football – the exact opposite of what these changes are supposed to be delivering. What did they expect?

Letʼs hope that the amnesty on suspensions will not be accompanied by a repetition of the ludicrously lenient refereeing that rewarded the cynical and dirty play that Scolari inflicted on a world hoping for Samba football. Was it coincidence that Brasil played dirty?

It was their game plan after all – one that was cynically adopted to stop flair players by foul means or fouler – and utterly predictable that this would happen to ensure that a mediocre team undeservedly reached at least the final stages of the World Cup. Ironically, this happened at the expense of a team that had inherited the mantle of Samba football.

FIFA could not have failed to realise that Brasil would play this way. A talented Chile side and an even better Colombia paid the price. It also put a target on Neymarʼs back that put him out of the World Cup. Letʼs hope it doesnʼt happen again in the Championʼs League or Europa League.

Own Goals – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 30th 2012 and modified on May 27th 2014))

UEFA Back Goal-line Assistant Referees

The President of UEFA scored some own goals at this afternoon’s press conference. Michel Platini launched a vigorous attack on technology, believing that it does not help and asking why the debate is limited to just goal-line technology and not for other decisions – a very fair point. However, Platini has no truck with technology at all, although he has no problem with extra officials.

UEFA’s General Secretary Gianni Infantino revealed that UEFA had received former referee Pierluigi Collina’s findings on the experiments with extra assistants. Collina had studied 1000 matches and concluded that the extra officials on the goal-line had reduced errors to just one – the match between Ukraine and England, which was played at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk.

UEFA unanimously accepted Collina’s findings and will urge FIFA and the IFA (International Football Association) to adopt the policy, but both Platini and Collina remain opposed to the use of technology. UEFA argued that the extra assistants improved behaviour in the penalty area. Even if that is true, what about behaviour on the rest of the pitch? Has that improved too as a result of the extra officials and if not, how does UEFA propose to achieve this?

Crazy Idea

There was further controversy. “It’s just an idea”, Platini repeatedly said, but it was one that he insisted had some support. Platini thinks that Euro 2020 could be hosted in several countries – up to twelve. Travel – budget airlines or not – will be prohibitive for fans and some media too. It will also take up time to get between the host cities – more a media point, but the cost for fans, especially, will be high too if they wish to see a few teams play.

Multiplying the host countries will cause all sorts of logistical problems and much more besides. It will be a linguistic nightmare too. Co-hosting causes difficulties in covering both matches and pre-match or post-match training. Choices have to be made, or teams of reporters have to be larger, which may not be an option for various media in the current economic climate.

One of the major complaints about Ukraine has been the absurd accommodation prices. UEFA complained about this, but some prices still remain prohibitive. It was also an issue in Austria four years ago, leading to a collapse in prices when the accommodation was not booked at the high prices.

Such problems apply in Ukraine, which is a pity as by and large the Ukrainian people I met – and I met quite a few in my short stay in the country – are lovely and friendly people who should not be judged by a few greedy and unhelpful people. Multiplying the host countries will multiply such problems, as there will be no opportunity to develop a tourism strategy or spread the sporting development plan.

Plain Wrong

But back to technology. UEFA decided to recommend that FIFA and IFA adopt the additional referees on the goal-line, claiming that it has been very successful in a 1000 with only one high profile error – the goal that never was for Ukraine. Despite Platini’s views, there are clearly issues where technology would help – even something as basic replays.

Check the footage and you will see that there is no do doubt that a serious error was made – one that a replay or review could have put right. The technology exists to improve decisions to correct glaring errors. The officials are human. Even the best of them will make mistakes, sometimes glaring ones. Surely if the correct decision can be made by using technology, that should happen. Cricket allows reviews and uses technology in the Decision Review System (DRS). Why doesn’t football?

Affecting Results

Ukraine’s goal that was not given involved another wrong decision. There was also an error in the build up to that goal, which had benefited Ukraine. This was a case of two errors – one for either side. Does two wrong decisions now amount to one right decision? But regardless of that there were errors in other matches, which were important ones.

At least two serious errors would have been caught before they had serious consequences if the use of basic technology had been allowed. Nevertheless, Platini claimed that there were no refereeing errors that affected the outcome of a match. This is wrong.

One is the yellow card given by Jonas Eriksson to Giorgos Karagounis for diving in the match against Russia in Warsaw. The replays showed that there had been contact between defender Sergei Ignashevich and Karagounis, who went down in the box. Not only was it not a dive, but referee should have given a penalty. At the very least, there was significant doubt about whether Karagounis had dived. If there was contact and there was, how could it be a dive? It affected the outcome of a match – the next one.

Karagounis was the Man of the Match against Russia, but that card ruled him out of the quarter final. Karagounis was certainly an influential player for Greece. His goal won the match and sent Greece into the knock-out stages. How can it not have affected the outcome of the following match when one of Greece’s best players was wrongly ruled out of the quarter final?

It affected Greece’s game plan. They were given no choice but to play a completely different plan to the one they would have used if Karagounis had been available to play as he should have been. In his absence, Greece lost 4-2 to Germany at the Arena Gdansk (Poland). They never had the opportunity to see if he would have made the difference and the referee Eriksson was retained for the knock-out stages despite that error.

The other error was glaring and Greece were victimised by that one too. Spanish referee Carlos Velasco Carballo has a habit of sending people off. During the 2011-12 season in Spain he issued 16 red cards in 19 matches that he refereed.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a second yellow card for fouling Poland’s Rafal Murawski just before half time. Even that card was harsh, but the previous one beggared belief. Just before that he received a yellow card for allegedly fouling Robert Lewandowski, but the replays showed that Papastathopoulos had actually won the ball cleanly and fairly.

It was no foul and therefore it could not have been a yellow card. If he did not receive a yellow card then, he would not have been sent off for fouling Murawski and Greece would still have had eleven players on the pitch.

To paraphrase the great author Oscar Wilde: “To give one yellow card wrongly or harshly may be considered a misfortune. To give two is carelessness”!

Impact of Errors

The match ended a 1-1 draw. Lewandowski had put Poland ahead after 17 minutes. Substitute Dimitrios Salpingidis equalised after 51 minutes. A crucial incident occurred on 68 minutes. Poland’s goalkeeper Arsenal’s Wojciech Szczesny was rightly sent off for a professional foul on Salpingidis. Replacement goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton saved Karagounis’ penalty.

Had the correct decisions been made Greece would not have had Papastathopoulos sent off. Then they would not have had to play 48 minutes plus added time in both halves with ten men and would or at least could if Velasco Carballo did not find reason to send off another Greek player, which he did not do, have had the opportunity to attack Poland with a man advantage for 22 minutes plus added time after Poland had had no option but to make a tactical decision to withdraw midfielder Maciej Rybus – a decision that affected Poland’s attacking options, especially when facing a full compliment of Greeks. How can it possibly be claimed that Velasco Carballo’s decisions, which could have been reviewed with the use of replays – the game had stopped after all to give the fouls and cards – to ensure that the correct decisions were made did not affect the outcome of this match?