I've been astounded quite a few times to hear instructors or assessors tell referees exactly what disciplinary action should be taken against a player who commits a bad foul. Astounded, because they seem to have it down to a formula, a mathematical expression, if you like. Careless? A free kick. Reckless? A caution. Delivered with excessive force? Send him off.
Mathematically, here we go: C=FK; R=Yellow; EF=Red. Easy, isn't it? Simply convert the complexity of physical contact between players in a soccer match into simple letters, symbols and words. Any referee can understand it, right?
The problem is that the method is wrong, because it is over-simplified. An example from last week in the Premiership, and involving one of our best American players, will show you just how defective it is.
In the second minute of the game, Fulham's Clint Dempsey and Manchester United's defender Phil Jones went up for a high ball, with only Dempsey left standing after the clash. His left elbow had caught Jones on the right side of his face on the cheek just below the eye. He required treatment on the field for several minutes, but carried on playing. The effect of the clout he took in the challenge with Dempsey proved to be too painful, however, and before the game was in its twenty-first minute he was taken off, "groggy" as his teammate Giggs said. Subsequently he was taken to hospital for X-ray images to be taken for a potentially broken cheekbone and possibly a fractured eye socket.
I was hoping to include pictures of the incident, but didn't clip them before they were taken down. They were indelibly clear, however, showing Dempsey's elbow above the level of his own shoulder, with the hinge of the elbow smacking Jones on his cheek and jaw. Clearly a foul: striking an opponent. But what category?
Dempsey is a sturdy player, not afraid to get "stuck in", as we say, but he is not in the criminal class of a Vinnie Jones or the vengeful Paul Scholes (as he admitted in a recent article). A few seasons ago he did get into trouble on the pitch and the training ground, but now seems to have outgrown the over-aggressiveness. Since I don't know anything about him as an individual, I wouldn't accuse him of trying to deliberately hurt Jones. But then there was that elbow above his shoulder and into the face of an opponent, wasn't there? And why the referee, Mark Halsey, made no call, I do not know and cannot understand.
So here we had a challenge that exposed an opponent to clear danger. It doesn't much matter whether you call it "careless" or "reckless", it had to be a caution. If in your head you had said to yourself: "Oh, that was careless, but it didn't look reckless," and then followed it with: "so it must be only a free kick," you'd be meting out the wrong punishment for an action that is not acceptable by one player on another.
Similarly, if your inner voice tells you: "That's reckless, lad," and you decide upon a caution, but as you approach the victim you see that he has a five-centimeter cut streaming blood from his eyebrow, well, it's time to change your mind. Off the perpetrator must go!
The modifications to Law 12 were designed to allow referees to make judgements about fouls, without guessing what was in the mind of players. Gauging "intent" is no longer part of the process (except for handling offences), and I wish professional pundits on FOX and ESPN would catch up to the changes. What they endured twenty-five years ago is no longer valid. The game is different and the laws are different.
So don't get tied up in formulae for deciding misconduct actions for bad fouls. Oversimplification allows players to go unpunished for stuff that should not be in the game, like an "accidental" elbow to the face. Remember, it was Clint Dempsey, not Jack . . .