Should Chelsea have had a penalty kick in the 86th minute of its game against Stoke City on Saturday? It didn’t get the call, so the question can be asked. But it is an absolutely ridiculous question.
Of course Chelsea should have had a penalty kick. If Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland’s challenge for the ball, and his tripping of Loic Remy in the process, was not a penalty kick, well by that standard of judgment -- the standard applied by referee Anthony Taylor -- we can’t expect to be seeing many, if any, penalty kicks in the future.
To their credit, the NBC studio guys, Kyle Martino and Robbie Mustoe called it right -- a flat-out penalty. But analyst Graeme Le Saux, who was at the game, said it wasn’t, and justified his opinion with nothing but fatuous drivel.
Le Saux played as a defender, so one can expect some bias in favor of the goalkeeper here. Just listen to this claptrap: “Butland came out to win the ball, he wasn’t trying to bring him [Remy] down.” How Le Saux can be so sure about Butland’s intentions, who knows -- but then it doesn’t matter.
Yet again, we’re confronted by a TV commentator who doesn’t know the rules. Intention simply does not enter into it. What counts is what Butland did, not what he thought, or what Le Saux thought Butland thought.
Clearly, Butland badly mistimed his challenge. He did not get to the ball. Remy had already played it when Butland arrived, clumsily. You could use that idiotic phrase that goalkeepers are so fond of -- Butland was making himself big. Inevitably, he clipped Remy, as Remy tried to hurdle him. Intentionally? Not relevant.
Remy was thrown off balance by the clip but tried to stay on his feet. Well, we hear so often these days that players go down too easily, so this was evidently praiseworthy. Le Saux duly tells us that “Remy should be applauded.”
Right. Applauded for trying the impossible and, in the process, giving referee Taylor an excuse to ignore the foul (as if he needed one). Had Butland not clipped him, Remy would have been on his feet, on balance, with the ball under control. A very likely scorer.
Despite his desperate (heroic, maybe) efforts to stay upright, Remy stumbled to the ground anyway, shooting wide as he fell.
Would it have been difficult for Taylor to see that Butland had tripped Remy? I think so. But referees are supposed to be, are required to be, good at seeing this sort of quick action.
Anyway, Taylor could certainly see that Butland did not get the ball, he could certainly see that Remy was off balance. So why, when there must have been only doubt, not certainty, in Taylor’s mind, would he give the benefit of that doubt to the defender? Who says that is the thing to do? Are referees -- English referees in this case -- instructed to favor defenders?
Further doubt about Taylor’s call arises because the defender involved was a goalkeeper -- and referees repeatedly show reluctance to punish goalkeepers (in this case, to call Butland for the foul should also have entailed red-carding him -- but referees have developed a habit of giving keepers only a yellow card).
Le Saux drivels on, starts contrasting “the letter of the law” with “the spirit of the game” (don’t ask), and points out that “no one really made a big fuss, no one on the pitch.” Of all the twisted arguments to use to justify a rotten call, this has to be the least acceptable. So if no one complains, it couldn’t have been a foul? Chelsea has been rightly criticized, and fined, in the past for mobbing referees. Here we see the likely alternative -- if you don’t protest, you don’t get the call. And your lack of reaction will be used as evidence that there was no foul.
Those are the lessons from this incident: Try to stay on your feet, and you won’t get the call. Don’t protest a bad call, and they’ll say the call couldn’t have been a bad one. A win-win scenario for defenders and referees who don’t want to give a penalty kick.
Le Saux isn’t finished. Having, ludicrously, defended a dreadful call by the referee, he tells us “We have to respect the call.” If he means we have to accept the call, OK, we do. But respect? No way. This was an atrocious call -- neither it, nor referee Taylor, merit any respect whatever. Quite the opposite. It is rank bad calls such as this that undermine respect for referees and refereeing.
As for Graeme Le Saux, who often does have sensible and interesting things to say, I can only express my amazement, yet again, that so many TV commentators (particularly the ex-players) can’t be bothered to read the rule book.