Reckless goalkeepers, and heedless referees

By Paul Gardner

A couple of recent referee calls that are worth studying because they raise issues that the rulebook does not seem to accommodate. These are the details -- I’m leaving out the scorelines, as we all know that they are not to be considered when referees make decisions.

* March 30, 2013 - Major League Soccer
New York Red Bulls vs. Philadelphia Union.

91:46 -- Philadelphia defender Sheanon Williams sends a long high cross into the New York penalty area. As the ball drops at the edge of the six-yard box, NY goalkeeper Luis Robles charges forward to grab it, while Philadelphia forward Conor Casey runs in to meet it. Both players have their eyes firmly on the ball.

We can halt matters right there. At this moment, in my opinion, both players have a right to go for the ball. It is, as close as one can tell, a genuine 50-50 ball. Neither player is in an obviously advantageous position. But you know, or you strongly sense, that there is going to be a collision -- the ball is dropping right where Casey could expect to get his head on it, and right where Robles has an equal opportunity to snag it.

Which means that the goalkeeper will, in a fraction of a second, have the advantage -- reaching upward with his hands he must be able to get the ball before it descends onto Casey’s head. But to get that advantage, he must continue his forward charge. He cannot avoid running into Casey.

Casey’s actions suggest that, at the last moment, he gives up on trying to reach the ball but -- evidently aware that Robles is going to leap into him to get at the ball -- he lowers his head and bends his body forward, but with his back toward the approaching Robles. It looks like the action of someone trying to avoid the impending crunch ... or is it Casey compacting his body to make sure he gives as good as he gets when the collision comes?

The collision duly occurs. Robles leaps and reaches over Casey to get the ball, but the two bodies make contact at hip level. Robles, airborne, fails to get hold of the ball, then spins round and falls heavily to the ground, on his back. A nasty fall, one that shook up Robles enough to warrant a delay of over three minutes while he recovered.

Casey managed to stay on his feet throughout and was immediately yellow-carded by referee Silviu Petrescu. It seems to me that what the referee has to decide here is -- who ran into whom? Robles was certainly jumping into Casey as the contact occurred. There was no way that Casey could have got out of the way. But, the manner in which Casey was bending over (quite possibly to protect himself) more or less ensured that Robles would come a nasty cropper as he flailed for the ball.

I feel in a position of neutrality here. On the one hand, Casey is not my favorite player, I regard him as much too physical a player. On the other hand, I think that goalkeepers, far too often, are allowed to get away with highly dangerous physical challenges.

In this incident, I do not believe that Casey was at fault. He went for the ball, legally. He then did what surely anyone would do when threatened with a collision. I cannot see anything reckless in his actions. No use of arms or elbows, no kicking.

The recklessness came from goalkeeper Robles in throwing himself forward, over Casey, to get at the ball. But that is what goalkeepers do, and they are repeatedly allowed to do it. Robles did not jump in with his knees raised, which is often the case with goalkeepers. Even in those cases, goalkeepers seem immune to punishment. There was a terrifying example of this in last year’s L.A. Galaxy vs Metapan game in the Concacaf Champions league -- Galaxy goalkeeper Josh Saunders simply jumped wildly into Metapan’s Christian Bautista, slamming both knees into Bautista’s head. Somehow, Bautista recovered from the wipeout ... but nothing happened to Saunders. Nothing. A horrifyingly dangerous play that would have resulted in an instant red card for any field player was treated by the referee as perfectly acceptable for a goalkeeper.

No one denies that goalkeepers, reaching for a high ball, are vulnerable. They must be allowed to raise their leg as protection. But using that raised leg as a battering ram is something else altogether.

My suggestion is this: that the six-yard box, which serves absolutely no function whatever at the moment, should be reinstated as an area where the goalkeeper rules. Within which he cannot be challenged. Under that rule, Casey would get an automatic yellow card, no arguments. But, with that rule in effect, chances are that he would not have challenged for the ball at all, meaning there would have been no collision, and no jarring injury for Robles.

Outside the six-yard box, goalkeepers would not receive any dispensations or special treatment. Certainly, a challenge like that made by Saunders -- which occurred at the limit of the penalty area would result in a red card and penalty kick. But again, knowing they would face serious punishment, would goalkeepers make those reckless challenges?

* April 3, 2013 -- UEFA Champions League
Real Madrid vs. Galatasaray

77:01 Galatasaray’s Burak Yilmaz has the ball at his feet inside the Real Madrid penalty area. He moves the ball forward with his right foot just as Real’s Sergio Ramos comes in to tackle. Ramos gets a glancing touch of the ball with his left foot, which follows through and lands heavily on the instep of Yilmaz’s right foot. Yilmaz goes down, obviously tripped. No foul, says referee Svein Oddvar Moen from Norway, therefore no penalty kick to Galatasaray. But a yellow card to Yilmaz for diving (simulation if you prefer that word).

The call is a manifest injustice. Not only does Galatasaray not get a deserved penalty kick, but the yellow card means that Yilmaz will have to sit out the return game.

Another problem call, then? The problem here is the attitude of the referee. He does not believe there was a foul. That is a tenable opinion, because Ramos did get a touch of the ball, knocking it away from Yilmaz. But the rest of Moen’s version is sheer invention. Even if he did not see Ramos stamp on Yilmaz, there is still a big imaginative leap to be made before accusing a player of cheating.

So for this problem call, and for so many like it involving simulation, there is an easy, straightforward solution. Referees should simply stop actively looking for a dive. When you’re intent on finding something, you’ll likely find it, whether it’s there or not.

You can see why referees might like making simulation calls. Such dodgy calls can -- as might well be the case here -- add seeming confirmation to the referee’s decision not to award a penalty kick. The calls also carry an aura of gloating, of the referee telling the player and the watching world “You’re not clever enough to bamboozle me ...”

Referees might also take some satisfaction from feeling they are part of current opinion, that they are helping to “clean up” the game. In fact, referees -- our one hope for honesty and unbiased action and opinion during a game -- should be ashamed of joining the diving witch-hunt.

They’re caving in to the shrill demands of a group of loudmouth coaches and moralizing TV commentators -- most of them in England. And how unusual it was, in the Yilmaz case, to hear the commentators, both English, admit that Yilmaz had been fouled. Even then, we got a classic comment: “Well, he doesn’t go down in the most graceful way ... but it should have been a penalty.”

Remember that, forwards. Next time you get tripped or trodden on, or have your legs kicked out from under you, be sure to fall gracefully to the ground.

To imagine that you can stamp something out when you yourself are in fact busy inventing fictitious examples of it in every game must rank pretty high up there in the imbecility league standings.

Two problem calls, then. One that needs attention from IFAB, the rulemakers -- which means we might expect action on it in time for the 2018 World Cup. The other needs action from the referees -- for their own good. Action that would show that they are capable of resisting the odious witch-hunt against diving that has entered the sport. A witch-hunt that will boomerang on the referees as it is more than likely to involve them in making rotten calls -- ask Mr. Moen who, one hopes, will by now be aware that his witch-hunting fervor led him to get things badly wrong.

13 comments about "Reckless goalkeepers, and heedless referees".
  1. Doug Kieffer, April 5, 2013 at 6:14 a.m.

    The 6 yard box does have functionality. It identifies where goal kicks are taken.

  2. Bobby Bluntz, April 5, 2013 at 8:51 a.m.

    Ric, I don't believe anyone has to be a referee to suggest that the current witch hunt on diving exists. PG is simply stating two opinions which I agree with: goal keepers get away with murder on particularly airborne 50-50 challenges, and that the "problem" of diving is far overstated and referees are becoming too caught up in the rhetoric. Simulations cautions should be reserved for people who clearly are not touched and look to get a penalty. The referee should be 100% sure that it was a flop as opposed to a person getting clipped at full speed and choosing to not try to continue to run off balanced. Lastly, your whole point about not being able to criticize a referee unless you are one is ridiculous.

  3. R2 Dad, April 5, 2013 at 11:32 a.m.

    Sometimes swallowing the whistle is the better part of valor. Usually professional-level referees have great judgement all the time--it's required to get to the top. But the PSG-Barca match had issues as well and hopefully those referees get sent down or retrained. No one likes to be on the losing end of the Peter principle.

  4. Charles Stamos, April 5, 2013 at 11:43 a.m.

    30 years ago the rule book had far less appproved rulings and board decisions that have been unecessarily added to it. The laws of the game are fine when the referee understands them. Changing the law will mean players change their actions. Diving which is a form of gamesmanship should be dealt with as a form of gaining an unfair advantage, whistled and carded if the referee deems that necessary. The 50-50 goalkeeper/forward ball is just that. You may penalize either player or neither. The referee has the difficult job of deciding intent and his decision must be upheld or else the game will suffer from that point forward. I never liked trying to anticipate action on the field, but it is human nature to do so. Making sure you know the law and are in the best position possible to make the correct call is critical. We are all human, and we all make mistakes; players, coaches, refereees, and linesmen. It makes the game more interesting. We must all figure out how to properly deal with it.

  5. John La Berg, April 5, 2013 at 4:42 p.m.

    Hi. As a referee of high school age kids, I can attest to how fast the action is on the field. You can probably almost double the speed for the professionals.

    Why not have 4 refs? One ref each handling the fouls in their respective side of the pitch, along with the two linesman handling only offsides, goal kicks and corner kicks?

  6. soccer talk, April 5, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.

    If it is truly a 50/50 ball then, No infraction given to either player. If the goalie comes barreling out w/ knees... other than to absorb the contact, then penalize the keeper. If the forward feels the impending contact and undercuts, or tries to jar the ball away, or intentionally plays the goalie to have a mishandle then penalize the offense. I usually give the benefit of the doubt to the keeper when officiating. Tough non-calls on many occasions w/ uncertainty apparent are often the course of action.

  7. Chris Sapien , April 5, 2013 at 7:26 p.m.

    Agree Ric and Doug, But one thing that is missing here, is that nothing precludes the referee from calling both the foul, (& ensuing PK), AND the unsporting behavior for simulation. Referees, as is human, have a reasonable expectation that an attacker can/should at a minimum, attempt to stay on his feet after a high percentage of fouls in the penalty area. What attackers fail to realize is they undermine both their own potential to score especially inside the penalty area, and subsequently, the official's assurrance that he is not trying to be duped by attacker simulation, or even "letting one's self go down". Trifling and doubtful fouls should not be called, nor is it the referee's job to judge intent. And in regards to additonal refs, the ARs are empowered to signal fouls, and the location of the fouls they signal, are not limited to any particular quadrant of the field. If is the Referee's authority to accept, confer and/or dismiss the signal if he chooses to do so. Let's not over-complicate things.....

  8. Chris Sapien , April 5, 2013 at 7:28 p.m.

    should read "It" of course...

  9. Kent Pothast, April 5, 2013 at 8:25 p.m.

    As a bit of irony, Robles and Conor Casey both played at the University of Portland

  10. Ramon Creager, April 5, 2013 at 9:56 p.m.

    "Which means that the goalkeeper will, in a fraction of a second, have the advantage -- reaching upward with his hands he must be able to get the ball before it descends onto Casey’s head." That's right, isn't it? In other words, Robles wasn't being reckless. What do you expect him to do? Roll out the red carpet? If he has a better chance of getting the ball, then it's really not a 50/50 ball, so how can you fault him for going for it? Likewise, if Robles had a better chance at the ball, why did Casey continue with the challenge? Looks to me like the ref got that one right. As far as the simulation goes, I agree it's gotten to witch hunt levels. In the UCL game between Barca and PSG, for example, Alexis clearly was brought down by Sirigu, the PSG keeper (the ref gave the PK and a yellow). This was indubitably a foul and thus should be a non-controversial call; nonetheless the talking heads felt obliged to discuss whether Alexis started down early, whether he went down too easy, whether he could have gotten to his ball--none of it germane to the relevant Law. It's gotten to the point that I can't stand watching these games with the sound turned up, particularly if British announcers are on.

  11. Ramon Creager, April 5, 2013 at 10:09 p.m.

    Also with respect to diving--sorry, simulation--the rules in many cases have been amended to eliminate the need for the referee to make a judgment of intent. Reckless fouls, for example, as Nani found out in the recent UCL match between RM and Man U. Though the announcers nattered on about the injustice due to "no ill intent", no such consideration exists in Law 12. So why are we asking refs now to judge whether a player simulates or not? Just let play go on if no foul occurred.

  12. R2 Dad, April 6, 2013 at 11:22 a.m.

    Ramon, this simulation issue became a big deal in the UK mostly due to Suarez, who seems to offend the british sensibilities in the broadcasting booth, which in turn has put pressure on the FA to do SOMETHING. I have not seen, read or heard of the English FA affirming a no-call directive in the box, but their FA should stand up to this bullying and do so.

  13. beautiful game, April 6, 2013 at 1:47 p.m.

    When it comes to keepers, they get more protection from the refs; probabby unfair at times. Reckless fouls should be punished and it's up to the referee to be in a good position to enforce them; otherwise, if out of position why not do a pre-game situation plan with the AR (reckless fouls only) who may have a better look.

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