I’ve been reducing the amount of refereeing that I’ve been doing for a variety of reasons so I have been negligent on these threads. Let’s look at a few scenarios.
a) IFAB changed the rules this year. Fouls in the box committed mainly by the feet that deny an obvious goal scoring opportunity which do not rise on their own to be a red card offense are now only a yellow card and penalty kick instead of a red card and a penalty kick. What do you expect to happen?
b) Blue #22 is a beast. She is an elite player with national team exposure. If her knees hold up and she continues to hit the weight room she will at some point start for the USWNT squad. She has a history of playing a very physical, very strong, very aggressive but legal style. How do you as a referee approach the following situations:
b1: Of the 22 starting players on the field, 19 of them have D-1 scholarship offers and the other three are being scouted for D-1 offers.
b2: Of the 22 starting players on the field, no one else will even be scouted for a D-1 offer.
C) Back to Blue #22. She receives a pass from midfield 35 yards out from goal on the wing and proceeds to rapidly close the distance to goal. She jukes a defender. The defender, Gold #2, jumps on her back and piggy back rides Blue #22 into the box. Blue #22 spins off the center back, slamming Gold #2 into her teammate, and then Blue #22 launches a shot into the top left hand corner of the goal. What do you do with Gold #2?
D) You’re refereeing a men’s Open match. Gray just committed a simple tripping foul. Gray has committed the last six fouls. What are you thinking about Gray and their opponent, Red?
A) I understand where IFAB/FIFA is coming from on this rule. I don’t like it for the non-professional games. Reducing the cost of a foul means we will see more fouls. Dropping the red card for a shitty but not excessively violent challenge in the box will lead to more shitty challenges in the box. I’m not too worried about the safety of field players but goal keepers will have a strong incentive to always go out too hard and wild. As long as they don’t junk punch the attacker and keep their shoelaces as the first point of contact against the attacker, they’re not going to get red carded.
At the professional level, I trust the keepers to safely challenge with too much aggression. I don’t trust U-15 boys to do that. I anticipate an increase in significant injuries because of more desperate last second challenges in the box. I hate this rule for the games that I referee.
B) Our job as referees is to protect players while ensuring a safe and fair game. That applies to every player of any skill levels. With that said, we have an added responsibility to protect unique players as they are doing things with the ball that places them in danger against low skill opponents. And that creates a challenge.
B1) This is easy. I’m assuming that everything that is done on the field is done with intent and with skill. If there is a foul, the fouling player meant to foul. I don’t have to do much to protect Blue #22 from herself or from other players. If Blue #22 is going in hard for a challenge, I can assume that she is going in with full awareness of what her opponent is most likely going to do. If an opponent goes in hard against her, I’m not worried about injuries. I’m just calling the game with a fairly narrow definition of what a foul looks like.
B2) This is the referee’s headache. Any challenge in this game is going to be of varied skill, intent and body awareness. Blue #22 can play through a lot of skilled contact but the sloppy challenge will get her knees at some point. The question is how to call the game consistently? Blue #22 can commit to challenges that in B1 were assumed to be the normal course of player where the referee does nothing more than note whose banging on whom and side steps to a better angle. In this game, that challenge is outside the expected realm of contact. Is it a foul? Is it endangering the safety of players because they don’t have the skill to get out of their own way? Is it endangering the safety of Blue #22 because other players will try to do what she is doing? Why is that challenge a foul today and nothing in B-1? Dealing with a massive skill imbalance is a challenge.
C) One way of dealing with a massive skill imbalance is to let the elite player tell you when they want the foul. They will let the referee know when a foul is worth calling. In this case, Blue #22 was giving a piggy back ride to a 105 pound defender and she kept on moving with eyes on goal and the ball under control. She had enough body control and strength to use the defender on her back as a pick to create space against another defender. And then she scored. I don’t see her losing her attacking advantage in that sequence as it ended with a goal.
Now what to do with Gold #2? She tried to recklessly foul the attacker. She really did. She failed miserably at it, but the intent and attempt was there. A piggy back ride has no place in the game. There is an argument that this action was done with complete disregard for the safety of the opposing player. If she sank her feet into the thighs of the attacker, it would be a foul of excessive force.
This is, in my mind, an easy yellow card. The action has no place in the game and it is an attempt at a cynical tactical foul. Now I don’t have a DOGSO for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity for a variety of reasons including the fact that a goal was not denied. And at that time, I did not have Violent Conduct nor Serious Foul Play as she did not bring the attacker to the ground but that starts getting really close. So Gold #2 gets a caution for trying to cynically foul Blue #22 and she got physically mauled when she got slammed into her teammate on the spin move. I see the justice in that.
D) I’m thinking that if I can find a foul to call against Red in the mid-field in the next couple of minutes, I’m calling a soft foul against Red and for Gray.