By Paul Gardner
It looks pretty bad for referee Hilario Grajeda.
His failure to notice the massive encroachment by Chicago’s Marco Pappa during the penalty kick taken by teammate Sebastian Grazzini against Dallas was so obvious, so blatant, that it really does look utterly inexcusable.
It became a disaster when Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman saved the kick, and Pappa -- first to get to the rebound, obviously -- scored with ease.
Dallas, a team beset by injuries and needing all the help it can get, lost the game to a goal that should never have been upheld.
Grajeda did not help his case by taking up a strangely eccentric position for the kick. As Grazzini made his run up to the ball, Grajeda was standing off to the left at a point near the corner of the six-yard box -- i.e. some six yards ahead of Grazzini. This is nowhere near the position suggested by FIFA in its rules. There, a rather murky photo/diagram shows the referee in line with the penalty spot.
Not only that, but Grajeda was in motion as the kick was taken.
One thing is clear. Grajeda is watching Grazzini. He is not keeping a check on encroachment. A bad error on Grajeda’s part? After all, isn’t that what he is required to do?
Actually -- it’s not certain. Nowhere in the rules does it stipulate what the referee should be doing at a PK.
The assistant referee is clearly told that he should watching out for goalkeeper movement. Which would, it seems, leave it up to the referee to spot two things: trickery in the kick-taker’s run up (particularly at the end of it), and encroachment. Is it possible for the referee to keep an eagle eye on both those things, occurring more or less simultaneously some 10 yards apart?
I don’t think so. In this sense, the position taken up by Grajeda (in itself, this was not a contravention of the rules, for the rules do not spell out where he should be) may even be a better position than FIFA’s, because it does involve the referee looking back at the kicker, with the possibility that he can then also see potential encroachers.
But Grajeda, somehow, failed to spot that Pappa was already some three yards inside the penalty are before Grazzini kicked the ball.
Grajeda’s error was palpable. Nevertheless, the real problem in these situations, the true culprit, is the rulebook. Because the rules do not spell out what the referee should be doing at a penalty kick and do not stipulate exactly where he should position himself ... in fact, the rules suggest a position virtually guaranteed to make it almost impossible for the referee to spot encroachment.
We saw exactly the same screw-up in the recent champions league final. Chelsea was the beneficiary when Petr Cech’s save of Arjen Robben’s penalty was allowed to stand -- despite obvious encroachment from players of both teams, a situation that the rules are quite clear about -- the penalty should be retaken.
In that European game there was even less excuse for the lack of action, because there was an extra official on the field. He was actually used for watching the goalkeeper. The assistant who would normally have done that was not used at all, it seems -- he remained out on his touchline.
Yes, I’m repeating myself, because I have been recommending for some years now that IFAB, the sport’s pro-inactive rule-making body, should study this and reword the rule to make it clear what the referee should be watching for, and then allot him a position where he can effectively do that.
It could be that there is no satisfactory position for the referee. Because there are three key actions that occur at pretty much the same time. Goalkeeper movement, trickery by the kicker at the end of his run, and encroachment.
It might make sense to move the referee back so that he is nearer the edge of the penalty area, and therefore nearer to the point where encroachment occurs. From that position he should still be able to see whether the kicker is “feinting to kick the ball once he has completed his run-up” -- the infringement singled out in the rules -- and at least have the potential encroachers in his peripheral vision.
Ideally the penalty kick needs three officials on the look out. That is the way it should be -- because these are not inconsequential episodes in a game. They are game-winning and game-losing moments.
So why not use a third set of eyes? Why not bring the fourth official into action? He could remain out on the touchline, in line with the edge of the penalty, a good position from which to spot encroachment. He could have a flag, but radio communication would be enough to alert the referee.
Yet I’m inclined to think that the best answer would be to move the players, other than the kicker, further back, so that they are, say, 20 yards, rather than 10 yards, away from the penalty spot. If that were the case, the rule against encroachment could probably be dropped from the rules altogether.
At the moment, on this crucial matter, the rules are a chaotic joke, giving off the suspicion that IFAB regard encroachment as something of little importance, and consequently has not bothered to give it any methodical thought.
The responsibility is IFAB’s. Hilario Grajeda did make a mess of his call, but heaping all the blame on him would be wrong. The rules themselves need to be much, much more clearly defined.