So bad, all you can do is laugh

By Paul Gardner

Manchester City's shootout victory over Liverpool in the Capital Cup was what we now almost expect from grand finals -- disappointing, short on good soccer, miserly on goals.

The Man City and Liverpool fans will have their own views on whether the better team won. That is not my concern here. I’m taking a look at the one area where the game did excel, the moment when it memorably zoomed to the top of the class in a category which every soccer-involved person is familiar with: that of bad referee calls. This one almost hilariously bad.

Actually, this was a non-call, for which we can thank referee Michael Oliver. In the 63rd minute Man City’s Sergio Aguero broke away and raced into the Liverpool penalty area, with the ball firmly under control. Defender Alberto Moreno caught up with him just inside the area but as he prepared to tackle, Aguero cut the ball sharply to his left, leaving Moreno staring into space, with Aguero now unhampered, on the move behind him, toward goal.

In effect, Aguero had maneuvered Moreno out of the play. Moreno did not give up. He jumped backward moving him slightly closer to the rapidly departing Aguero, and then reached out backward with his left leg. The leg, inevitably, got in Aguero’s way, just after he played the ball forward. Moreno’s leg did not touch the ball, but it did trip Aguero. As Aguero went down, the ball was whacked away by over the sideline by Nathaniel Cline.

Referee Oliver was perfectly positioned -- maybe 5 yards away, with no other players obscuring his sight line. He must have seen everything I have described. Yet he ignored everything and signaled for a throw-in to Man City.

Referee Michael Oliver is well-positioned to see the incident
involving Sergio Aguero and Alberto Moreno.

Referees are usually -- and quite rightly -- granted a good deal of sympathy because they have only a second or two to make a decision, while their critics can repeatedly study replays. Yes, I’ve looked at the replays -- very good replays from several angles -- but this is one case where I didn’t need to. They show exactly what I was sure they would: that Moreno did not get the ball, and that he tripped Aguero.

Moreno, with his back to the ball, stretches out his left leg behind
him, into the path of Aguero.

I was sure of that because all of the action was plain to see. Oliver, because of his position would, in fact, have had a better view of it than TV showed to me.

So Oliver saw Aguero completely fool Moreno by cutting the ball away from him. He saw Moreno, now facing away from Aguero, jump backward and stretch his left leg out backward, into Aguero’s path. Both of those actions were taken blindly, because Moreno had his back to Aguero.

Moreno's leg and body make contact with Aguero, bringing
him down.

So what on earth did Oliver imagine he was seeing? How could he ignore a flagrant trip by a player who was not even a position to see what he was doing?

Maybe he thought Aguero dived? But that would have meant a yellow card and a free kick to Liverpool. There was no card, and Man City got a throw-in.

What we do know is that referees do not, on the whole, particularly like giving penalty kicks. Especially is that true in big games. Oliver certainly managed to avoid giving a PK here -- even worse, to call the PK would also have introduced the possibility of red-carding Moreno for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

Oliver, then, thought -- or chose to believe -- that Moreno, despite having his back to the play, had managed to poke the ball away from Aguero. But given Oliver’s perfect view of everything, there can be no excuse for him not seeing that it was Aguero, with his left foot, who got to the ball first.

Maybe Oliver was relying on what must be the least acceptable of the referee’s explanations: in situations where doubt exists, the benefit is given to the defense.

I have asked a lot of people about that -- including top FFA referees -- and not one of them has been able to tell me where that tradition comes from (it is certainly not in the rules) nor have they been able to justify it.

Anyway, there was no room for doubt in this situation. The foul was simply way too obvious, and no amount of silly-clever rationalizing (about whether Aguero dragged his foot into Moreno’s leg, for instance) is going to alter that.

I’m in total agreement with the Daily Mail  that referee Oliver “missed one of the most obvious penalties this ground [i.e. Wembley Stadium] will have seen.”

9 comments about "So bad, all you can do is laugh ".
  1. Peter Orona, February 29, 2016 at 11:58 a.m.

    So the referee didn't make the call to prevent the final game being decided by a penalty kick? In the end, the game was still decided by PKs. So funny! Make the call ref!

  2. KC Soccer Dad, February 29, 2016 at 12:53 p.m.

    Mr. Oliver was not "perfectly" positioned. It is extremely difficult to be "perfectly" positioned 100% of the time.

    While close to the play, Oliver is behind the play and is screened by Aguero and Moreno. Oliver does not have a view from the goal out, which might have allowed him to clearly see that Moreno got no ball. Oliver's assistant referee likely had a similarly challenged view.

    Contrast this non-PK call with the incorrect PK call that Mark Clattenburg awarded just two weeks earlier in the Manchester City-Tottenham match (about which you have been silent as best as I can tell).

    Mr. Gardner is right that referees need to be sure about big calls such as these. But when they are not sure, they have one of two choices--make the call as Clattenburg did and run the risk of being wrong or not make the call as Oliver did and run the risk of being wrong. Which is worse? It is very easy in hindsight with the benefit of the "very good replays from several angles" to be sure of the call that should have been made. My guess is that Oliver himself might have said after the fact that he should have awarded a PK (and that perhaps a red-card was not warranted because perhaps Aguero's direction was no longer sufficiently to goal when he "cut the ball sharply to his left" or perhaps another Liverpool player as close enough to challenge Aguero after the foul).

    So again, Mr. Gardner writes from a false premise building up Mr. Oliver for the sole purpose of attempting to tear him down. My guess is that Mr. Oliver had in fact seen everything that Gardner described, he would have called the PK. But Oliver didn't see everything that Gardner described; so he didn't call the PK.

    I'm still waiting to see the video of Paul Gardner refereeing any soccer match anywhere so we can all learn from his "expertise". Maybe the game will evolve such that the "real" referee is some old guy sitting in front of monitors watching the game from "several angles" telling the on-field referees what to do.

  3. Ric Fonseca, February 29, 2016 at 2:46 p.m.

    KC ScrDad: U too have been waiting for a helluva inordinate time to see ANY video or photo oh Mr Gardner in a rev uniform or officiating ANY game of ANY level, and sadly we'll just have to "take him at his word," oh, but wait I guess he's already doing what you mention in your last sentence, after all he is a somewhat "old viejito" with nothing but time on his hands...?" PLAY ON, I SAY, SAYS I!!!

  4. Bob Ashpole, February 29, 2016 at 2:57 p.m.

    Nobody ever mentions that the TV cameras are rarely in a good position, even then much farther away than the officials, and the lenses distort the picture.

  5. beautiful game, February 29, 2016 at 6:07 p.m.

    I saw Moreno's leg action was to impede Aguero. If that's not a correct assessment, there is no PK. I believe that the ref had a good look at the intention and swallowed the whistle; like many do during crunch time.

  6. John Jaworski, February 29, 2016 at 8:06 p.m.

    I am a ref and have been in this type of situation numerous times. I say, you have to have the "balls" to make the correct call and having the fortitude to do such, seems to diminish as games become more significant. We don't want to determine the outcome!! But we are the agents of fairness on the field. So making the tough fair call is our duty .

  7. Lou vulovich, February 29, 2016 at 8:40 p.m.

    Well said John. How anyone can dispute the fact that the half harted playground tackle was not only a PK, but also one of the laziest, stupid attempts you will ever see at that level.
    English referees seem to be experts at swallowing
    whistles, Lucas tackle on Aguero, red card, Toure tackle on Lucas, red card.
    Every EPL game is decided by referees no calls, or bad calls, when in fact all you here is that the referee does not want to decide the game.

  8. stewart hayes, February 29, 2016 at 9:43 p.m.

    Agreed John and Lou. The refs are still 'deciding' games. By not calling fouls they are assisting teams that violate the rules. They are favoring one team over the other. The referee did not make the foul and therefore bears no responsibility for whistling the obvious. This all goes back to the officials thinking 'they themselves' are important when in fact enforcing the laws is what is really important.

  9. beautiful game, March 1, 2016 at 11:15 p.m.

    Talking about whistle swallowing; MLS Head of Refs, Mr. Walton from EPL land has his own perceptions and guidance about swallowing the whistle.

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