A former manager of Arsenal’s north London rivals might have suggested karmic influences were in play when Wojciech Szczesny was dismissed against Bayern Munich last week. After all, it was a foul by an Arsenal player which led to a red card for a “dogso” – the word referees now use to describe a player’s action in denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. The continuing issue surrounding the handing out of red cards for such offences is on the agenda for this weekend’s International Association Football Board meeting.
When Willie Young tripped Paul Allen in the 1980 FA Cup final, as the 17-year-old headed for goal, the offence, as it was committed outside the box, was punishable only by a free-kick. TV pundit Jimmy Hill voiced his outrage and chaired a subsequent Football League committee that recommended making such fouls a red card offence.
Although IFAB (International Football Association Board), which administers the laws of the game, rejected the suggestion, the Football League acted unilaterally, tweaking the guidance given to referees. IFAB and FIFA, the game’s world governing body, eventually followed suit.
However, in recent years it has become regarded as unfair that a goalkeeper can concede a penalty, be dismissed, and serve a suspension, while his team have to make an enforced substitution and play with 10 men. Coaches have asked: Is a penalty not a very good goalscoring opportunity in itself? As Arsène Wenger pointed out, Bayern’s penalty, though missed by David Alaba, was a better chance than the one Szczesny denied Arjen Robben.
Wenger added: “Common sense says you should divide what is inside and outside the box, because denying a goalscoring opportunity inside the box is restored by the fact you get a penalty. A yellow card would have been enough, because it was not violent conduct by Wojciech.”
It was a similar incident involving the Arsenal ‘keeper which contributed to the issue being on the agenda for the IFAB meeting, which opens in Zurich on Friday.
At Euro 2012 Szczesny was dismissed after bringing down Dimitris Salpingidis. The Greek had made a clever run behind the back four, narrowly beating Szczesny to a chipped pass, but would still have had much to do to score had the ‘keeper not brought him down.
In Uefa’s technical report on the tournament this incident was highlighted. It was noted that anywhere else on the pitch the foul would not even have merited a yellow card, and that the goalscoring opportunity had been restored – in fact, enhanced – by the penalty award. The report concluded: “Is it time to review the situation?”
At Uefa’s behest it is on the IFAB agenda. They have suggested law 12 be modified to limit red cards for dogso to offences outside the area.
What is likely to happen is that the issue is passed to two new committees created to support IFAB consisting primarily of referees, ex-players and coaches. This cautious approach to tweaking the law is partly because there is a feeling that defenders may be more prepared to commit fouls in the area if the spectre of a red card is removed.
One possible solution could see defenders being issued a red card for a dogso, but not necessarily goalkeepers.
In theory Uefa could issue similar guidance to referees in their competition, rather than wait for IFAB to change the law.
In the long-term sin-bins, as used in rugby, could be part of the solution. They are also to be debated by IFAB under any other business. There is support within Fifa and Uefa for introducing sin bins, but such a dramatic change is unlikely to be brought in for several years.
Also on IFAB’s agenda
Rolling subs The FA, keen to retain players at grassroots level, have been piloting a scheme which is likely to be extended worldwide, though only in the amateur game
Head covers Fifa will allow garments such as the hijab, as worn mainly by Muslim women, and extend that right to male players
Sin-bins (any other business) Another Platini enthusiasm, a trial may be agreed, more probably it will be sent for study by the new committees
Video replays (any other business) Sepp Blatter, Fifa president, wants video to be used retrospectively to punish divers, but not during matches to assess decisions
What is IFAB?
The International Football Association Board has eight voting members, the four home nations plus another four representing Fifa. This anachronism, which dates from 1886 when the UK nations met to agree on uniform laws, has recently been challenged. As a consequence there will now be two standing committees, one technical (largely composed of referees) and a football panel (of coaches and ex-players) to advise IFAB which meets annually.
Three case studies
A trio of incidents involving Arsenal goalkeepers highlight the difficulties in laying down a fair ruling:
May 2006: Champions League final, Arsenal v Barcelona
At 0-0 with 18 minutes gone Samuel Eto’o went clear but was fouled by Jens Lehmann outside the penalty area. Referee Terje Hauge blew for a foul and dismissed Lehman for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Since Ronaldinho put the subsequent free-kick wide the red card would seem an appropriate punishment, especially as Arsenal then took the lead but, down to ten men, eventually succumbed 2-1.
However, as the loose ball had fallen to Ludovic Giuly, who rolled it into the empty net Hauge should have played the advantage, and Lehmann should not have been dismissed. The game would have remained 11v11 with Barcelona leading 1-0, a preferable outcome.
June 2012: Euro’ 2012 finals, Poland v Russia
With 22 minutes remaining the score 1-1 and Greece down to ten men, Wojiech Szczesny tripped Dimitris Salpingidis. The Greek still had work to do and a penalty was an equally good opportunity, but substitute Przemyslaw Tyton saved Giorgos Karagounis’s spot-kick and Poland held on for a point.
February 2014: Champions League, Arsenal v Bayern Munich
The game was goalless and 37 minutes old when Arjen Robben beat Szczesny to the ball and was felled by the goalkeeper’s momentum. With Robben no means certain to score the penalty (missed by David Alaba) was as good an opportunity but Nicola Rizzoli dismissed Szczesny.
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