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But….. he got the ball (or “It’s the consequences squire, not the intent”

HE GOT THE BALL……by Don McMahon

Recently, there has been a lot of debate about a statement that pundits, media types and commentators on TV and other media regularly use to justify a serious foul during play, often committed in a manner that is excessively dangerous and careless/reckless.

As Tony mentioned to me in a recent e-mail ¨One thing that fascinates me is the “he got the ball” issue. As I understand it (and I am not a ref at all) whether the player gets the ball or not is irrelevant.”

Here is my take on this issue based on seeing this argument up close and real in professional and amateur league play:

With the change in how officials are encouraged to apply the Laws and adjudicate whether a foul has been committed or not, based not on perceived ¨intent¨ but rather the ultimate consequences of the players’ actions, it has liberated the officials from making psychological and emotional judgements about a player’s intent and now relies solely on the ultimate consequences of their actions, intentional or not.

For example, if a player accidentally kicks an opponent or his own teammate in the face when trying to clear the ball, the referee doesn’t have to determine whether the player intentionally kicked out, but rather what consequences there were.

In the same vein, the player who tackles an opponent from behind, while managing to just brush the ball at the same time, but also clearly flooring his opponent by that tackle, is judged to have committed a foul and will be punished by a direct free kick or a penalty as the case may be.

Law 12 (Fouls and misconduct) is one of the more onerous of the FIFA Laws but basically the part Tony is concerned with can be summarized as the following:

A direct free kick is awarded when a player tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent BEFORE touching the ball or failing to touch the ball at all. The referee must be concerned ONLY with whether the action occurred, NOT with how it was done.

Therefore, regardless of the manner in which the defender tried to get the ball, and regardless of whether he did touch the ball, AFTER he contacted his opponent, it is a foul and a direct free kick or penalty depending on where it occurs.

IF, as well, it is done in a careless, reckless or dangerous manner with excessive force then additional cautions or ejections can be applied. Now the concept of ¨but he touched the ball¨ or ¨but he got the ball¨ is NOT the core issue here.

IF there was NO carelessness, recklessness or excessive force AND the defender contacted the ball before making contact with his opponent then it is a permissible tackle, regardless of whether he could maintain control of the ball.

IF on the other hand he did get the ball, but ended up contacting the opponent BEFORE OR WHILE he went for the ball, then it is NOT permissible, regardless of whether he actually ended up getting the ball.

Most pundits haven’t the foggiest idea of what LAW 12 states, and probably never read any of the LAWS completely, rather relying on their limited experience in watching referees apply the laws during a match. If one takes the time to read Law 12, then it becomes quite apparent that there are many elements in this complex Law and its application is demanding and complicated at times.

Being journalists, it is usually way beyond their energy or interest level actually to understand the Law but far simpler to generalize events with a statement ¨But he got the ball!¨ which turns the Law 12 on its head.

The Law reminds players that they can get the ball, but only if they do NOT commit a foul or misconduct in so doing….it preserves the integrity of fair-play and sportsmanship and the Game itself.

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21 comments to But….. he got the ball (or “It’s the consequences squire, not the intent”

  • This is one of the reasons why I love the job of publishing Untold Arsenal.

    There are all these qualified referees around who can tell me exactly what the rules say, and how they are interpreted.

    Thanks Don – and of course for so many other articles thanks Walter.

    By the way Walter, Drew and I are preparing the invasion plans of Belgium even as I write.

  • Dominic

    So with all that in mind, how come Debuchy got sent off v Besiktas?

  • para

    So the rules seem to be pretty absolute. It is only the refs and the pundits that interpret them wrong, and even worse, each in their own way, leaving us with many possible outcomes for the same offence.

    But there should be no room for interpretation at all, the rules seem pretty clear.

  • menace

    There are more fouls than are given in almost every game. Players grab hold of opponents before touching the ball. Some to protect themselves and some to gain advantage. In all instances the player contact prior to ball contact makes it a foul. However, very rarely does a referee call a foul for hand contact. In fact many coaches teach players to ‘shield’ the ball by putting the body/arms across the opponent without contact with the ball first. This can be seen in all matches as the ball heads for the goal line for a goal kick, The defender will shield the ball without having touched it – clearly creating a foul. The referees problem is who contacted who, because the ball generally does not get touched.

    Walter how do you decide if the Law is broken in these cases?

  • Mike T

    @Don

    Interesting article.

    For me its the third last paragraph that sums it up for its not just pundits that haven’t the foggiest its just about everyone and that includes us supporters.

    Whilst intent, thankfully no longer appears its trying to work out, in real time, which if any of the three levels apply and that’s where the arguments start.

  • AL

    I think in the pundit world only two laws matter; ‘but he got the ball’, and if that doesn’t apply then ‘it all evens out at the of the season’. These two ‘rules’ are used to explain 95% of the incidents in punditland.

  • BILL FROM MANHATTAN

    Al, your comment at 10:29 p.m. about the Motherfuckers in Pundit-land just made me laugh for a few minutes. Those fucking assholes could never get a job in the real world so they become pundits. I am not quite sure what purpose they serve, But pundit in my book don’t mean expert. To me it means stupid dumb unemployable ex-player. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Right on brother and please keep fighting the good fight. Have always enjoyed your comments and totally agree with you all the time.

  • Dec

    The word most used or misused by pundits in these situations is ‘contact’. The only criteria we ever hear about in determining whether a foul is committed in the penalty box is ‘was there contact?’.
    Doesn’t seem to matter whether the contact is from the defender to the attacker or vice versa, if there was contact it’s deemed a penalty. Ridiculous !! A striker can race into the box, knock the ball wide off the keeper, jump over the keeper’s dive, kick him in the head for good measure and then throw himself to the ground screaming PENALTY.
    The outcome? A penalty kick, red card for the keeper and a sore head into the bargain. The so called ‘experts will claim that the attacker has the ‘right to go down’ if he feels contact. Cheating!!!
    Can’t honestly recall this being the case before the current MOTD crew came to the airwaves.
    Thoughts?

  • Mandy Dodd

    Pundits……only serve a purpose to big up Liverpool, Spurs, City, Utd, Chelsea…..Shame many of our ex players who are pundits do not do the same for us…….but guess if they did, they would not be given careers as pundits

  • AL

    Thanks Bill 🙂 I should say I also enjoy reading your hard-hitting comments and you’re a great contributor on here. Keep up the good work bro.

  • omgarsenal

    Menace…..most officials don’t have any real difficulty deciding if a foul was committed by the other team, only if it is committed by or against an Arsenal player, then there is more confusion. Seriously, in response to your actual question, officials are told to weight the involvement of both players before making a call, so if a simultaneous foul is committed by both players (ie: holding each other, or dangerous play ie: lifting their leg(s) above their waists when going for a mutual ball,etc.) then it is decided by a number of factors. The most important is whether the foul prevented a clear scoring opportunity, the second is whether either or both fouls were done in a careless,reckless manner, dangerously or using excessive force by either or both players, the third is whether either or both fouls merit a caution or ejection. For example, if two players strike each other or spit at each other or bite each other and regardless of who did what first, then both are ejected from the game and since play cannot be restarted by a free kick, a drop ball is used. However any experienced ref will usually decide to award a free kick against one or other of the players as this is simpler and far easier.
    Don’t forget that a player MAY shield the ball provided he doesn’t use his arms or legs to prevent the opponent getting to the ball and as long as it is within reasonable playing distance….meaning it doesn’t require careless,reckless or excessive force to try and get to the ball. The opponent can charge the defender provided he doesn’t commit a foul as described above.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Was thinking along the same lines as Dec , except that in this instance the punditz says ,” There was not ENOUGH contact in my mind to warrant a penalty !” Especially if its an Arsenal player , then of course its followed by ” ….tends to go down too easily.”
    And the ref would shake his head and with his two hands give the , ‘ coming together of the two bodies’ sign , as though they were drawn together by some cosmic force , rather than by intent .
    And they all would nod ,murmur their approval ,and collectively agree that ,” He (the ref)got that one right .” or ” He was well positioned to see the incident.” or ” The linesman had a very clear view of that and thus did not flag for a foul.’ , mantra despite the replays showing otherwise .

  • Dominic, referees can make mistakes, can be poor refs who don’t apply the rules, can lose the track of things during a game and be influenced emotionally, or can have been bought by the opposition, or any other club that doesn’t want one particular team to succeed.

  • omgarsenal

    Dominic…..as Tony said, some referees see things differently. In Debuchy’s case, his first foul was a cynical one and was rightly punished by a caution and a free kick. The 2nd one was rather mild but the official decided it was sufficiently egregious to warrant a 2nd caution…..that is the riska player takes after a first caution….and in Arsenal’s case, is all too often suffered.

  • jambug

    omgarsenal

    You said:

    “most officials don’t have any real difficulty deciding if a foul was committed by the other team, only if it is committed by or against an Arsenal player, then there is more confusion.”

    I’m not sure if you entirely meant this or whether you had your tongue firmly in your cheek, the later I would guess, but I think you are closer to the truth than you may think.

    I believe they know the rules, well most of them at least. Maybe not to the letter, but they know them better than there inane ramblings would often suggest. The point is they WANT the vagaries. They want the ambiguity.

    They want to put a magnify glass to a tackle by Kos to prove contact (Sheerer) and justify a penalty.

    They want to say “No, not enough for me” when Giroud is shoved to the ground (Owen) when another Arsenal penalty claim is.

    They want to make baffling comments like “It (the rules I presume he meant)) doesn’t say there has to be a lot of contact, it just says there has to be contact” (Gray) when justifying the softest of penalties.

    They know the laws of the game, or at least they could and should know the laws of the game, they just don’t want to know them.

  • jambug

    Corr: ….penalty claim is waved on.

  • menace

    Thanks omgarsenal. Playing distance is sufficient to shield the ball.

    On a different note – Howard was out of his area when he caught the ball v Chelsea. Officials did not see it. Good game – poor officiating but the old swings & roundabouts were in evidence.

  • menace

    PS Jambug – love your interpretation.

  • omgarsenal

    Jambug…..the rules state that contact can be judged in two ways:

    1)Legitimate,legal, non-violent or dangerous,not careless or reckless and done in a fair manner, so a sliding tackle well executed is fair and acceptable.

    2) Illegal and violent, dangerous, careless,reckless and done in a brutal manner a la Shawcrossing of Ramsey. There is no ¨in-between¨ and no degree of contact, it is not what happens that counts but the manner in which it is done and the consequences (injury, tripping, etc.) Gray is full of the brown matter and has, like most pundits and ex-players, no idea of the Laws!!!

    By the way I was being facetious about officials and Arsenal….they are uniformly bad all too often!

  • Ray from Norfolk, Virginia

    I believe that Man City was denied a penalty against Stoke City.

  • TommieGun

    OMG thanks for the info !

    Two questions –

    You wrote that the rules indicate that “A direct free kick is awarded when a player tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent BEFORE touching the ball or failing to touch the ball at all. The referee must be concerned ONLY with whether the action occurred, NOT with how it was done”.

    And then your conclusion was that “IF on the other hand he did get the ball, but ended up contacting the opponent BEFORE OR WHILE he went for the ball, then it is NOT permissible, regardless of whether he actually ended up getting the ball”.

    My first question is – If it is a foul when the player makes contact with the other player BEFORE touching the ball, than is it always NOT a foul when he made the contact with the ball FIRST, regardless of the following consequence?

    My second question is – why did you write that if the contact was simultanous, than it is a foul? It is not what regular interpretaion would suggest.

    Thanks ! TG