In Arsenal’s game against Bayern Munich, their fluency and confidence was killed off, not by Mesut Ozil’s early penalty miss but by a red card rule that most are in agreement needs revising.
It’s coincidental that Arsenal fell on the same sword as Manchester City 24 hours earlier in their home tie against Barcelona, losing Martin Demichelis to a red card for a last-ditch tackle on Lionel Messi in the penalty area.
The red card is punishment, one that for a challenge anywhere else on the pitch wouldn’t produce a straight sending off. So it raises the question as to why the markings of the penalty box warrant two punishments for the offending side when a spot kick, especially against players of the consistency and reliability of Messi, is more than enough.
Champions League games, specifically the knockout stages, are the blockbuster ties of the season. The ‘big fight’ mentality attached to seeing glamour ties between Europe’s best means one of the last things we want to see is a red card, not least with over half the game left to play. It kills the tie off. If the team holding a numerical advantage happens to be Bayern, Barcelona or PSG, the game simply becomes a formality prior to waving them off into the next round.
The referees in both games could do little about the decisions to send off Wojciech Szczesny for bringing down Arjen Robben and Demichelis for doing the same to Messi. It’s not to say the referees are inept, as Manuel Pellegrini did so in such an overt and disrespectful manner. Instead, it’s that the rules need changing. It makes little sense to not only allow the attacking team another attempt on goal, as that is what the opposing team have been punished for denying, but also remove said player for his infraction.
The rule needs looking at and fine-tuning in such a way that the last man is red carded, but only if the foul takes place outside the penalty area. It goes without saying that it’s far easier, with a higher probability of success, to score from the penalty spot than it is to score from a free kick around the box. A red card outside the box rightly punishes the offending team and player because scoring from the ensuing set piece isn’t as straightforward as scoring from the penalty spot.
It keeps the game as fair as possible. If we completely rule out a red card for the last man, then it will become a tactic used in every game. Whichever way you look at it, it’s cheating. But it’s not so severe that it warrants a double-barrelled shot from the law.
Champions League finals have suffered from this rule, but it shouldn’t really matter how big the occasion is. The modern game, with its strict avoidance of anything approaching sensible and conclusive aid for officials, will regularly see mistakes made by referees. A penalty and a straight red is far too harsh a punishment in cases where the official has got it wrong, adding further to the premise that the rule needs changing.