January 13, 2016

Severity of Offences: Tackles without Control of the Body

Last week, I posted a tackle taken from Sunderland v Liverpool FC in the English Premier League and asked you to vote what decision should be taken from your point view. Out of 500 voters, 57% voted for a red card for serious foul play, while 41% deemed it as a reckless tackle requiring a yellow card only, which shows that it is a) a matter of interpretation and b) therefore some sort of grey area. Taking up the current debate about - and maybe even hyping of - the idea of video referees, I am wondering what decision he or she would make. The following solution is not the end of all wits and surely not the ultimate truth (which is by the way expected from video referees).

Before coming to our recommendation, please watch this video as well. It is a compilation of three situations collected during Champions League group stage 2015/16.

Situation 1: PSV Eindhoven - Manchester United

This incident was widely discussed in the refereeing community. Although the referee's decision looks more than acceptable in the live picture, the replay unveils the high danger of the challenge including the unfair contact made with the attacker's leg. A penalty kick and a red card for DOGSO would have been the correct decision. 

UEFA clarified this incident further through their communication channels. For Pierluigi Collina, this tackle demands a red card for serious foul play. 

As a reason, Collina highlighted the stronger level of football and higher speed of play, leading to an increased probability of injuries. Hence, referees should be reminded on protecting the safety of all players. The UEFA Refereeing Head therefore concluded that a red card "would have been a clear message [to all players] that this kind of challenge with speed and without control of the body will not be tolerated".

Well, one can only agree with this assessment for my taste. The second situation is more complicated.

Situation 2: AS Roma - FC Barcelona

Also here, Collina emphasized the need to send clear messages to all players. Tackles with speed and without control of the own body should be deemed as serious foul play. Indeed you can see the high danger of the offender's left patella which significantly claps and threatens the opponent's right calf, foot and heel. All this happens with speed and without real control of the body. While Collina acknowledged that technically the tackle did not fulfill the criteria for a clear case of serious foul play and that it would have been an unpopular decision, he was in a way correct: The non-offending player got heavily injured and had to be substituted.

On the other hand, the tackle did not come from behind, but rather from the rear side. There were no studs shown, excessive force was not given. The Laws of the Game normally do not operate result- or effectorientated as suggested by UEFA. Finding a fouled player heavily injured after a reckless tackle may actually not make the referee sort out a red card. 

In my view, a red card would have been a clear mistake in this situation (and specially in this match, no card was shown earlier, nobody wanted or expected a sending-off). The trend to focus the safety of players is nonetheless laudable. The line between this aim and violating Law 12 is however fine.

Situation 3: PSV Eindhoven - VfL Wolfsburg

In our view, the player should have been sent off for this infringement. In game reality, it is difficult to say whether I would have given a red card myself - probably not. The tackle more or less missed the opponent and only marginally touched him. The ball was already in the out, hardly anyone on the field demanded consequences for the challenge. Maybe some people would even say that no card was necessary. Issuing a yellow card was at any rate better than ignoring this tackle.

But if you consider the jump, two stretched feet with studs shown centimetres over the turf, no control of the own body, this a) endangers the safety of the opponent, b) must be deemed as excessive force and c) has to be a red card, if Collina's instructions do not only apply for situations 1) and 2). By the way, such a jump is normally seen in long jump, but not in football. 

Our situation: Sunderland v Liverpool FC

It was interesting to see the voting behaviour of the community. At first, I had only embedded a youtube video which only showed the replays. About 80-90% of the voters wanted a red card, until I changed the video into one which included the live situation and live speed of the challenge...in the end, 57% supported a red card.

Specially the live picture shows the high intensity of the tackle. The defender had slightly better chances to clear the ball compared with the attacker who still had to reach him. The offender's speed was very high resulting from his previous, long sprint. His level of body control was close to 0 after he had initiated his tackle.

You simply cannot go into a duel like that. As our user Emil precisely said, "the player tackling has a responsibility to ensure his tackle is reasonably safe and targets primarily the ball, which he doesn't. He cannot make that tackle safely, and must not lunge with that trailing leg at that speed."

Even though no studs were shown, the missing body control, immense speed and high intensity of the contact with the opponent's calf / mainstay should be deemed as excessive force clearly endangering the safety of the opponent. 

As a result, I recommend a red card for serious foul play.


  1. Niclas, the CONCACAF has announced the following: http://www.concacaf.com/article/concacaf-announces-results-of-referee-department-review

    Among other things, this includes a search for a new "Director of Refereeing"; have you heard anything about the status of Sonia Denoncourt?

    1. "A CONCACAF spokesperson confirmed it has parted ways with Sonia Denoncourt, a referee from Canada who was heading up the referee department, and that a search for her replacement was underway."

      So what's going on? The CONCACAF has no refereeing director for a year; hires a superstar in December 2014, and expects her to reform everything by July?

    2. Also, Refereeing World noted that the report mentioned "referee strikes" during the Gold Cup; any info?

      Again, CONCACAF shows its glory and high level of organisation...

  2. Great article.

    Highly agree that body or leg tackles that make high-speed contact between ankle and mid-calf of opponent are extremely dangerous. Three of the four videos (excepting the two-footed jump) are clear examples. Such tackles put immense pressures on the ankle, tibia/fibia, and knee joints and have a high probability of causing injury.

    It is not just the exposed cleat that is dangerous.

    A clear warning sign, the opponent leaves both feet (even by mere centimeters) to make the challenge.


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