February 18, 2015

UEFA's Vanishing Spray Protocol fooled by David Luiz

Cüneyt Çakır's vanishing spray undoubtfully played the lead in an otherwise pretty eventless first half of yesterday's Champions League match between Paris SG and Chelsea FC. After having lost his spray bottle close to the penalty area for several minutes at the start of the game, the Turkish referee was cheekily deceived by Paris defender David Luiz. Reasons enough to have a look at this and another situation and present you UEFA's official "Vanishing Spray Protocol".

Caught by the bird's-eye-view: David Luiz cheating at a free-kick

At first, check the following two videos. The first shows the situation mentioned above, while the second clip is taken from the group stage match between Benfica and Zenit refereed by Svein Moen.

David Luiz apparently thought that his teammate Zlatan Ibrahimović would benefit from another position of the ball a bit closer to the centre of the field. Although he changed the ball's position only by maybe 20 or 30 cms, these centimetres are often enough and have huge effects on the probability of scoring a goal from free-kicks close to the penalty area.

That's why referees are instructed to keep an eye on the correct position of the ball at free-kicks for many years. But as attackers went on to show this misconduct, which was often times missed by the match officials, the problem was supposed to be solved by the use of the vanishing spray implemented by UEFA at the start of the season.

These are the guidelines with regard to the vanishing spray UEFA passed to their match officials:

"Vanishing Spray Protocol


Only the referee will use the vanishing spray. The fourth official shall ensure he has three spare containers in his possession in order to allow him to replace the referee's container if required.
Where the competition has the Additional Assistant Referee system implemented, each AAR as well as the fourth official will bring along with him one spare container each.

How to use

At the beginning of the match the referee will ensure he is in possession of one new container of vanishing spray. Depending on how many times the spray will be used during the first half (one full container normally allows 6-7 marks of 3-4m each), the referee will replace the container before the start of the second half.

Following the award of the free-kick and assuming the referee decides to use the vanishing spray, he shall:
1) Identify the correct spot where the free-kick will be taken from and mark it by using the spray (20-30cm line or small circle).
2) Measure (by counting the steps) the correct minimum distance where the defender or the defensive wall will be positioned.
3) Position the defender(s) at the required minimum distance and then mark the line where they should be positioned behind.

As the line will clearly indicate the required minimum distance measured by the referee, it is important that the referee is accurate in measuring this distance.

When it should be used

The vanishing spray should only be used in the following circumstances:
1) To mark the spot where the free-kick will be taken from, when required
2) To confirm the position of the defending player(s), when required

The spray should only be used when free-kicks are being managed by the referee and those that will be taken in the proximity of the penalty area.

In case of an infringement

Referees must ensure the defender(s) respect the correct measured distance before allowing the free-kick to proceed.

1) If the free-kick has not been taken and the player(s) did not respect the correct minimum distance already marked by the vanishing spray, then the referee will delay the restart of play and caution the player(s) for unsporting behaviour.

2) If the free-kick has already been taken (with the infringement occurring before the ball was in play), the referee shall stop play (with the exception of a possible advantage) and caution the player(s) who did not respect the correct distance already marked by the vanishing spray for unsporting behaviour. The free-kick will be retaken."

As you can see, there is no point in the protocol that concerns the scenario seen at Paris yesterday. However, as David Luiz has shown no respect for the correct position of the free-kick and, what is more serious, has clearly deceived the referee by undermining his authority visible for most supporters in the stadium (let alone those in front of the TV), he should have received a yellow card for unsporting behaviour. 
Unfortunately, the referee team absolutely missed this situation. It is understandable that Çakır did not notice Luiz' misconduct - he was about to position the wall by accurately counting the 9,15m by stepping forward towards the goal having the free-kick takers in his back (= not in his visual control). But there is a solution for this typical game scenario and that is teamwork in the sense of distributing responsibilities efficiently.

How you can distribute responsibilities better

While you are positioning the wall, marking the vanishing spray line in front (and please not onto!) the defender(s)' feet and instructing them to not move forward and mind their hands, your teammates should control the free-kick takers and correct position of the ball. Specially in matches where AARs are used, this is no problem.

If the free-kick position is located in the right half of the field close to the penalty area, Assistant Referee 1 can maintain visual contact to the ball, while the referee is positioning the wall. But as he should put his entire focus on the 2nd last defenders, there could be colliding responsibilities. That's why in many referee teams the fourth official fulfills this task. Therefore referees should encourage their teammates at the benches to be actively involved in play and keep an eye on the free-kick takers.

If the free-kick position is however rather in the left side of the field, the fourth official, AR1 and AAR1 are no help anymore. Here, you can ask your Assistant Referee 2 on the other sideline to fulfill this job. As in most free-kick situations, the 2nd last defender of the attacking team is waiting at the midfield line, AR2s are mostly positioned at the cross of their sideline and the midfield line. This means that they are often times only 20-30 metres away from a free-kick position where the spray is used. Thus, they can contribute to the referee's free-kick management in a direct way.

That's why Çakır cannot be blamed for missing this incident which indeed undermined his authority. But what he and his team could have done better - and that's a matter of pre-match-discussion - is distributing responsibilities at free-kicks more efficiently. To ensure eye-contact to your teammates, you should furthermore position the wall from the left side.

In the second clip, Svein Moen accurately positioned the defensive wall and another defending player at the required minimum distance. However, he did not continue to monitor the wall's behaviour after the line had been drawn. 
Based on the Vanishing Spray Protocol, he should have delayed the restart of play (i.e. the free-kick execution) and should have cautioned one of the players. It is important that only one of the players forming the defensive wall can be punished (and not three or four players..). Mostly you should either choose the player who moved forward most significantly or, if all players were on a similar level, you should choose the exteriorly positioned player in the defensive wall. Officials interested in the good of the game should furthermore not pick a player who has already been cautioned. Selling a sending-off for such an "easy" offence should better be avoided.

So, as pointed out in a previous post, you should  not completely rely on the spray as the referee. Drawing a white line on the turf does not release you from your duty to control players at free-kicks with your personality and keeping an eye on these players to detect possible infringements. This demands decisiveness, visual control and - if you don't have this visual control as the referee - an efficient distribution of responsibilities in your team.


  1. Anonymous18/2/15 12:44

    Especially the second video shows how silly it is.

  2. Anonymous18/2/15 16:39

    One remark, otherwise fully agree.

    Cakir picked up the wrong side for measurement the distance of the wall. Of course, this had probably no influence to the result of the action but... It is something which every referee should have acquired as "basic skill".


    I bet that observer said them: "Expect uncexpected!"

    1. Does that go into this direction?
      "To ensure eye-contact to your teammates, you should furthermore position the wall from the left side."

    2. Anonymous18/2/15 16:51

      Yes, yes, my mistake. It was very quick reading. :)


    3. No problem, and thanks for the suggestion regarding "expect the unexpected" :)

  3. Anonymous18/2/15 20:56

    Anyone may help me to identify who is the ref in the video?


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