By Andrew Leci
Seeing as this will be my last piece before Christmas – the season of goodwill to all men (women, children, non-gender-specific members of the human race without reference to age, colour, creed or religious persuasion), I have decided to go out on a limb and court controversy. Just for a bit of fun really.
I would like to suggest, and don’t pillory me before you’ve listened to what I have to say - this is going to be radical - I warn you in advance…
I would like to suggest that the rules of football should be enforced.
I know, it’s really ‘out there’, right? Controversial; provocative; out of left field; maybe even just plain nuts, but I can’t help feeling that it might be a good idea. Let me explain.
Since I started watching football, the offside laws have changed quite a few times – tweaks here and there mostly, designed by the lawmakers to improve the game.
The ‘back pass to the goalkeeper’ laws, and what a goalkeeper is allowed to do in his (or her) penalty area, have also changed – again, for the betterment of the game.
The last time I checked though, a ‘foul’ was still a foul, and punishable by a free-kick being given against the perpetrator.
At least I thought this was the case.
These days apparently, the law doesn’t seem to be applicable in penalty areas, particularly at set pieces.
Let’s be honest, watching players grapple with each other as they wait for a ball to be delivered into the box from a corner or a free-kick, is more akin to wrestling than Association Football.
Players are held, accosted, prevented from moving, all in the name of defending, and rarely, if ever, do we see referees blowing up for infringements that, in any other area of the field, would prompt instantaneous whistle blowing.
The amount of jostling that goes on in the penalty area has reached unprecedented levels, and the longer it’s allowed to continue, the worse the situation will become.
If a player from Team A (defending his goal), fouls a player from Team B (attacking the goal…) then a free-kick should be awarded.
If the offence takes place in the penalty area, a penalty should be given.
I told you it was radical, and I’m sure most of you will be thinking that I’ve already gone too far in my outrageously unorthodox approach to playing the game of football in the way it was intended. But as I say, the last time I checked, those were the rules. Did something happen while I was looking away for a moment?
Marouane Fellaini has been banned for three games after his head-butt on Ryan Shawcross last weekend. Some would say the punishment was too lenient. Others might suggest that there was little serious intent, seeing as he would have known that his mop of hair would have cushioned any blow his head was capable of delivering.
I’m not making light of the incident (ok, I am, just a bit), but Fellaini could have used the hair route (pun intended) in a line of argument heading (no pun intended) towards mitigating factors, just as he could have used ‘justifiable butticide’.
Stoke City had clearly identified Fellaini as Everton’s main threat – particularly at set pieces – and had deputised one of their more rugged defenders to deal with him. From the word go, Shawcross was in Fellaini’s face, getting physical, using every means possible to blunt his effectiveness. It worked well.
Unfortunately, Fellaini’s patience (possibly not his most enduring quality) ran out in the 59th minute at the Britannia Stadium, and he administered the now infamous butt, and while I do not condone his actions for a nanosecond, I have a certain amount of sympathy for his reaction to the incessant provocation.
Interestingly, referee Mark Halsey did not see the incident.
He is not to blame. Referees cannot see everything, particularly with all the malarkey that goes on in penalty areas these days. There is too much happening, and only one pair of eyes (the assistants are too far away, and their line of sight is often obscured by the players themselves) to do the watching. Probably half a dozen fouls are committed at every set piece in a typical Barclays Premier League match, and very few of them are called.
The pundits will say, “Well, if you gave that one, the referee would be awarding 10 penalties every match.”
And my retort would be, “Go for it!”
If a defender puts his arm round a striker, or clings to his shirt to prevent him from getting airborne for a header, give a penalty. Do you think the defender will do it again, when defending the next set piece? Possibly not.
If the rules of the game are applied, even-handedly, and appropriately, at least some of the shenanigans that currently take place on a regular basis in games of football around the world, could be stamped out (no pun intended) in a short space of time.
There you go then; as I said, enforcing the laws of a game we all love is a radical proposal, and I am likely to be labelled as a heretic. But, so be it.
Personally, I’m fed up with all the pushing and shoving, as more and more players extend the limits of what they can get away with, courtesy of officials who don’t even seem to have the remit to mete out the necessary punishment.
Let’s all witness a game in which 10 penalties are awarded for genuine fouls in the box, and see how many others follow a similar pattern.
Catch Andrew Leci on The Verdict at 8pm on ESPN, and during the live match presentation of the Barclays Premier League.