When Vincent Kompany was sent off during Manchester City’s 2-0 defeat of Arsenal, television pundits immediately registered their disapproval, with Match of the Day seemingly on a crusade to have the red card rescinded.
People may confidently claim “he got the ball”, “it wasn’t even two footed” or “that was a standard challenge in my day”, but they are fundamentally ignoring the rules of the game.
These place tackles into three categories: careless fouls, which carry no penalty, reckless challenges for which a yellow card must be issued, and a tackle that is “dangerous” or involves “excessive force” that should result in a sending off.
There is always interpretation, and some referees may not even have given a foul where Mike Dean issued the red card.
We must remember that only one foot is needed to win a tackle, thus a two-footed challenge is unnecessarily forceful and, by definition, worthy of a sending off.
Indeed, the argument that it is not “studs-up” or “two-footed” does not excuse such challenges from the appropriate punishment.
Moreover, there is a distinct difference between sliding and jumping into a tackle. The issue with the Kompany challenge was that he jumped in and threw his entire body weight towards both the ball and Jack Wilshire.
Whether the Belgian got the ball or not becomes irrelevant as there was excessive force in the tackle, and Kompany could have simply stepped forward and challenged with one foot, standing his ground between opponent and goal.
Had he been able to challenge from the side, Kompany could have swept the ball away, not endangered the player, and stayed on the pitch.
On first view, the challenge made me wince and I was not at all surprised at the outcome. However, while I can understand why so many deem the challenge to be valid, this view is based on a misunderstanding of the rules and is therefore wrong.
Such crunching tackles from the City captain often blur the boundaries between excellent challenges and red-card offences. Take his dismissal against Manchester United in the FA Cup last season.
Or perhaps the skipper’s tackle against Norwich City last month, for which a foul was not even given. They are challenges that divide opinion and perhaps highlight the fact that the referee’s interpretation will always be a factor in any decision.
In truth, we can only expect a referee to be consistent throughout the game and, to a lesser extent, their career.
Officials are likely to interpret decisions differently, even if the Football Association explains why a red card has been rescinded.
The review process could well provide some form of retrospective consistency, but does this come at a cost?
It is difficult to take a clampdown seriously when refereeing decisions are so easily undermined, for officials are human and they make mistakes.
Although decisions that are obviously incorrect ought to be overturned, the implications of doing so need to be considered.
Rules state that sendings off should only be overturned when the referee has made a “serious error”, which was hardly the case with Kompany.
Few thought he had no case for the defence but most were surprised at Kompany’s suspension being rescinded. This perhaps says something about the cynicism surrounding the FA, but where does it leave the clampdown on dangerous tackles?
Having been declared obviously in the wrong, Dean is likely to think twice before issuing a red card for the next challenge he believes to be serious, which could result in him awarding just a yellow for a more serious tackle.
Furthermore, under the current review system, no further punishment could take place, meaning that this “serious error” could not be rectified. Such potential for inconsistency remains an important issue.
How are we supposed to respect the integrity of our officials when they are wrongly told they have made a “serious error” and lambasted by the most powerful manager in the country for innocuous errors?
Sir Alex Ferguson deserves severe sanctions for stating that Simon Beck “didn’t give us a thing all day”, and adding: “We remember him from his time at the Chelsea game when Didier Drogba was three yards offside and he gave onside.”
The latter incident occurred in April 2010, and not only does Ferguson remember this slight, despite forgetting the handball goal Federico Macheda scored for United in that match, he feels the need to actively raise it in order to question the integrity of the linesman.
On balance, it probably should have been a penalty for United, but such disdain is hardly likely to generate respect for referees.
This becomes an even greater problem once the flawed review panel steps in to diminish the authority of officials even further.
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