The English FA’s disciplinary panels are to take new elements into account when deciding the severity of punishment for a red card offense. These new elements include the severity of injury, intent shown by the ‘offender’ and force of the challenge. These changes have come after the horrific and high-profile injuries of Arsenal’s Eduardo Da Silva and Hull’s Craig Fagan – both of whom were on the receiving end of red card challenges and in both instances, the tacklers (Martin Taylor and Danny Guthrie) were given the standard three-match ban. This new law will allow clubs to challenge the rulings and hopefully act as a further deterrent to those Joey Barton types who like to go around kicking people.
Now, it is obvious that the FA’s heart is in the right place, but I think these new rules are flawed. Here’s why.
The FA say that the ‘intent’ of the challenger will be taken into consideration. This makes sense to me. If someone was trying to injure an opponent, surely he should receive a longer ban than a player who intended to play the ball. But here’s my question: How exactly are these disciplinary panels going to determine a player’s intent? Is there some secret giveaway in the player’s face contortions that become visible just before he goes in for the tackle? I don’t think so, at least. The players make their decisions in split-seconds – an instant replay in super slow-motion will not help to judge what a player’s intent was in regards to a challenge. Of course, you will get a rare case where it’s quite obvious a player tries to hack someone down rather than play the ball (Roy Keane on Alfie-Inge Haaland, anyone?), but these are few and far between. And let’s not get confused here: a red card incident can be clear-cut but that doesn’t mean the offending player’s intent is as clear. There is just no definitive method to judge a player’s intent by watching replays after the fact.
A glaring exception to this statement is the Keane tackle shown below. He got his revenge months after Haaland accused him of faking injuries after replays showed minimal contact between the two. But what article on bad tackles would be complete without this clip?
I feel that a judgement like this would be very dependent on the individuals of a particular panel. In other words, it’s a highly subjective matter. With different panels, and different members, I don’t see how the FA can be consistent in their rulings. Or worse yet, I think that these panel members may be enticed to look at a player’s history in order to make a decision. This would obviously be unfair and flawed, but when called upon to make such a subjective ruling, I can see people doing this (subconsciously or not).
The FA will also start to look at the severity of injury caused by a tackle. Again, you can see what they’re trying to do here, but I don’t think it will work. Let’s take the Martin Taylor challenge on Eduardo. Yes, it was late, reckless and deserving of a straight red card. Taylor went in strong, and surely wanted the Croatian to feel his presence. But this is a common practice. You’ll find that many players admit to fouling and going in strong especially during the early first half of a game just to give their opponents something to think about. Taylor never wanted to hurt the player. I put a lot of it down to bad luck. The Croat was just too quick for Taylor and the challenge was mis-timed not malicious. And to make matters worse, Eduardo’s cleats were firmly planted in the ground, preventing him from ‘riding’ the challenge and escaping relatively unscathed. This tackle (which took over a year for Eduardo to recover from) was not deserving of anything more than the standard three-match ban, regardless of the injury it caused. You see tackles like this all the time that get reds, but don’t result in injuries. This type of thing is down to luck, and will inevitably happen in this game. In the vast majority of cases (i.e where intent is not known), it would be highly unjust to punish a player based on the extent/severity of an injury to the victim when so much of it depends on circumstance outside his control.
I think it’s also interesting to note that footballers from a young age are told to always commit to their challenges. This is because a half-hearted tackle is surprisingly more likely to result in an injury, not only for the player with the ball, but the person tackling as well. This fundamental lesson seems to contradict the ‘force of the challenge’ element that these panels will be looking at. And in addition, if a player is sent off for a challenge, I’m pretty sure the force of the challenge would be pretty high, but maybe that’s just me.
I can see what the FA are trying to do, but I hope these panels don’t get too bogged down in the word of the law and instead, use their common sense when deciding on punishments. However, with their past decisions, hoping for common sense may be a bit optimistic…