May 20, 2015

Diagonal Channel Reloaded

Once again I would like to put emphasis on a quite modern development in refereeing and which should be taken to an end in my opinion. Specially since the opening match of World Cup 2014 and Yuichi Nishimura's penalty mistake, we know that the so-called diagonal channel movement can have severe impacts on the quality of perception and decision-taking in penalty area incidents.

In short: The diagonal channel means that, instead of running out the more or less linear diagonal movement (which should be never really linear, but slightly S-shaped) on the field of play, referees are reacting more flexibly to play if the latter is moving to the right part of the penalty area - the one closer to Assistant Referee 2 and, if available, the Additional Assistant Referee.

The idea behind it: Being closer to the action, being able to take more accurate decisions in case of fouls by a defender on the attacker moving in the right side of the box and thus showing presence (deterrent effect).

The problem: Most duels inside the penalty area follow a vertical movement pattern, i.e. both players are mostly moving towards the goalline (in sprints, e.g.) or towards the goal. In sprints or general goal attempts, the movement angle towards the goal(line) is therefore mostly between 60° and 90°. 
You however take the best decisions if you savour a sidewise insight into a challenge, requiring a sidewise visual angle. The diagonal channel implies that as the referee you are moving kind of "behind" the duel instead of looking into a potential challenge, foul or simply a duel from the side.
And: You can easily miss incidents in the left part of the penalty area, as they might be too far away or obstructed by many players in the penalty area.

Instead of relying on the standardized and well-working model of a more or less flexible, S-shaped diagonal movement, standing slightly to the left in penalty area situations - which allows that both your assistant referee and you as the referee have a good overview on everything in the penalty area - FIFA decided to use the World Cup and its preparation tournaments to implement corresponding guidelines asking their referees to use the diagonal channel movement pattern. That's why some penalty decisions were wrongly taken in Brazil, as analyzed here and here

In Germany's Bundesliga, there was an incident similar to those we saw in Brazil last weekend:

UEFA First Group Referee Tobias Welz was in charge of that match. As SC Freiburg had to win to keep hopes high to avoid the relegation to 2nd Bundesliga, they defended well and were focused on producing quick counterattacks. In the 57th minute, such a counterattack was played.

Play moved from the left side of the midfield towards the right half of the penalty area. The red-dressed attacker on the right side of the box took heart and went into a 1v1 duel with the defender, to make a dangerous pass parallel to the goalline. A duel was possible, so apparently Tobias Welz chose to use the diagonal channel. At the moment of the pass, he was positioned at the right side with no duel having occurred and the ball being passed through the penalty area to the left side of the field of play.

As a result, he unfortunately missed the clear contact at the feet (careless) and maybe the slight but effective holding by the defender at the "bottom" of the box (Rafinha). Considering that the attacker would have faced a relatively empty goal with no other opponent being able to interfere, the referee should have given a penalty and should have sent off Rafinha with a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. But he didn't, most likely as he did not perceive this player duo at all.

Interestingly, his visibly changed movement pattern after exactly 4 seconds in the video was maybe the reason why he later had to use the diagonal channel - otherwise he could have had an obstructed view. So a first step would have been to not get in this dilemma by continuing the movement direction he had between the first 2-3 seconds in the video.

There was no need for the referee to follow the player who later passed the ball into the goal area that intensely - his assistant referee was close, had a free view and would have been able to deliver information if possible - it is belonging to his responsibility. Welz would have been positioned much more efficiently and could have obtained better results if he had not followed the diagonal channel guideline.
And: Even if there had been a tackle on the passer at the right side, even if his assistant referee had missed it, the referee would have had a better visual angle on the fictive tackle if he had been positioned more centrally.

How the referee was positioned
How he should have approximately positioned himself (somewhere in this area)

This missed penalty almost cost a team the staying up in the league. To be fair with the referee concerned - even if he had been positioned adequately, such infringements can be difficult to spot at times (the punishable contact happened at the bottom, while we mostly look to the upper part as soon as there could be a light holding offence as referees). And: Mistakes can of course always happen.

BUT: Systematically underlying roots and causes have to be avoided. And this should count for the diagonal channel, too, over which the curtain will be hopefully drawn very soon. Refereeing improvement should think step by step and, in this respect, excluding one possible source of mistakes would already be a huge one.


  1. Great post, you make a very good point Nicas, I suppose with AARs the need to go that far right will disappear

    1. Thanks Faolan, and very good point. The AAR system would have the abolishment of this positioning pattern as a positive side-effect. I am wondering when we will (finally) have AARs in Bundesliga.

    2. Yes, the same with the premier league in England, surely for football league referees who are being looked at for promotion to the select group of elite officials, serving as AARs in top flight games would be excellent experience, this would be the only way to do it due to the number of SG officials.

  2. Anonymous20/5/15 20:06

    I don't support red card in this situation. In the moment of the contact between defender and attacker the ball was cca in 10 m from the attacker so he was far from having it under control.

    Compare it with disciplinary decision in the match Juventus - Monaco. YC was here supported and attacker clearly closer to the term "having ball under control".

    Otherwise very good post as always.


  3. Thanks P.L., however referring to the criteria for DOGSO it is not only about having the ball under control but also about the LIKELIHOOD of getting in control of the ball - and this was high in my view.
    If you have the referee assistance program videos, check 2013:1 video B42 (Bas Nijhuis in Juventus-Shakhtar). Quite similar incident, maybe with a slightly higher likelihood.


    1. Also one of the penalties in Man City 4-1 Tottenham, given by Jon Moss. He decided on a RC for the offender -
      Go to 3:50

  4. Very interesting point, and well made Niclas. I think that there are some situations where moving towards the AR is a good idea (eg. when play is very near to the far edge of the penalty area near the goal line), but certainly not here. I think that in cases where play is developing on the AR side of the penalty area, it is clear that the attackers (if they can) will soon move towards the goal, leaving a diagonal channelly positioned referee too far and with a very poor angle. Slight movement from the diagonal is fine, but it should be minimal enough that it can be corrected if circumstances change. In some situations an internal angle can be necessary, but naturally, a position on the left side is preferred.

    1. Yes and I think this comes back to one fundamental factor-teamwork. You have to have faith in your AR's to back you up with positive communication so that you can both make the correct call, without believe in your team as a referee, in my opinion, you are never going to succeed.

  5. Anonymous21/5/15 04:31

    Slightly off topic:I am a new referee, and what action should be taken against the team official seen smoking in the technical area around 0:45 in the video?

    1. Depends on the league and the local laws. I assume it is tolerated in Bundesliga. In the leagues I referee (amateur, mainly youth leagues), smoking is forbidden. Check with your local referee director or the league rules.

      If it were forbidden, the referee (or, in this case, 4th official) would walk over to the offender and ask him to stop. If he refuses or if he repeats his behaviour, you send him off. And of course report everything to the league.

  6. Anonymous22/5/15 00:56

    Off topic : French refereeing is imploding...

    Huge controversy around Saïd Ennjimi's suspension. For those who understand french, this one gave an interesting interview :
    And the SAFE (french professional refereees union) led by Stéphane Lannoy has issued a press release in their website to support Saïd Ennjimi and to condamn the current French refereeing committee members/officers.

    With all this information, if one reads between the lines, it's quite easy to point out that all those tensions are mostly due to the UEFA European Championship in France approaching and french referees potentially going to miss it...
    Some referees, such as Clément Turpin or Ruddy Buquet for instance, seem to be under a lot of pressure for 1 or 2 years and to look forward to recovering a climate of trust and serenity.


    Copa América referees

    1. False. Thai is the list of referees who participated in the previous meeting last week. The official list of referees for the Copa America is not jet defined. It should be one trio per country only. And in that it's there where 2 changes: Carlos Orbe did not participate and Roberto Tobar + Omar Ponce were there.

    2. I did not say that it was the FINAl list.

    3. Anonymous22/5/15 18:55

      Howard Maxi, please. This is not the list.

    4. Anonymous23/5/15 01:52

      The next time I will post the full UEFA ELITE referee panel and I´ll say it´s the Euro2016 list, but not the final one.

    5. Here is the official list Conmebol send a few hours ago

  8. Sorry for stupid question: Why doesn't Rizzoli work with Stefani and Faverni anymore in champions league etc.?

    1. Stefani and Faverani were removed from FIFA list on 31/12/2014 due to age limits (45). They are about to retire from serie A, too, after having officiated 2014-15 Coppa Italia final.

    2. Ah that makes sense, thank you!

  9. In Hungarian I. Divison
    Viktor Kassai get match this weekend after he was injured. What do you think? He get match in European Qualifiers in June or not?

  10. Predictions U20WC MD1:
    New Zealand – Ukraine: Cesar Ramos, Alberto Morin, Miguel Hernandez (all MEX), Roddy Zambrano (ECU)
    USA – Myanmar: Bernard Camille (SEY), Zakhele Siwele (RSA), Marius Tan (CIV), Ovidiu Hategan (ROU)
    Argentina – Panama: Ivan Bebek, Tomislav Petrovic, Miro Grgic (all CRO), Liran Liany (ISR)
    Ghana – Austria: Ryuji Sato, Akane Yagi, Hiroshi Yamauchi (all JPN), Liran Liany (ISR)
    Qatar – Colombia: Istvan Vad, Istvan Albert, Vencel Toth (all HUN), Jesus Valenzuela (VEN)
    Mexico – Mali: Artur Soares Dias, Rui Barbosa, Alvaro Mesquita (all POR), Muhammad Bin Jahari (SIN)
    Portugal – Senegal: Mauro Vigliano, Ezequiel Brailovsky, Ivan Nunez (all ARG), Jesus Valenzuela (VEN)
    Uruguay – Serbia: Jong Hyeok Kim, Kwangyeol Koon, Byoung Eun, Yang (all KOR), Muhammad Bin Jahari (SIN)
    Nigeria – Brazil: Daniele Orsato, Mauro Tonolini, Lorenzo Manganelli (all ITA), Nicholas Waldron (NZL)
    Germany – Fiji: Fahad Al Mirdasi, Abdulla Al Shalwai (both KSA), Abu Al Amri (OMA), Joseph Lamptey (GHA)
    North Korea – Hungary: John Pitti, Juan Baynes, Gabriel Victoria (all PAN), Nicholas Waldron (NZL)
    Uzbekistan – Honduras: Matthew Conger (NZL), Tevita Makasini (TGA), Simon Lount (NZL), Joseph Lamptey (GHA)

  11. OT

    Several FIFA executive committee members have been arrested by the FBI.

  12. Anonymous27/5/15 10:51

    Festival International Espoirs de Toulon et du Var


    Abou Coulibaly - Bi Valere Gouho, Kouame Gabriel Kangah (CIV)

    Robert Sibiga - Matthew Nelson, Andrew Bigelow (USA)

    Amaury Delerue - Cyril St.Cricq, Stephan Luzi (FRA)

    Adil Zourak - Yahya Nouali, Hicham Ait Abbou (MAR)

    Oscar Macias Romo - Israel Valenciano Torres, Mario Jesus Lopez Carillo (MEX)

    Dennis Higler - Jan de Vries, Richard Brondijk (NED)

    Fabio Verissimo - Paulo Santos Soares, Pedro Mota (POR)

    Fahad Jaber Al-Marri - Taleb Salem Al-Marri, Yousuf Aref Al-Shammari (QAT)

    1. Anonymous27/5/15 16:03

      Nice appointment for Dennis Higler. Richard Brondijk is new on the Dutch senior-assistent list. Higler is not a FIFA-referee yet. How should his appointment be seen?

    2. Anonymous27/5/15 16:10

      It means Dutch FA have a trust in Higler. I think Higler can be sure he'll be on the FIFA in the future. Robert Sibiga is about 40 yo, so he won't be able to reach an international level, he is 4th official in MLS for now. Strange appointment in this case.

  13. If I'm not wrong some of them are not FIFA referee

    1. Anonymous27/5/15 16:05

      U.S. and Dutch trios are not FIFA listed.

  14. Niclas, Very good post as usual, finally had time to watch the video, it is natural to think that the ball will be crossed to the goal mouth at some point and the referee has to be in better position for that moment. N
    I have a question about AAR's: what is the logic behind having them on the same side as the AR's? wouldn't it be better to locate them in the opposite side to add another perspective? Please let me know. Thank you!

    1. Thanks SebChefRef.

      Basically you are right, it maybe would be better. And in fact UEFA proceeded that way in the first season(s) with AARs. However, many referees complaint about the circumstance that they had to change their movement system from games without AARs (consider a ref like Brych or formerly Webb, who do not have AARs in their domestic competitions), to games with AARs. They had to move more on the right side of the pitch, which disturbed automatisms in their movement. So that's why the position of the AARs were switched.


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