The appalling story came from Germany, just 14 days ago. It was widely reported. And it was wisely reviewed by Mike Woitalla on this website, under the headline: “Will This Be the Wakeup Call?”
Wolfsburg goalkeeper Koen Casteels had come close to killing an opponent, Stuttgart’s captain, Christian Gentner. Casteel had come racing off his line and jumped heavily into Gentner. Doing what goalkeepers are wont to do, Casteels led with a raised knee. The knee crashed violently into Gentner’s head.
Seconds later, Gentner was sprawled on the ground with eye-socket fractures, a broken nose, a fractured upper jaw, and a severe concussion. Being hit by a bulldozer could hardly have inflicted worse injuries.
But there is more. It gets worse. Racing on to the field -- there was no invitation from the referee -- came the Stuttgart doctor, Raymond Best, who instantly sensed a life-threatening emergency. Best was in time to prevent Gentner from choking to death on his own tongue.
A player at death’s door, saved by an alert doctor who had to disregard accepted soccer procedure to be rapidly on the scene.
And if this had been an amateur game, with no doctor present, what then? It hardly bears thinking about.
As I have been warning of the dangers involved in these goalkeeper challenges for over three years, I suppose it can be said that this is the example I have been waiting for. In one way, yes, I suppose so. It allows me to say, “I told you so.” I’d rather not be saying that. If I was waiting for this, I was fearing it more. No soccer player, wherever he may be playing, deserves the horrors inflicted on Gentner.
So my fears have been justified. But how much better it would be if they had been acted upon, if the soccer authorities had done what they should have done years ago, and banned this type of goalkeeper play.
Hence the headline to Woitalla’s article: Will This Be the Wakeup Call? You’d think so. A player near death with appalling injuries -- how can such a situation -- a predictable situation -- be ignored.
The immediate response in Germany was encouraging, with a number of referees and TV commentators insisting this was at least dangerous play by the goalkeeper. Which is where soccer’s problem begins. Big time.
Because the game referee made no call. He saw absolutely nothing with Casteels’ brutal assault. After all, goalkeepers make similar challenges all the time, and are never called for a foul. That referee non-call was backed up by no less an authority than Hellmut Krug, the German referee boss, who called it “reasonable.”
That, of course, needs no comment from me. It is an utterly silly statement that Krug should be ashamed of. Krug knows full well that Casteels’s challenge could easily -- and properly -- have been ruled as dangerous play, or reckless play, or play endangering the safety of an opponent.
Yet Krug also knows that referees never make that call against goalkeepers. Against field players, yes. But never against goalkeepers. Perhaps Herr Krug can identify for me where in the rules it says that goalkeepers are exempt from such calls. But of course he can’t, there is no such exemption.
Goalkeepers and referees are engaged in a conspiracy that allows soccer’s rules to be flouted, and which can result in life-threatening injuries.
It is of no interest to me to know where and why this conspiracy began. Enough to know that it is a dangerous disgrace, a self-inflicted slur on both goalkeepers and referees.
I mentioned above my opinion that the “soccer authorities” should have long since banned such goalkeeper thuggery. Meaning FIFA or UEFA or maybe the EPL or, at a pinch, those somnolent “guardians” of the rules, IFAB. They are the people who should respond to this wakeup call. But I have no confidence at all that they will do so. Two weeks have passed without any of them even raising an eyebrow.
But the necessary outrage and demands for action could just as easily come from two rather different groups: the goalkeepers and the referees themselves.
Really, these are the two groups who should break the silence. Are there no referees out there who find the situation unacceptable? A situation under which they are required -- willingly, as far as we know -- to make a mockery of the sport by choosing to ignore dangerous fouls?
Is there not a single goalkeeper -- or goalkeeper coach -- willing to come out and admit that seriously injuring opponents should never be part of a goalkeeper’s game, and that it has to stop. Even if that means -- which it will -- a radical revision of the goalkeeper’s role in the sport?
That referees are silent is hardly anything new. Communicating -- i.e. letting others, like players or coaches or fans, know what they are doing -- has never been their strong point.
But goalkeepers? So ready, in their modern version, to yell and scream at everyone and to tell everyone else what to do? Why are they so silent on this vital issue?
The giveaway for both referees and goalkeepers is that they are totally silent. No one has come forward to defend what’s going on, to make a stand in favor of brutal play. And I doubt anyone will.
But someone, some authority, some influential soccer group, has to take action. Everything possible must be done to make sure that what happened to Christian Gentner will not happen to anyone else.
A simple instruction from FIFA that, in future the rules against violent play (nothing new here, these are existing rules) must be vigorously applied to goalkeepers. That is all.
At the moment, precisely nothing is being done.