You hear it often enough: a team should rest assured that, over the course of a season, luck will more or less even out. In particular, hostile (and therefore wrong) referee decisions will be compensated by favorable ones. The accompanying wry grin will wordlessly convey that some of those will be “acceptably dodgy.”
How many coaches really believe in that, I have no idea, but it’s a comforting thought -- especially after a loss to a penalty kick “that was never a penalty.”
If there be soccer gods who keep records and make sure that everyone has a fair share of luck, they were on duty over the holidays (soccer gods evidently comply with the English schedule). They set about giving a rapid example how they can bestow luck and then take it quickly back.
They had Leicester City in their sights. In my previous column, just three days ago, I told how Leicester City had got away with one last Tuesday when the referee failed to award Manchester City a penalty kick.
Quite a big decision, that. The game ended 0-0, with Leicester -- the Foxes, they’re called -- keeping their really quite extraordinary championship challenge alive. The soccer gods were smiling. (Obviously, this was bad news for ManCity, but I’m not concerned with them here).
Lucky Leicester? Yes -- but not for long. The gods soon saw to that. Leicester must have gone into Saturday’s home game against Bournemouth -- hardly one of the EPL’s stronger teams -- with high hopes of taking all three points. That didn’t work out. The gods, so helpful to Leicester on Tuesday, decided to outfox the Foxes. They turned nasty on Saturday and took back the good fortune they’d handed the Foxes just four days earlier.
Another penalty kick situation. This time, Leicester did get the penalty kick -- a correct call by referee Andre Marriner. Riyad Mahrez took the kick -- and Bournemouth keeper Artur Boruc saved it. That was one of only two shots on target that Leicester had (Bournemouth had none) -- inevitably the game finished 0-0, and Leicester had failed to capture the extra two points the win would have given it.
Just how were the gods involved this time? By smiling on Bournemouth. Leicester should have been allowed to retake the penalty kick. Boruc’s save was illegal, as he had moved off his line. As Mahrez struck the ball, Boruc’s left foot was a yard or more in to the field, while his right foot was also illegally advanced. The assistant referee, standing on the goal line, in the perfect position to see, is specifically charged by the rules to indicate “whether, at penalty kicks, the goalkeeper moves off the goal line before the ball is kicked ...” But he saw nothing wrong, nor did referee Marriner, who had his eyes on the kicker Mahrez.
And neither of them noticed the clear encroachment, by both teams. Logically enough, as neither of them was looking in that direction. But that was another infringement that calls for the kick to be retaken.
As for goalkeeper movement, the exact timing of it -- relative to the taking of the kick -- is not easy for the AR to spot. For that reason, the goalkeeper -- yet again -- is generally given the benefit of the doubt and is allowed to make one forward movement as, or maybe very slightly before, the kick is made.
That seems a good practical compromise for a tricky problem. But Boruc’s movement -- involving both feet -- went way beyond the compromise. If even such blatant movement cannot be spotted by the AR, then the call should be made by an official -- the yet-to-be-appointed TV-judge -- who could very quickly make the decision from watching a replay.
Ruling that a kick be retaken for goalkeeper movement should also mean a yellow card for the goalkeeper. He is, after all, being allowed one possibly illegal move. Anything beyond that ought to be treated as cheating -- surely worth a yellow.