Monday, October 29, 2012

Simulation is cheating, even when there is contact

It's been a weekend of controversial refereeing decisions, most noticeably in the Barclays Premier League where offside goals were allowed, legitimate goals were incorrectly disallowed, questionable red cards were given out and the whole discussion about contact, fouls and simulation has been raging ever since.

My football weekend actually began watching Wellington Phoenix attempt to continue their unbeaten A-League run away to Adelaide United. The Phoenix took the lead and then gave up an equaliser, before the officials made three major decisions that all went against the Phoenix.

The first of these was correct. In seemingly heading his team back into the lead,Phoenix striker Jeremy Brockie had wandered marginally offside when the ball was crossed to him. This was an extremely tight call. There was no 'daylight' between the players, which some fans incorrectly believe is a requirement for offside to be awarded. Nevertheless, the correct decision was probably made.

Shortly afterwards Adelaide United's Brazilian defender Cassio scored, but replays showed he too was offside. On this occasion, the goal stood.

The third incident saw Adelaide's Argentinian midfielder Jeronimo Neumann go down after the slightest of touches on the shoulder from Phoenix defender Ben Sigmund, when it was clear that he could easily have stayed on his feet and only went down when he realised the ball was going to Mark Paston, the goalkeeper. Inexplicably, a red card was shown to Sigmund for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

There were two contentious discussion points here.

Firstly, it looked a clear case of simulation, although it could be argued that technically it WAS a foul by Sigmund, albeit not enough to send his opponent sprawling.

Secondly, there did not seem to be even a small chance of a goal being scored, let alone an OBVIOUS one, so at most a yellow card should have been awarded to Sigmund.

Wellington played the remainder of the match one match short and conceded a third goal while chasing the game, and it was hard not to think that the officials affected the outcome of the match. What was worse, the A-League decided that the red card should stand, meaning that Sigmund was suspended for the next match.

Simulation is, in my opinion, becoming an ever-increasing blight on the game, and it's time for changes to be made.

Firstly, players who dive and who are not caught by the referee, should be retroactively punished by an independent review panel, by being suspended for three games.

Secondly, it's time to change the ridiculous idea that if there is contact, players have every right to go down. The laws of the game clearly state that a direct free-kick should be awarded if a player... "trips or attempts to trip an opponent." Nowhere do the laws say that a player is entitled to a free-kick if an opponent comes into contact with him or her.

Unfortunately specific advice has been given to Barclays Premier League referees that if there is contact, a yellow card cannot be given for simulation. In my opinion, this is ridiculous. The laws specifically state that a player MUST be cautioned for unsporting behaviour if (he/she) "attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)."

If a player can stay on their feet, they should. The referee can still decide that they were unfairly disadvantaged by the contact and award them a free-kick or penalty. I would like to see a situation where the free-kick is awarded for the foul, and the player being fouled is given a yellow card for simulation. That's not going to happen under the current way of thinking, even though the laws of the game seem to allow it.

Under the current viewpoint, Mark Clattenburg was wrong to give Fernando Torres a second yellow card against Manchester United for simulation, because there was minimal contact (so minimal that Clattenburg couldn't see it). Under my preferred way of thinking, even though there was minimal contact, it wasn't enough to constitute a foul and therefore Torres' act of simulation would have been punished by the yellow card.

I really think it's time for IFAB to look at this whole issue more closely and make a brave decision that discourages cheating - not just blatant cheating where there is no contact, but also cheating when there is minimal contact.

Secondly, when obviously wrong decisions are made that result in cards or suspensions, there should be provision for national associations to overturn them. I understand the need to support the referees, but as a referee myself, I know that it's impossible to see every incident clearly, and if video evidence proved I was wrong, I would hate for a player to be unfairly suspended because of my mistake.

Fernando Torres, under the current climate, would have his second yellow card overturned.

And Ben Sigmund's red card would be changed to a yellow, because there was no goalscoring opportunity.

But I hope that some time soon, there is a change in culture and actions such as those by Torres and Neumann will result in deserved yellow cards,