Commentary

Goalkeeper crushes player's face in Germany: Will this be the wakeup call?

By Mike Woitalla

The hero of last weekend’s Bundesliga action was Raymond Best, the doctor credited with saving the life of VfB Stuttgart captain Christian Gentner after VfL Wolfsburg goalkeeper Koen Casteels smashed his knee into Gentner’s face. Most, but not all, of the immediate comments from referees and TV commentators expressed shock at the referee's response.

In the 85th minute of the game, the Belgian keeper ran 12 yards off his line, jumped up to punch the ball, leading with his knee.

Best didn’t wait for permission to enter the field. He attended quickly to the unconscious Gentner, who was choking on his swallowed tongue, and pulled it clear.

Gentner suffered two eye-socket fractures, a broken nose, a fractured upper jaw, and a severe concussion.

Referee Guido Winkmann, who had yellow-carded Casteels in the 26th minute for running out of his penalty area and knocking down the dribbling Simon Terodde, did not call a foul on Casteels brutalizing Gentner.

No penalty kick, no card.

Some German commentators speculated that a malfunction had disabled the Video Assistant Referee, who had access to the replays that revealed how horrific the challenge was.

But later came a statement from the DFB that VAR was working fine, that Winkmann ruled it an “unfortunate collision,” and that video referee Deniz Aytekin agreed with him. The DFB’s referee manager Helmut Krug said the no-call was “borderline by the letter of the law but reasonable.”

Deutsche Welle reporter Jonathan Harding pointed out Krug’s inconsistency. After goalkeeper Manuel Neuer’s infamous knockdown of Gonzalo Higuain in the 2014 World Cup, Krug said "Germany was very lucky" because "while the goalkeeper played the ball, he caught the opponent. For us, that's a penalty and a yellow card."

VfB Stuttgart, which held on to its 1-0 lead, had to play a man down during the final five minutes of regulation and eight minutes of stoppage time.

“The minutes afterward were dramatic,” said Stuttgart coach Hannes Wolf. “Time stood still. In that moment soccer didn’t matter.”

Wolf added: “It was a clear foul. The knee up nearly two meters in the air. I find it astonishing that it be judged differently. … He can jump without raising his knee all the way up. That’s possible. And Christian wasn’t even threatening him.”

Gentner was one of three field players near the ball. None was jumping toward the ball that was arriving from behind them.

Bild Zeitung pointed out that on the same weekend there were two “Rambo fouls.”

RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita gets a red card for kicking Christoph Kramer in the face. Casteels goes unpunished for kneeing Gentner in the head. Keita is a field player; Casteels a goalkeeper.

Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner has written extensively about violent goalkeeping and FIFA's lack of response:

“A tradition has arisen in soccer that it is OK for goalkeepers to crash into opponents, often with a knee making contact with the opponent’s head, or for them to throw themselves at the feet of moving opponents. Those actions, carrying a high risk of nasty injuries to both the keeper and his opponents, are considered acceptable.”

Indeed, Casteels excused his high-knee assault by saying: "If that's a foul, you have to change the coaching at youth level from 5, 6 years old, [when] you're taught to take the left knee with you if you jump up with your right. 99 percent of goalkeepers do it that."

Perhaps because the injuries Gentner suffered were so severe, the images of his bloodied face so disturbing, and the replays so clearly showing recklessness and excessive force, the live TV commentators called for a penalty kick -- and the former refs who serve as pundits in the German media did not accept Casteels’ excuse.

Thorsten Kinhöfer told Bild: “For me it was red and a penalty kick. Goalkeepers may be taught in their youth to pull their knee up while jumping to demand respect and keep the opponent at bay. But even if you inadvertently hit a player, it is a foul.”

Former German World Cup referee Markus Merk said:

“The goalkeepers often play like that and are rarely penalized. … With field players we see it a little differently when they come high with an elbow we say it’s yellow at least or even red. Here the knee is actually used as a weapon. You can’t go so recklessly into a challenge like that. … For me it was a clear penalty kick. At least yellow-red for Casteels.”

Other former referees, such as Bernd Heynemann and Carlo Bertolini, also agreed it was an obvious foul.

VfB Stuttgart director Michael Reschke said he had “terrible fears” while Gentner was on the ground. The latest reports are that he is out for at least the rest of the season and will require several operations.

Casteels is free to play again next game.

“This situation will leave a long-lasting impression,” Reschke said. “I don’t think Casteels will do something like that in the next game and that many other Bundesliga goalkeepers will be thinking about how they go into challenges in the future, at least not with that kind of aggressiveness.”

But previous incidents around the world comparable to Casteels' didn't prompt a change to how keepers play and how refs react.

At least there seemed to be more outrage than usual about Casteels. And, although the DFB's response was depressing, the referee pundits did point out that, as Gardner explained, a solution lies in applying the existing rules not only to field players, but to the goalkeepers as well.

35 comments about "Goalkeeper crushes player's face in Germany: Will this be the wakeup call?".
  1. Bob Ashpole, September 19, 2017 at 4:18 a.m.

    Horrific and unacceptable. With no one challenging for the ball, the knee strike was the equivalent of a sucker punch catching the opponent off guard.

  2. James Knowles replied, September 19, 2017 at 5:04 p.m.

    A sucker punch? Absolutely not. Horrific or not, Casteels is right to say that goalkeepers are taught to do that and the Paul Gardner is right to say that they are a protected class. If you want to change that, you have to change the rules. But, to retroactively apply those potential rule changes to Casteels because someone ended up on the wrong side of his knee during an instance when his behavior is considered acceptable - that makes no sense. He took the ball and did what any other goalkeeper would do. Change the rules if you want. Don't yell at Casteels now for going by the accepted norms of his position.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, September 19, 2017 at 11:25 p.m.

    James, do you play? If you do, you ought to know what I am talking about. In the clip of the contact, the keepers knee is extended in front of him at the time of impact, not folded in for protection. They are taught when jumping up to protect their abdomen by tucking their knee close to their body. That keeper was leading with his knee. Nothing defensive about that at all. A player not challenging for the ball is not protecting himself. Hence the sucker punch element. It happens especially with retaliation when someone throws an elbow or trips a player away from the ball.

  4. Paul Cox replied, September 20, 2017 at 7:33 a.m.

    " to retroactively apply those potential rule changes"... It's not a rule change. The current rules do NOT make any special allowance for goalkeepers. It is a cultural change that's needed, and the culture right now is "goalkeepers can ignore the rules".

  5. Miguel Dedo replied, September 20, 2017 at 3:22 p.m.


    James Knowles is wrong.
    Law 12 reads as follows:
    "A direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences
    against an opponent in a manner considered by the referee to be careless,
    reckless or using excessive force:
    • charges
    • jumps at"
    ...
    In "jumps at," the word "at" refers to DIRECTION, not to intent. In the incident in question, goalkeeper Casteels "jumped at" an opponent in a manner that any referee should consider "careless, reckless or using excessive force."

  6. Fajkus Rules, September 19, 2017 at 11:02 a.m.

    I attended a USSF refresher clinic held at a Chicago Fire game back in about 2005-2006 during one of the years when the Fire was playing back at the renovated Soldier Field while Toyota Park was under construction. Alex Prus was the referee for the match and the attraction of this clinic was the opportunity to have a post-game discussion of the calls and situations with the referee crew. The key memorable incident from that game for me was a caution issued to a player who had won the ball with a slide tackle. Gonzalo Segares and Hercules Gomez ended up on opposite sides of a loose ball both racing for it at full sprints. In the last couple of steps before reaching the ball, Gomez appeared to realize he would not win the ball and slightly decelerated; Segares OTOH launched himself into a full slide tackle from about 5 yards away from the ball, getting to the ball first, but having no way to prevent continuing into and through Gomez on the other side of the ball. Prus was matter of fact in explaining the caution to Segares. He basically said we can't have players running around the field launching themselves into other players without concern, and I got the impression that there was absolutely no question about the correctness of the call or that there should be any controversy with it. Applying that standard to goalkeepers (and attackers) makes for consistency in determining reasonable outcomes when there is a fine line (timewise) between a goalkeeper infraction and a an attacker misdeed. Leading with the knee should be treated no differently that field players coming in studs up.

  7. Nick Daverese, September 19, 2017 at 1:36 p.m.

    That was a vicious foul. Just once I would love to see the manager of that keeper pull that bozo off the field. To let everyone know that crap is unacceptable.

  8. James Knowles replied, September 19, 2017 at 5:07 p.m.

    It is currently not unacceptable for goalkeepers to do that. He didn't look away from the ball the whole time he was in the air and he left his knee where every goalkeeper would've had it. If you want to change the accepted norms for goalkeepers, then we need to change the rules of the game. To say he was wrong to act within those norms is not helpful for change and inappropriate.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, September 19, 2017 at 11:28 p.m.

    James jumping at a player in a dangerous manner is misconduct. No exceptions in the LOTG for keepers.

  10. Paul Cox, September 19, 2017 at 4:28 p.m.

    I ref (just youth games up to about U18) and I call this whenever it happens. Coaches lose it and I tell them "show me where it says in the LOTG that a keeper is allowed to do it." I take a lot of flack for it and I don't care, it's serious foul play.

  11. Nathan Billy, September 19, 2017 at 4:29 p.m.

    The keeper never took his eyes off the ball. With the player coming from behind the defender and his own team mate he probably had no idea he was even there. Never the less it should be a foul but I don't think their was malicious intent to hurt the guy.

  12. Kevin Brunton replied, September 19, 2017 at 4:43 p.m.

    Nowhere in the Laws does it consider intent for fouls. This was certainly reckless endangerment and should have been a red card. Last weekend, a Liverpool player was sent off for a high foot that took the opposing keeper in the face. His eyes were on the ball all the way looking over his shoulder while running toward the keeper. Still doesn't give him the right to put his foot 6' off the ground and right into the keeper's face. If that's a red card (and by nearly all accounts, it was agreed it was), then this is a red card too.

  13. Forever Blue replied, September 19, 2017 at 5:42 p.m.

    Anyone who truly believes the goal keeper did not see the player is ignorant and has not played his game at a high level. A player at that level should see everything. Now I don't believe he intended to hurt the player but he definitely intended to enforce his position and space.
    The question is how is this any different from the Sadio Mane red card. Or the numerous bicycle kicks that get carded due to a kick in the head.
    I have no issues with the position but if it constitutes dangerous play, then it's a foul.

  14. David Mont replied, September 20, 2017 at 8:46 a.m.

    I'm really tired of excuses like "there was no was malicious intent to hurt the guy." That is completely irrelevant! Just like when a drunk gets behind a wheel of a car he has no intent to kill or hurt someone, but when he does, his intent doesn't matter. It's his actions that do!

  15. Nathan Billy replied, September 20, 2017 at 10:09 a.m.

    I did say it should be a foul. But every one it acting as if the keeper is a vicious thug. Every time one of these articles comes out people start blasting Goal keepers as the low life thugs of soccer. The video of the collision shows that once he left the ground he eyes were fixated on the ball and he made a bad decision which should get him a foul. People refereeing at this level one would assume have a lot of training and experience. So why would they come to the conclusion that they used in the non call. Are they being told behind closed doors to let keeper fouls slide? What is the driving force on why these call are not made?

  16. Kent James replied, September 22, 2017 at 11:15 p.m.

    Nathan, you're right. One of the reasons the collision was so horrific was that neither player expected it. This was not a "I see you coming and I'm going to teach you a lesson about challenging goalkeepers in the air"; I'd bet the keeper would have punched the ball the exact same way had there been nobody there (okay, had there been nobody there, he would have caught it instead of punching it, but the knee position would have been the same; when you are running and jumping to reach something, you use your knee to thrust upward and get more height (google "jumping for a layup" and look at the images and most will have this form, especially when uncontested). The laws are clear, but as others have pointed out, this is how goalkeepers are taught to jump.

  17. Nick Daverese, September 19, 2017 at 5:59 p.m.

    This is how it is supposed to work he one up with the knee to get height. But after that the knee should turn into the keepers own chest. That is how the keeper protects himself. It should not stay out. So no one should get hurt of the keeper did it right. So my friends the keeper did it wrong he used it as a weapon. Hey it is easy to hurt one it harder to do it so you don't hurt some one. James Knowles who in their right mind would want to play for you if you don't even know that.

  18. Kevin Leahy, September 19, 2017 at 6:26 p.m.

    This has been allowed to go on for decades and needs to be stopped. All players are allowed to their space on the field without being run over. The only thing goalkeepers can do different from a field player is, use their hands in the penalty area. Protecting ones goal should never give you Cartee Blanche.

  19. Jim Romanski, September 19, 2017 at 6:36 p.m.

    When we were taught this back in my youth, the knee up was supposed to be used when jumping straight up in the air. The purpose was to make a little bit of space and keep players from running into the keeper. That's a long way from this keeper racing out and leaping straight forward and launching himself into a field player. I think the existing rules cover this and we just need to put a stop to it. As long as this goes unpunished it will continue.

  20. Bill Riviere, September 19, 2017 at 7:19 p.m.

    I have refereed youth and high school soccer for 20 years. Without a doubt that was a reckless play with excessive force and a straight red card. He was not inside the six yard area protecting himself, plus he had already demonstrated his attitude toward his opponents with a previous foul drawing a caution. But, while maybe there was no intent to harm, it was reckless/excessive and was certainly serious foul play. Referees are there to keep the game safe as their number one job. Such unsafe action has to be punished and hiding behind fine lines of the laws is wrong. Also, what goal keepers are taught as youth players has no bearing on what is allowable within the laws.

  21. Bob Ashpole replied, September 19, 2017 at 11:31 p.m.

    Well said.

  22. Dale Greenley, September 19, 2017 at 7:55 p.m.

    I agree with most comments here. This play was a clear example of excessive force and should have resulted in a sending off. This is what would have (or should have) happened to any field player on any part of the pitch who committed a similar sort of challenge. But ... I also understand the argument that this is not that different from many similar situations involving GKs where this type of play has been (generally and unfortunately) allowed for a long time. FIFA needs to clarify how to deal with this situation to leagues, players and referees - which will also start the process of NOT teaching younger GKs that this is an acceptable technique.

  23. Bob Ashpole, September 19, 2017 at 11:34 p.m.

    Hopefully the league and/or club will sanction the keeper.

  24. Bill Riviere, September 20, 2017 at 7:51 a.m.

    Just one more minor comment. The GK's action was serious foul play under the laws, not misconduct. Misconduct technically occurs only when the ball is not in play.

  25. Bob Ashpole replied, September 20, 2017 at 1:45 p.m.

    Bill, serious foul play is an example of misconduct requiring a straight red card. https://www.fifa.com/mm/document/afdeveloping/refereeing/law_12_fouls_misconduct_en_47379.pdf

  26. Fly Bynyte, September 20, 2017 at 10:36 a.m.

    We see this type of reckless and dangerous play all the time in soccer, this is an extreme outcome, the risk is always there. Running into another's space, leading with an appendage; head, elbow, knee, or foot. The repeat offenders know how to both choose their target and disguise the act. Having been a basketball player, the rule is clear, you cannot enter another's space, you only jump straight up. Any contact initiated by anything other than a vertical jump can be deemed a foul. I would lean toward the same in soccer, for the safety of the players, especially with what is known today about head injuries.

  27. Bob Ashpole replied, September 20, 2017 at 1:47 p.m.

    I want the laws enforced, not changed.

  28. George Lund, September 21, 2017 at 9:25 a.m.

    I think if a keeper is jumping straight up in their 6yd box, keeping the knee up to protect themselves is acceptable. Charging out with their knee up is definitely unacceptable. Being a Liverpool supporter, when Sadio Mane gets a red card for a high kick to a keeper who is 15 yards outside the penalty area, something is wrong. Had he done that to another field player at midfield, he would have received a foul and maybe a yellow. If keepers are to be so protected, then field players deserve the same.

  29. Michael Cornelison, September 21, 2017 at 11:59 a.m.

    The thing that tends to upset me about these discussions on such "high knee assaults" is the notion that goalkeepers unequivocally use this technique to protect themselves and threaten injury to other players. I was taught this technique, quite memorably at the goalkeeper camps run by Dr. Joe Machnik (whose own opinion on this discussion I would absolutely love to hear), but with a different purpose altogether -- to gain height and distance, whether meeting a high ball or diving for a save. Not once were we told that the intent was to establish our territory, or to intimidate or harm other players.

    The technique involves taking a long "power step" followed by a thigh thrust with the other limb, then pushing off with the first foot. The thigh thrust provides an upward (or if diving, a sideways) momentum of the mass of the thrusted leg, giving your jump a head start and supplementing the power of the push-off from the opposite leg. The result is that the thrusted leg's hip and knee end up in a flexed position while the push-off leg remains relatively straight. This technique is probably the most critical aspect of some of the most spectacular diving saves you'll see, enabling the dive to get the keeper's hand to the upper corner of the goal; take a look at images of such saves and you'll see the trailing leg of the goalkeeper in this position.

    This is not a technique unique to goal keepers, but rather is a fairly universal technique across many athletic endeavors -- the "knee drive" is a key element of the high jump, and the long jump uses a similar technique. It's used in Australian rules football for overhead marks. Even the Air Jordan logo illustrates the technique, though with the leading knee extended, which if engaged by soccer player could be considered a "studs up" offense. I suspect many of us have seen center backs use it to gain height to head a long goal kick, but never have I heard anybody raise an argument that the back used it in an intentionally malicious manner as what seems to be commonly implied here about goalkeepers.

    This is not to say that the technique is not dangerous -- it most certainly is, as is well illustrated by Casteels' example of what could be argued to be a perfectly executed technique (to gain height and distance; whether he also utilized it to "demand respect" only he knows). But as long as you continue to vilify goalkeepers for using this technique without recognizing its mechanical purpose as utilized across multiple sports to achieve desired height and distance, you will find it difficult to achieve a consensus on this issue, or to identify acceptable solutions to eradicate this problem. Identify a different way to teach young goalkeepers, and all players for that matter, to achieve the desired performance without endangering others, and you'll be on the right path.

  30. Bob Ashpole replied, September 21, 2017 at 1:14 p.m.

    Michael you make a good point about the intent in this particular case. The question under the LOTG is whether the keeper was using due care to the safety of the other players when executing the technique. I think this situation is very similar to a keeper punching a ball another player is trying to head. Punching the ball is a legal technique for a keeper inside the area, but is it safe under the circumstances. In this instance the keeper was not jumping up; he was jumping into the players. I certainly do not have a better view than the referee did. I know that I am being emotionally influenced by the horrific injury, which is irrelevant under the laws (other than the fact that contact was made). I appreciate your response.

  31. Kent James replied, September 22, 2017 at 11:26 p.m.

    Well put. One reason the knee is so far out was he was running so far to get to the ball that if he doesn't have his foot (and the attached knee) in front of him, he will land on his face instead of his foot (as it is, he just barely has time to get his foot down to break his fall).

  32. I w Nowozeniuk, September 21, 2017 at 6:34 p.m.

    The LOTG are long overdue for revision. Off-sides determined by a finger or foot,etc; off the ball fouls, and scrimmages in the box are a few of the most glaring problems facing soccer integrity and fair play. Keepers are given too much leeway barreling into a crowded area and field players also with their forearms into an opponents neck or head which most commentators refer to as "protecting himself".

  33. Bob Ashpole replied, September 21, 2017 at 7:51 p.m.

    IW, the Laws were just extensively rewritten. Your comment about a finger determining off-sides, leads me to think that you are unfamiliar with the Laws. I don't want the Laws changed; I want them enforced.

  34. Nick Daverese replied, September 22, 2017 at 10:01 a.m.

    The field players using their forearm while attacking the ball. I hate doing that never taught it. Gio Saverese was a former player of mine. He left us to play on the Long Island rough riders where he was the league MVP. He gets a two year contract to play on the Metrostars. During the spring before he played with us he was doing that attacking the ball using his forearm tobthe opponent back of the head first. I said who taught you that shit. I knew Alphonse Mondello coach of the rough riders would never teach him that. It was his partner the other striker on that team from England who taught him that. He still used it on the Metrostars but was never booked for doing it.

  35. I w Nowozeniuk, September 22, 2017 at 11:12 a.m.

    Yes, LOTG were recently "tweaked" and are still not enforced. It's the culture of the referees and players that has been unchecked with lack of due diligence by FIFA.

Next story loading loading..