Sam Wallace: Vermaelen's red card was unlucky but Wenger is wrong to criticise rules

The rule on professional fouls is there to protect players like Arsenal's quicksilver forwards
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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger was reminiscing on Friday about the most significant red card of his career: that one in the Champions League final of May 2006 when Jens Lehmann raced off his line to crash into Barcelona's Samuel Eto'o with all the control of a Volkswagen Westfalia with imperfect brakes.

There was never any doubt about the connection between Lehmann's right hand and the left ankle of Eto'o. It was certainly a denial of a goalscoring opportunity; Eto'o was in the process of going round Lehmann on his way to goal. The only quibble was that the Norwegian referee Terje Hauge might have played an advantage that would have allowed Barcelona to score instead.

Ludovic Giuly put the loose ball in the net but Hauge had already blown his whistle, which gave him no option but to send off Lehmann. Almost four years on Wenger is showing no signs of letting it go.

"When a referee makes a decision like that he has to be absolutely sure," Wenger said on Friday. "You do not kill a final that one billion people watch if it's not [certain]." Wenger believes that Scandinavian referees, picked by Uefa for their neutrality, are unused to the "pace" of English and Spanish leagues.

Hauge must have looked on in horror as the ball fell to Giuly and he realised he could have avoided sending off Lehmann – the laws allow officials to let the game continue for another three seconds to decide whether an advantage is viable. Hauge was honest enough to admit that later and the decision effectively ended his career at the top level. Fifa did not select him for the 2006 World Cup finals.

Lehmann's red card was broadly correct, although it felt harsh. The red card given to Thomas Vermaelen on Saturday against West Ham for his tangle with Guillermo Franco falls into a different category. That was just a bad decision from the linesman Phil Sharp, who flagged over an innocuous tussle for the ball that virtually forced referee Martin Atkinson to give the red card.

The problem with decisions like the one at the Emirates on Saturday is that they stir up the old debate about the validity of the rule itself. There are those who feel it is too harsh to dismiss a defending player for denying a goalscoring opportunity and that a penalty or a free-kick and a booking are punishment enough. Fifa was due to review the law this month but deferred the decision.

There is nothing wrong with the rule. It was brought in during the late 1990s to deal with the professional foul and, on the whole, it has been very successful. It dictates that cynical and clumsy fouls on players who are through on goal come with a heavy disincentive. It has not stopped these offences entirely but it has given defenders a reason to think twice.

Of course, sometimes, as with Vermaelen, mistakes are made. But generally the red card for the denial of a goalscoring opportunity is a good thing. It deserves to be protected, no matter that occasionally bad decisions by referees might undermine it.

There will never, for example, be another foul like Willie Young's trip on Paul Allen in the 1980 FA Cup final without a red card. Young's foul was a denial of a goalscoring opportunity only beaten in terms of pure cynicism by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's hilariously brazen trip on Robert Lee in 1998 which did earn the offender a red card.

The red card for the denial of a goalscoring opportunity makes an important statement about the game. It is protection for attacking players against the at-all-costs types who would seek to stop them. It puts a premium on goals and goalscorers and is intolerant of the kind of approach that kills the excitement and creativity in the game.

When they are on the wrong end of red cards given to players for denying a goalscoring opportunity, there is a tendency for managers to tell referees that they have a duty to the quality of the game to keep 22 players on the pitch. Even Wenger alluded to it when he talked about the "one billion people" watching on television. But referees are not there to give the broadcast rights-holders value for money; they are there to apply the rules.

There was the suspicion that referee Phil Dowd had that on his mind when he failed to send off Nemanja Vidic for that blatant foul on Gabriel Agbonlahor in the Carling Cup final. Vidic's foul was punished with a penalty and only a yellow card despite the fact that he clearly denied a goalscoring opportunity. If Dowd's priority was keeping 22 players on the pitch, he was wrong.

Any game will be changed profoundly by a red card but the rule is there for a good reason. If managers are anxious that the symmetry of 11 players against 11 players is liable to be disrupted by a red card against one of their defenders then there is a simple answer: tell them not to foul the striker who is clean through on goal.

The rule is there to protect players like Agbonlahor and, indeed, many of Arsenal's quicksilver forwards, from cynical, systematic fouling. Yes, it is a punitive punishment but it has to be in order to act as a disincentive. Sometimes mistakes are made. But the game is better off for it.

Fergie's judgement flawed on reforms to punishment

Sir Alex Ferguson's suggestion that a panel of retired managers should decide disciplinary issues instead of the Football Association sounds like replacing one controversial system with another that has the potential for chaos.

Imagine a new foreign manager in the Premier League discovering that his player's suspension is to be set by a group of retired managers, all of whom are around the same age and in the same peer group as a certain record-breaking, long-serving Scotsman.

Even better, when Sam Allardyce retires Ferguson can put him in charge of Liverpool's disciplinary cases. Yes, that will definitely work.

Storrie bonus says it all on Pompey's predicament

This is Peter Storrie's explanation as to why he earned more than £1m from Portsmouth last year. "In January 2009, we were in a mess financially and I brought in an awful lot of money so [the club's previous owner] Sacha [Gaydamak] gave me a £500,000 bonus... although I didn't take it until August 2009."

Just a thought, but the first part of that sentence seems to have a direct relationship with the second part of it. Or, put in more simple terms, if Portsmouth were in a financial mess why did Storrie agree to take £500,000 out of the club, regardless of how much investment he brought in? Because, however much Storrie "brought in", it was not enough to save the club from the mess it got itself in.

Stark ravings from Terry

John Terry's complaints that referee Wolfgang Stark showed "pure disrespect" to Chelsea's players by turning his back on them is the best yet. Anyone recall Ashley Cole's reaction to Mike Riley at White Hart Lane in 2008 after he almost broke Alan Hutton's leg?