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Witch Hunt Puts in Question Yellow Suspensions
by Paul Gardner, May 21st, 2009 12:50AM
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By Paul Gardner

Inevitably, Werder Bremen lost yesterday's UEFA Cup final to Shakhtar Donetsk. I'm not belittling the Ukrainian club, which deserved its win. It was better than Bremen. That is to say, Shakhtar was better than Bremen without Diego.

Diego's absence was always going to hurt Bremen -- his six goals, several of them quite remarkable efforts, were the most important factor in getting the club to the final. Without him, Bremen was simply not good enough. Had he been there -- well, who knows?

The point is that Diego was not there and it was his own fault. He had collected three yellow cards during Bremen's seven-game path to the final, and the UEFA rules are quite clear: after that third card, you miss the next game.

Diego's third yellow came in the second game of the semifinal against Hamburg, so he missed the final. Next week we shall see the Champions League final, and there will be key players missing from that one through suspension. Manchester United's Darren Fletcher sits it out because he was red-carded in the semifinal game against Arsenal. For Barcelona, Carles Puyol and Dani Alves are out because they accumulated three yellows.

Adding all four cases together, we get a total of 10 cards. I saw Fletcher's red, I saw the final yellows to Diego, Puyol and Alves, and I have no objection to any of them. The other six yellows, I don't know about. But they raise a doubt, one that in no way helps to reconcile me to the idea of a climactic final without its stars.

Until a couple of years back, I would have unquestioningly accepted that the referees had got it right, and that was that. These days, I'm not so sure. What has happened to alter my mind set on this is the diving witch hunt.

This is a comparatively new call for referees, but it is one that they have gleefully welcomed, egged on by repeated calls from FIFA urging them to clamp down on the cheats.

As a way of stamping out diving, this witch hunt -- which absurdly ignores the thuggish tackles that are largely responsible for diving -- has never seemed either rational or practical to me.

Because of my doubts, I have paid particularly close attention to all the diving calls that I have seen, mostly on TV where they can be replayed. And I say without the slightest hesitation that the majority of them -- perhaps as many as 75 percent of them -- are flat out wrong.

Far too often the call is an invention of the referee or -- much worse -- it is used by the referee to cover the fact that he is refusing to call a penalty kick. In short, it is a hopelessly unreliable call on which to base disciplinary proceedings. Which is exactly what one would expect -- since when has it made sense to rely on the justice of accusations made as part of a witch hunt?

I'm not sure if the six yellows that will help to keep Alvez and Puyol off the field next week include any for diving. But the point I'm making can rest very securely on the case of a player who will play in the final, but who might well have been banned because of an incorrect diving call.

None other than Lionel Messi. Yes, we could quite easily have had the climactic game of the European season without Barca's major star -- thanks to an atrocious piece of refereeing from England's Howard Webb. In the Barca vs. Bayern Munich quarterfinal, Webb ducked a penalty kick call against Bayern defender Christian Lell for tripping Messi -- and instead gave Messi a yellow for diving. A terrible call -- you don't really need the replays for this one.

As Messi already had one yellow from an earlier game, it meant that he now had to play three more games -- the return against Bayern and the home-and-home series with Chelsea -- with the threat of a third yellow looming and consequent banishment from the final, if Barca got that far.

It is quite possible that Messi's strangely quiet performances against Chelsea may have had something to do with his perilous position.

No thanks to the inept Webb, we shall have the pleasure of watching Messi in the final. But with witch-hunting referees like Webb inventing yellow cards, the three-yellows-and-you're-out regulation needs a rethink. At the very least, UEFA should agree to re-visit cards and change the decisions if they are both palpably wrong and drastically affect a player's disciplinary record in the tournament.



  1. commented on: May 21, 2009 at 8:29 a.m.
    Another factor in creating this problem -- the macho former players doing the color commentary and their partners, the opinionated announcers who apparently never broke a sweat playing anything with contact. They consistently deride players like Messi and Ronaldo if they go down under the unrelenting battering they receive from defenders. Yes, some do dive at times and that should be called. More often, players go down when their foot is clipped or pushed which happens nearly every time they drive for goal. Quite often, while the clowns in the TV booth are mocking the downed player and questioning their toughness, the replay shows they were in fact clipped. Anyone who has played any sport knows that, tough or not, you usually go down when hit while going full speed or off-balance while attempting a difficult maneuver, and that it hurts like hell when you are kicked in the foot or ankle even inadvertently. Most times, the flinch alone will take you down. I'll leave it to the refs whether every contact deserves a foul, but there would be less outrage over diving and fewer refs overreacting if the "tough guys" in the booth would stop attacking every player who hits the ground. They remind me of the old guys in the booth at NHL games moaning for the "good old days" when blood flowed freely and goalies did not wear masks.
  1. Randy Alanko
    commented on: May 21, 2009 at 11:10 a.m.
    I think Mr. Gardneer's suggestion is a good one. I previous columns he has also discussed the origin of th plethora of dives and accused dives. How many calls are made if the player doesn't go down? How many times are defenders repeatedly fouling, but the ref doesn't notice since noone is on the ground? I recently saw a video (Holland-Argentina) from the 1974 World Cup and was surprised by the referee's calls. He did not require the fouled player to fall! Many fouls whistled were similar to today's, but he called many where the defender illegally obtained an advantage but the attacker stayed on his feet. Today the defense would be all over a ref giving a 25 yard free kick when the attacker kept his feet but lost the ball due to a foul.
  1. Clayton Berling
    commented on: May 21, 2009 at 5:35 p.m.
    I shall undoubtedly be called a "wimp", a "know-nothing", a "nutcase", a "traitor to the game", and possibly much worse,...but...losing skilled, dependable, fan pleasing players because of fouls does much to diminish the game, and also leaves the referees in a position where they can potentially do no right! Certainly a player and team should be "punished" for bad behavior or clumsy skills, but should it discolor the game not only during the present game, but games to come? Ice hockey has learned to deal with it. Pehaps we should look at their answer more closely. A yellow might be satisfied with ten minutes out of the game (no sub) a red with 20 minutes out (again no sub). "Unused" minutes could be carried over to the next game. Before writing it off, think carefully about it. It serves the game and the referees and the players.
  1. Austin Gomez
    commented on: May 22, 2009 at 10:07 a.m.
    Paul, here is where I agree and here is where I disagree with you! First, the Laws (not "Rules" --- use the correct terminology please!) of the Games are quite specific: "The Decisions of the Referee regarding Facts connected with Play...and the Result of the Match are FINAL". I don't see where any Disciplinary Body/Authority or Committee should overthrow the Decisions of a Referee of incidents that the Referee saw during the Game, be these Decisions right-or-wrong (in my humble Opinion). The Game of Football is filled with "mistakes" (perceived or otherwise) by Referee Officials (where there is the "Human-Factor" element) as well as by Coaches and certainly a multitude/plethora of 'errors' by the Players themselves!........Should these "sitters" that are committed/missed by the Players at the Opponents' Goal be re-played because of their chance mistake??? I think not!, 'blatant,' 'nasty,' 'flagrant' incidents on the field-of-Play in which the entire Referee Crew did NOT see it (and this plausible), then these 'sordid scenarios' can be reviewed & rectified & punished by the proper, skilled Disciplinary Committee in order to rectify this "Miscarriage-of -Justice." I heartily & mightly protest this concept that the Player or Players can NOT participate in the Final of an important Tournament (viz. Champion League Final or UEFA Cup Final, etcetera) if the Player in the previous game (that would be the 'semi-final' Game) had received a 3rd.YC and so on. The Spectators (a most important factor/cog in World Football! --- without them Football's popularity would be NIL) must be taken into consideration. The Spectators pay a hefty amount of money to watch the Final & to deprive them of a star-studded Players in the Final Match, because of a technicality, seems CRUEL...........but League Competition Rules /Procedures are to be followed. In my opinion, I would like to change this formula/segment of an automatic BANISHMENT/EXPULSION of all Players into the Final Match: this would NOT apply if they had received a "straight" RC in their semi-final Game ONLY (not an accumulation of YC cards), but only for the Final Match! That would seem somewhat FAIR for the 'public' & to the Game itself! Sometimes, a "Letter-of-the-Law CAUTION issued by the Referee is a bit HARSH as opposed to the SPIRIT-of-the-Law principle. Each Referee has one's own philsophy/"gut"-feeling on aspects of what represents a Caution but a "straight-up" SEND-OFF should not be given a reprieve for a Player in the next Game, even if it is the FINAL Game of the Tournament. many thanks for allowing me to express only my opinion, AmG

  1. commented on: May 23, 2009 at 12:53 p.m.
    Austin Gomez.... please ... after you corrected PG with your "Laws" comment ... i stopped reading ... how can i take you seriously?

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