Some of footballs laws are more ambiguous than others. Most red card calls are subjective judgements and as such will depend on the individual assessment of the referee. Whether a tackle is careless, reckless or uses force to excess is something that opinions will always be divided on though some are clearly more obvious than others. The decision as to whether a handball is ‘deliberate` and therefore ‘denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity` seems to create more uncertainty than it should. Most deliberate handballs are, or should be evident enough. In an effort to clarify one particular law I wonder whether the game has made the situation more confusing.
A change in the law enabling professional fouls to be defined as ‘serious foul play` and thereby a red card offence was introduced in 1982 following the spectacularly obvious foul by Willie Young on Paul Allen in the 1980 FA Cup final. With some tinkering in between the law was changed after 1998 to define what is now included as part of Law 12. The change calls for the referee to determine, under Law 12 whether a player has committed the offence of ‘denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player`s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick`. On the surface it sounds clear enough except perhaps for the inclusion of the word obvious. It is an ambiguous enough law for the game to seek to establish its own criteria to decide whether the opportunity is obvious enough. This is usually promoted as the unwritten and therefore non-existent ‘last man` rule by which if another player is close enough to impede the player then it might be determined that if an opportunity existed it wasn`t an obvious one. Similarly judgements are made as to whether the player was in control of the ball notwithstanding that he might have been if he hadn`t first been fouled.
Incidents over the season and particularly over the last two weekends make me wonder whether we might tinker with this law a little more. Koscienly was sent off against Newcastle having been judged to have brought down Nile Ranger closer to the touchline than the penalty area. An opportunity to score a goal might have resulted had he been able to go on but from that angle and the distance he still had to travel I wonder how obvious it might have been. The same referee, Mike Dean awarded a penalty against Wes Brown in the ManU/Villa game at the weekend. Though Browns defensive partner was also very near the play the ball had passed him and he had no chance of playing a part in defending the attack. That an obvious goal scoring opportunity was denied seems obvious enough, certainly far more obvious than Koscienly`s but Dean chose not to issue a red card for the denial on this occasion. Similarly Squillaci seemed to deny Saha an opportunity to score a goal in the game against Everton yesterday. This supposedly was deemed not to be obvious because Clichy might have been able to get to him though almost certainly not before Saha had got into the penalty box. The only factor that might have made the anticipated chance not an obvious one would probably have been that Saha would have had to take it with his right foot but that an opportunity would have arisen seems clear.
Maybe a red card is fair punishment for denying a genuine opportunity but for the most part it is invoked quite often when the opportunity isn`t such an obvious one so perhaps a different more appropriate punishment might be made. Instead of issuing a red card any professional or deliberate foul on a player through the last line of defence, outside but within a given distance of say 10 yards from the penalty box should be punishable with a penalty. It won`t stop opinions being divided over whether it was a foul or not or whether it was deliberate or not but obviously at present not all goal scoring opportunities are obvious either.
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