Commentary

The Phantom Foul that injured Harry Kane exposes rulebook flaw

Harry Kane -- currently co-leader in the EPL’s goalscoring race with 24 goals in 29 games -- is seen by English fans as a major reason for giving England a chance of showing well in this year’s World Cup.

Admittedly, English fans -- regularly, every four years -- find reasons for imagining that England might just win the whole thing. And regularly, every four years, those reasons are revealed as silly fan dreams as England flop again. So no one listens to that stuff any more. But ... Kane looks like the real deal ... a world-class goalscorer, and such a player has to be a difference maker.

Hence the outburst of concern on Sunday when Kane was injured in Tottenham’s game against Bournemouth. He hobbled off the field, not to return. So far Tottenham have not issued any medical reports. The concern is heightened by the fact that it was Kane’s right ankle that was hurt -- and he has had trouble with that joint before. It was a right-ankle injury that kept Kane sidelined for 10 games in 2016.

Kane’s injury was inflicted by Bournemouth goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. No foul was called. But I do not think this can be classified as yet another example of referees being easy on goalkeepers. This time, as I see it, the rules themselves are to blame.

These are the actions that occurred: at 28:18, a forward pass by Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen into the Bournemouth penalty area was chased by Kane. Begovic also came out to meet the ball. Begovic, Kane and the ball met up at the 6-yard line. Kane, clearly, got to the ball first -- he had got off his shot, the ball was on its way into the Bournemouth net, before Begovic arrived and slid into Kane. This challenge was certainly careless; in my view it was also reckless.

Down went Kane. A goal? If not a goal, a foul? A penalty kick? A red card? None of the above. The whole play was nixed because Kane was offside. A quick -- and correct -- call from the AR. His flag went up very quickly. The key, though, is not the AR’s flag but the referee’s whistle. When did that sound? I think we can assume it sounded as soon as the flag went up. I’m saying that because no Spurs player made a big deal of the incident, least of all Kane.

Well, he wouldn’t, because he was on his backside, nursing his ankle. On came the physio, to dispense a minute and a half of treatment on the field, then Kane limped off, and down the tunnel.

The game restarted with a free kick to Bournemouth (given for Kane’s offside violation). So there was no foul. Even though we’d all seen a rash and dangerous slide tackle by Begovic.

Begovic was escaping because he so badly mis-timed things that his challenge arrived after referee Mike Dean had blown for offside. And -- even though you won’t find it specified in the rule book (at least, I can’t find it) -- the rule is that a foul can only be called if the ball is in play.

I listened to the TV commentators, and have since read numerous reports on the action, and opinions from pundits. All of them understandably concerned at the prospect of Kane not being available for Russia, but not a one of those guys took issue with the goalkeeper’s action.

So it appears that Begovic escaped punishment -- and Bournemouth escaped giving up a penalty -- by a split second or so -- something that it is almost impossible to measure. My repeated viewings of replays of the incident tell me that the flag was aloft a fraction of a second after Kane got his shot away. Which was also just about the moment when Begovic was clattering into Kane.

It seems so absurd that a player can commit a dangerous physical foul (one that might -- as may be the case with this one -- have serious consequences) yet the rules declare that the foul simply never existed. In this case, it happened after the referee’s whistle (though it must be pointed out that Begovic’s sliding motion probably began before the whistle). So we’re confronted with a rule book invention: the phantom foul.

That is wacky enough, but it is really much worse as the referee is being asked to make a judgment involving microseconds, a judgment that he simply cannot make. Maybe VAR could solve this one. But even if VAR could, they would still be deciding, by a fraction of a second measurement, whether or not Begovic committed a bad foul.

The foul was there for all to see. Kane was injured. For the rules to make out those things didn’t happen is surely ridiculous. It would be reassuring to know that IFAB was looking into the matter of the rule-book-created phantom foul. But, safely assuming that IFAB will act with its usual alertness, that will not be happening any time soon.

15 comments about "The Phantom Foul that injured Harry Kane exposes rulebook flaw".
  1. Gonzalo Munevar, March 12, 2018 at 11:15 p.m.

    Exactly right.

  2. John Soares, March 13, 2018 at 6:12 a.m.

    Stupid rule that apparently I need to update myself on!?

  3. Randy Vogt, March 13, 2018 at 6:59 a.m.

    Especially since other Soccer Americans as well as myself did not see the play in question, it would be nice if Soccer America was able to show the video in this space. Paul is absolutely correct that a foul cannot be whistled if the ball is not in play (noted at the beginning of Fouls and Misconduct in the rulebook) but the ref can always punish with misconduct (caution, send-off) whether the ball is in play or not. 

  4. Wooden Ships, March 13, 2018 at 7:55 a.m.

    I haven’t seen the play myself and having played striker myself back-in-the-day, I’m not sure there is a solution here. I’ve had my share of Keeper collisions and rarely was the Keeper on the worse end of things. Mr. Kennedy, I’ll concede that the practiced raised knee defensive posture in some cases is excessive in some of its result but the Center has the burden of determining its recklessness. This isn’t a raised knee situation, but what’s a Keeper to do short of not challenging all out? Hope Kane has a swift recovery, but has this not happened thousands of times in the sport?

  5. Wooden Ships replied, March 13, 2018 at 9:45 a.m.

    My mistake, Mr. Gardner.

  6. Ric Fonseca replied, March 13, 2018 at 4:10 p.m.

    WS:  Before I launch into my comment, let it be completely understood and known that I have known PG since he first covered UCLA at the final Four at the old orange Bowl in Miami. Then, because of UCLA's coach Storer being English, he and PG established a great rappport and friendship, and I as the third assistant and manager, also got to know him.  And I still look forward to reading his pieces.  However, I drew a line some time ago, vis-a-vis the LOTG, especially when I decided to get into the "fine art" of officiating our jogo bonito, I had some of the best instructors then from John Best, Toros Kibrtijian, Heinz Wolmerath, Dio Cordero, Dan Goldman, Tony Morejon, Chuck Bowerman, et. al. and was even assigned to do a couple of preliminary games of teams from the Greater Los Angeles League, getting better by the day, to the point that the SoCal Referees Association nominated me to become a State Refereee Assessor. So, in short, I do know that of which I comment. 
    Now as for my great amigo, I think he is my amigo!, PG, is really going the "extra mile and one yard," in his musings about subjects such as the one above. To which I say, that ONLY and UNLESS one has worn a game official uniform and actually "called a game" or run a line or been a fourth official,  it most certainly is very easy to muse and pontificate much in the matter that PG has been doing.  And of course, the comments written hereon, call for a lot of debate.  But what about the author? PG, to my knowledge has not donned a game offocial' uniform (please ANYONE, correct me if I am wrong!) and more than likely doe not know just what goes on out on the fieldalthough he does admit that a split second decision as illustrated above, suddenly becomes a ghost/phanthom violation of the LOTG.  Lastly, PG's musings remind me of one of the LA Times columnists musings, Bill Plaschke, who is also a sort of tv commentator, and who also appears to make himself out to be an expert on everything that is related to sports.  So what is my point? Is it just because one can write and write many articles, does this automaticall make one an expert?  Am I saying PG is an expert? Or does this make him an expert on the sport, perhaps, but does this also make him an expert on the LOTG even if he never actually called a game or run a line or even kept running time a-la-NCAA Rules for Soccer?  Now, really last point, I also cringe when I watch the game on the "telly" as PG would be wont to say, when I hear the Spanish and English language commentators also run at the mouth when trying to dissect a foul, and literally just about flay the game officials.  Hmmm: Have any of those guys ever officiate a game?  So.... PLAY ON, I say! 

  7. Kent James, March 13, 2018 at 9:55 a.m.

    Like everyone else, I did not see the game, so can't comment on the specifics. But given the description, it sounds like everyone did what they were supposed to do (though as Randy points out, the CR could have issued a card if the challenge was as reckless as PG seems to think).  Soccer is a fast moving sport, and when two players are going to a ball from opposite directions, unless one pulls out, there will likely be a collision (though the strength of that collision is determined by the nature of each challenge, and is often the determining factor in the issuance of cards).  Theoretically, the player who will reach the ball last should see that and pull out, but if the players' challenges are so closely matched that neither one knows he will be their last, it is likely that neither will pull out.  And when the GK is going down to stop a break away, they often have to commit earlier than the forward (because their challenge takes longer).  I'm just not sure this is something rules can resolve.  

  8. Bill Riviere, March 13, 2018 at 11:16 a.m.

    Randy is correct.  It technically wasn't a foul, assuming the offside was called a whistle blown.  The referee could have and probably should have carded the keeper (caution or send off at his discretion) and restarted with the offside indirect kick.  A question is whether the AR signaled the offside immediately or waited until there was contact with the ball; an earlier signal would have prevented the collision.....?

    While it is perhaps most obvious in the area involving a keeper challenge, this can and does happen in many other circumstances fairly frequently when the ball goes out of play. A "foul" or some sort of infraction is committed just after it goes out, so the infraction becomes "phantom" and isn't called, often frustrating players and coaches, etc.  Many of those circumstances are bang-bang plays and not excessive or reckless--therefore not misconduct, so the referee is left only able to verbally talk to the player committing the infraction or pretend the ball wasn't out of bounds and award a free kick.

    It would seem that there ought to be a law change to handle both kinds of circumstances--with misconduct involved and without.  Not sure what that would be, though.

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, March 13, 2018 at 4:26 p.m.

    I do not see a problem with the Laws. Misconduct after the whistle is still punished.

  10. uffe gustafsson, March 13, 2018 at 7:54 p.m.

    Randy is correct, any foul that is committed after the whistle can be issued by the referee with either a yellow card or is blatant a red card.
    but first offense is the one that stands first, and in this case it was an offside call.
    so that referee could easily give goal keeper a yellow card for dangerous play. It’s in the rule book so not sure it’s an rule issue as much as the referee not calling the foul as dangerous play and award a card.
    lets see if this makes sense a player is fouled and whistle is blown and that player get up and swing at the player that fouled him, he still get his free kick but earned a card from the referee. Makes sense?

  11. Ric Fonseca replied, March 17, 2018 at 11:56 p.m.

    Yes, so Randy is correct, but I do remember several times when a referee issued several yellow cards and even ejected a player BEFORE the game got underway, and correctly since the LOTG gives the official authority to assume "control of the game" even before the game has been whistled to begin play.  In these situations, the ejected culprit happened to be known to talk smack against the game officials, and since this was a college game, the official did put up with the antics and verbal garbage for so long, untilhe said enough was enough,  whipped out a red card thereby ejecting the nasty fellow, and had the campus security escort him off campus. Of course, this caused some consternation and the game official had the advantage to not lecture the observers, but the team the offending fellow, Thus, the ref assumes control of the pitch (in this case the campus playing field) even before the game is whistled to PLAY ON!!!  So as for "phanthom" calls or whatever, nah!  Just play on, and does PG think that FIFA is going to tell the sage folks to change or "re-interpret" the LOTG?  As someone pointed out, soccer is a very fast game and decisions to call or not call an infraction are made in split second decisions, 'sides I'd reahter have these LOTG applied as opposed to Rugby (english or Australian Rules) or even American football. One last thing, is that I'd prefer that game officials clamp down on the academy award type of "fouled" player theatrics we are regaled every time we swith on the telly, and as one friend so humorously pointed out just how fast a player can recover from a foul whenever a trainer or medical staff member runs out onto the field with Holy water" that is spread on the supposed injured limb, or body part, and then, only then will the injured player jumps up and fit to play again.... oh heck, y'all know that of which I refer, eh wott?  PLAY ON!!!

  12. uffe gustafsson, March 13, 2018 at 7:54 p.m.

    Randy is correct, any foul that is committed after the whistle can be issued by the referee with either a yellow card or is blatant a red card.
    but first offense is the one that stands first, and in this case it was an offside call.
    so that referee could easily give goal keeper a yellow card for dangerous play. It’s in the rule book so not sure it’s an rule issue as much as the referee not calling the foul as dangerous play and award a card.
    lets see if this makes sense a player is fouled and whistle is blown and that player get up and swing at the player that fouled him, he still get his free kick but earned a card from the referee. Makes sense?

  13. Austin Gomez, March 13, 2018 at 7:59 p.m.

    As an experienced Soccer Instructor and Assessor for many-many decades, I know that the Law Book truly states this:  Player MISCONDUCT, (namely, 'Reckless' play of YC-punishment or 'Excessive Force/Brutal' play of RC-punishment), can ALWAYS be given to any Player and Substitute and Goalkeeper for any Type of commtted-MISCONDUCT Action, (regardless if committed ON or OFF the Field-of-Play, regardless if the Ball is IN-PLAY or NOT 'In-Play,' regardless if committed against an Opponent or a Trainer or a Coach or even a fellow Teammate) ----- Always ............  as opposed to just a FOUL, (which must always be committed by a Player or a Substitute or a  Substituted-Player wherein the BALL must be always 'IN-PLAY' (which is the only essentially important Ingredient or Stipulation or Component or Element in Law 12)!  ........  I know that the very experienced pundit and famed Soccer writer, Paul Gardner, fully knows this! ---- Thererfore, ther really is No such thing as a 'Phantom Foul' in FIFA, (per se), because the MISCONDUCT-Punishment can ALWAYS be given by the Referee, but must be given/issued BEFORE the next Restart-in-Play! 

  14. frank schoon, March 14, 2018 at 2:44 p.m.

    I Watched the play on Youtube.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0kKw0X6mEs
    Truthfully,  it happened during the run of play, didn't see anything where I can accuse the goalie of something underhanded. I've seen a few times and I still can't see anything that I can accuse someone of being dirty...This is totally absurd. 

  15. Kent James replied, March 15, 2018 at 11:59 p.m.

    Frank, thanks for posting the video.  I agree, probably a foul (because Kane gets the ball first) but certainly not deserving of a yellow card.  

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