After the Manchester City striker caught David Luiz with a two-footed lunge many expected the Argentine to be banned by the game's governing body, but flawed rules prevent it
By Jay Jaffa
Those that knew the Football Association's convoluted rulebook saw it coming at approximately 17.30GMT on Sunday evening. Sergio Aguero's disgraceful two-footed stamp on David Luiz was worthy of a red card and at least a three-match ban, but those who had studied the domestic game's rules in the aftermath of the Callum McManaman versus Massadio Haidara incident knew better.
What followed sparked outrage as Aguero was let off by the FA on Monday afternoon. The reason? Same as always: The referee saw the coming together of Luiz and Aguero, thereby rendering his decision at the time the final word on an unsavoury incident. This, going by FA guidelines, is sufficient, but why should it be?
The referees may still be punished by being demoted to the lower divisions. Do Football League games benefit from a referee low on confidence? And the guilty players, who so often fail to adhere to the Respect campaign anyway, get yet another free pass. Where is the sense in these decisions?
The rule states that: "Where one of the officials has seen a coming together of players, no retrospective action should be taken ... regardless of whether he or she witnessed the full or particular nature of the challenge."
That is like telling a victim of a street robbery that the assailant will not be arrested because a policeman was dealing with the first offence, a caution for littering, and missed the thief's sly swipe of a handbag. But what about the CCTV, officer? Irrelevant. We can only make arrests using CCTV if an officer missed the incident entirely.
The rule was created to assist referees in a time before extensive TV coverage dominated football debate. Before millions pored over multiple replays from every conceivable angle and vented their opinion online, the referee carried more authority. Whether he was right or wrong kind of fell by the wayside – his word was the final word.
And in that sense you can understand why the FA have clung to this rule; it maintains a sliver of authority that many people feel referees have lost. But now, in instances like this, everybody can see that the player should be punished. The rule is not having the desired effect – now it appears more like a cloak to protect the flaws of a man in black doing an impossible job, who will later be punished anyway.
As Chris Foy showed at Wembley on Sunday, sometimes referees need help and the FA should be open to embracing change. They have taken the first steps by introducing goalline technology, and though it might be a bane for an organisation steeped in heritage and tradition, this is the way the game is going.
The German and US football associations wield the power to retrospectively ban players for incidents seen and not seen, while other sports, namely tennis and rugby union, use technological advancements to the benefit of the sport.
These are fast-paced disciplines that require that extra assistance in key decisions, no matter if it strips away some of the power of the men in charge. Line judges in tennis are regularly overruled by Hawkeye, while rugby union referees have their every decision scrutinised by a citing commission post-game. It is not done to undermine the officials, it is there to ensure the integrity of the sport is maintained, that everyone is getting a fair shake on the playing field.
Aguero's crude challenge should have seen him miss City's next few matches, and you would do well to find anyone who disagrees with that. It was a callous tackle from a player who had been wound up earlier by the intimate attentions of his marker Luiz. You could even argue that he should be banned from the final. As it stands, him and McManaman will both be in contention at Wembley.
The Wigan man's horror tackle in the win over Newcastle and Aguero's dropkick may have sharpened the focus on retrospective banning for violent conduct, but it should also bring simulation, cheating and incompetence to the fore again. This is an argument for improving the game, not just preventing naughty challenges escaping unpunished.
Some managers in the game want retrospective action to cover diving - Arsene Wenger is one of the main advocates and has called for an automatic three-game ban. As he has previously declared: “If you love football, you want justice to prevail.”
The problem for the FA is they are in such a muddle trying to protect the often cruelly exposed referee, that they are undermining their own briefs. Violent conduct, as we have seen in the last couple of weeks, should never be acceptable and there should be an automatic three-game ban for nasty incidents such as this caught on camera. That there isn't sets a dreadful example to players and referees alike.
Ultimately the rule is there to take the heat off referees like Foy, who had a poor game and a number of keys decisions wrong – the denial of a Chelsea penalty in the final moments was as bad as the Aguero incident. He did not even see Fernando Torres gesturing that he needs glasses, which sums up his display.
In that regard, however, the FA have succeeded in receiving most of the flak; Foy and Howard Webb – who had a similarly poor 90 minutes in the Tyne and Wear derby – have slipped under the radar and it is the governing body that is under the spotlight once again.
The good news, I suppose, is that the FA have stated that they will review this rule before the commencement of next season. Sunday's high-profile interrogation shone a light through the holes in their rulebook and with any luck it will lead the FA to amend their take on the re-refereeing of a football match.
In a game that saw one professional footballer pencil dive another players's backside, improved retrospective action is increasingly looking like the only sane way of maintaining the peace.
Follow Jay Jaffa on