The red card or sending off is a decision that is very important for referees to get right, but is often fraught with controversy. This was amply illustrated by four incidents involving red card decisions this past weekend in the English Premier League.
Very early in the Newcastle-Chelsea match, Newcastle forward Ba was chasing a through ball headed towards the Chelsea goal when he was bundled over from behind by Luiz the Chelsea defender. This occurred just outside the penalty area and there was only the goalkeeper between Ba and the goal. The referee, Mike Dean was following the play about 35 yards back, blew the whistle for the foul and showed Luiz the yellow card. Almost all observers of the game felt that this was a clear DOGSO and that Luiz should have been sent off. There were suggestions that the referee, who is on the FIFA list and very highly rated, lacked the courage to send Luiz off so early in the match. He initially explained to the Newcastle manager that he thought that Ba did not have control of the ball, so it was not a true DOGSO, but later apparently admitted that he should have produced the red card. However, having control of the ball is not one of the criteria that are supposed to be used when judging if a foul is DOGSO or not. Distance from the ball is a criterion, and in this case the ball was right at Ba’s feet when he was knocked over.
Overall we agree that this was a clear DOGSO and that Luiz should have been sent off.
In the Tottenham-Bolton match played later that same day, Cahill of Bolton was sent off for a DOGSO offense, but this one was also controversial. The reason is that the offense took place just inside the Bolton half, over 50 yards away from the goal. The Tottenham player, Parker, had dispossessed Cahill and was heading downfield with the ball with no other Bolton defender between Parker and the goal. The referee Stuart Atwell, also on the FIFA list, was criticized for this decision. The major point was that Parker was too far away from the goal, and therefore one of the criteria for DOGSO was not met. That may have been true in this case, but there is no actual definition of where or when players are too far away from the goal. It is possible that in this particular case Parker may very well have been caught by a more centrally located defender, in which case Atwell’s decision may not have been justified. However we would like to stress that this may not always be the case. If the player concerned was one who is very fast, such as Bale on this Spurs team, or Walcott of Arsenal, most likely no defender will catch them, and they would have a clear OGSO, then the decision would indeed be justified. Additionally, consider why the defending player would deliberately foul his opponent in this location. He must not think the player would be caught, so to concede a free kick 50 yards out is much better. This is exactly the reason the DOGSO criteria were inserted into the Laws. Since this game kicked off after the Newcastle match had ended, we wonder if the row about the failure to dismiss Luiz had an influence on Atwell’s thinking. Atwell has been at the center of several refereeing controversies in recent seasons.
In the Fulham-Liverpool match, referee Kevin Friend sent off Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing for SFP, following a tackle on Dembele. Although Spearing clearly played the ball, in his follow-through his studs on his leading foot hit Dembele’s ankle with speed and force. Friend, who was only a few feet away, immediately showed the red card to Spearing. Some observers felt that since Spearing played the ball first, he should not have been sent off. They are forgetting the changes in emphasis in the modern game; intent and playing the ball are no longer reasons for allowing heavy tackles like this one. We applaud Friend’s decision in this case. He was more lenient later I the match when Dempsey of Fulham confronted Bellamy by aggressively placing his forehead against Bellamy’s head. Friend issued a yellow card to each player, but Dempsey was the initiator of the incident and probably should have been sent off.
So in summary, we had two red cards that should have been given but were not, one that was given but possibly should not have been, and another that was given absolutely correctly.
Is it any wonder that this sport holds so much fascination for so many?