Footballers continue to see red amidst the mist of subjectivity

If it’s true that some things never change – a leopard doesn’t change its spots, Big Sam will always ferociously chew gum, Mark Hughes doesn’t lack ambition – then it is no surprise that Sir Alex Ferguson was playing mind games after all and bad things will always come in three.

When Paul Scholes was named among the substitutes for the Manchester derby in the third round of the F.A Cup, much was made of it in the wake of the final whistle: “It took all the attention off City’s home record and the bookmakers’ odds and switched all the attention to Paul Scholes and Manchester United ,” said former Red Devil Nicky Butt, before eluding to the talent Ferguson possesses in the mind game department, “It was a great little bit of psychology.” However, some sections of the footballing world were questioning why everything Sir Alex Ferguson says or does has to be interpreted as part of an elaborate game of wit and mental strength.

For a short while my head had been turned and I began to see Ferguson for what he was: just a manager. It was a silly mistake to doubt the psychological capabilities of Sir Alex though: “I don’t know how we managed it,” said Ferguson, commenting on how they kept Scholes’ return quiet, “we registered him on the Friday, and thought somehow it would get out. But we didn’t let any of the players know, simply because of the impact value.” There you have it: he was playing mind games. “We were going away from home in a very difficult FA Cup tie against City. We had 5,000 fans at that end of the ground and as soon as they knew his name was on the team sheet they were fantastic, there was a great response.”

Another thing that hasn’t changed this season is all things coming in triple headers and football has, yet again, caused controversy with great debate, threefold. To begin with, there was the first of three race rows; secondly, football lost three legends of the game; and lastly, since the New Year, three refereeing decisions have sparked considerable discussion unparalleled this season. Luis Suarez , John Terry and a Liverpool “fan” were the culprits in the race row and have all managed to be dealt with in three separate ways: the Uruguayan was punished with an 8-game ban by the F.A, John Terry ’s case was handed to the Crown Prosecution Service and the Liverpool fan responsible for the racist remarks to Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi was arrested. Three cases, similar in nature, dealt with in three different ways due to subjectivity.

Back in 2011, during the last week of November, football lost one of its greats: Gary Speed. His death came on the back of his appearance on the BBC’s Saturday football show, Football Focus and a successful year, which, posthumously, saw his side announced as the best climbers in the FIFA International rankings from 116th to 48th, collecting the most points of any international side in 2011 – 330. Socrates, the Brazilian playmaker who achieved huge playing success in the early 80s, as well as qualifying a doctor, died a week later and within a month of this early passing the former Everton and Liverpool defender, Gary Ablett died aged 46.

With unwanted negatives clouding what has been a brilliant season on-the-pitch in England, the New Year ensured the controversy would continue at the first possible opportunity: with City facing United in the F.A Cup third round, the 12 minute mark brought what may go on to be the most talked about sending off of the season and a constant benchmark comparison for every single sliding challenge to be made between now and May.

As Luis Nani burst down the left wing for Manchester United, Kompany came charging across from centre-back and with two feet lunged off the ground, scissor-legged the ball away from the Portuguese, as he hurdled the oncoming boots of the Belgian. Foy gave the Manchester City captain a straight red and immediate debate began over the referee’s interpretation of the rules and whether his decision was justifiable.

As with any event concerning Manchester United and officials, the result and general consensus has been tarnished; however, according to Nigel Reo-Coker , opinion is divided because of the subjectivity in football: “I don’t really think there are clear enough guidelines to know how you can tackle in the modern game. Even the powers-that-be don’t really know the true rules about tackling themselves. If you speak to people, 50% will say [Kompany’s] is a sending off and 50% will say it’s not. I thought it might have been a sending-off but others disagree.” One man that felt it was not a sending off is Graham Poll, “The red card was harsh and unnecessary — refs are advised to avoid controversy and not to go looking for trouble. Chris Foy managed neither on Sunday.” It takes three yellow cards for Poll to send someone off anyway, so we can that with a pinch of salt.

However, if his justification is to be taken and strictly applied across the board, then surely Glen Johnson ’s two-footed challenge on Joleon Lescott was a sending off, yet a foul wasn’t even given: “Vincent Kompany should not have dived in, but he was in control of his body movement, unlike Frank Lampard for Chelsea against Wolves, which resulted in a yellow card but was a much more serious offence.”

When Glen Johnson made his two-footed challenge, which Dalglish claims wasn’t a challenge, he wasn’t in control: his eyes were closed and that isn’t being in control. “Glen’s tackle is not a problem for us because there was no one directly in front of him. He hasn’t come in from behind, so I don’t see the problem,” the Liverpool manager said. “There’s always an interpretation of what the tackle is but I would have thought that, if it’s a tackle, then there has got to be a challenge. If I’m sliding in to clear the ball and there’s no challenge, then it’s not a tackle, is it?”

Dalglish’s point lies in the difference between Kompany’s starting and finishing point and Johnson’s: Kompany comes out of a centre-back position, diagonally running towards Nani and lunges towards him. If Nani didn’t hurdle the oncoming challenge, Kompany’s finishing point would’ve been the ankles of Nani . On the other hand, Glen Johnson sprints forward out of right-back and, with a two-footed flight path, intercepts a Lescott-destined pass: his finishing point in no way affects Lescott who was standing to the right of Johnson’s path. However, according to Poll, a lack of control displayed by Johnson should mean that he is sent off.

Yet, the subjective nature continues to create debate and stir controversy, as will this post. Rio Ferdinand believes there is no argument: “I don’t understand why this debate is still going on,” said the United and England centre-back, “It’s stated clearly in the rule book, we get told before the season when all the referees go around the different clubs: a two-footed tackle is a red card. It’s as simple as that – It baffles me that there’s any argument or debate around the issue.” Yet that isn’t the case: whether it is a one-footed or two-footed challenge, for a red card, serious foul play must occur, meaning “with excessive force” and “endangering the opponent’s safety.” Yet, both of those conditions are subjective and that is where the debate and argument is allowed to flourish.

Either way, the referees will be scrutinised for their decisions whether they get them right or wrong. On Sky Sport’s Soccer Saturday, Matthew Le Tissier said of Chris Foy, “he’s not one of our best referees, he’s been involved with some high profile mistakes,” whilst Charlie Nicholas said that Lee Mason was, “lucky it was a centre half [that Johnson came in on], a winger would’ve had his leg snapped.” The argument will go on and unfortunately, without standardising the rules and objectifying the necessary conditions, players will continue to see red amidst the mist of subjectivity.


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