When it is serious


This article continues our series on the interpretations and meanings behind the laws of the game. 

FIFA’s concern about players returning to the field of play with serious head injuries is justified and proportional to the need. That said, the player also has his word in this decision and if the medical team (physio, team doctor and manager) decide that it is safe to do so, then as Wenger clearly explained to those who are listening, the player is permitted to re-enter the field.

The referee always has the last word and can refuse the player access to the field if in his opinion, the risk is too great. That said, it isn’t usually within his aegis to determine whether a player is seriously injured and whether that has been sufficiently remedied…. unless it is very clear that the injury is highly visible and still dangerous to the player himself or others around him.

The referee relies on the team of medical experts to determine such matters. Neurological injuries or potentially serious cranial ones are tricky to determine since they tend to have long term consequences and symptoms…so a doctor is usually the only one capable of assessing them accurately.

Now those who are trying to beat up Wenger over the idea that permitting Kos to return after his injury cost us the game, should reflect on two things:

1) Medical specialists who know football injuries, decided that it was safe to allow Kos back on and

2) Kos himself was willing and able to return after acquiring a prosthesis to protect his scalp.

The fact that they scored shortly thereafter is irrelevant and could have happened whether Kos was injured or not. To ¨blame¨ Wenger for allowing Kos back on is disingenuous at best and irrational at worst. Kos, the referee and Wenger made that decision and, while it proved to be short-term, it was the logical one to do at the time.

The referee’s mandate regarding protection of players before, during and after a game extends to all forms of protection from all forms of threats. The Laws state:

Law 4 – player’s equipment: In summary a player may not wear anything which may be harmful to himself or another player (and specifically bans all kinds of jewelry). It also specifies that a player must wear a jersey or shirt, shorts, stockings, shinguards and footwear (i.e., shoes).

Law 5 – The Referee: In summary while ensuring the safety of the players is the referee’s primary objective, he should permit the game to flow and not call trivial fouls, nor should he call fouls where stopping play for a free kick would be less beneficial to the fouled team than permitting play to continue.

Law 12 – Fouls and misconducts have already been reviewed but remember that any act that is reckless, careless or done with excessive force is to be considered a foul and a risk to an opponent and even to the offender.

The referee even has the authority to temporarily or permanently prevent a match from starting, stop a match because of dangerous playing conditions and hold players on the field after a match because of threats to their safety.

The referee can, in professional football, suspend play when the spectators or conditions warrant it and as FIFA’s representative on the field, require that the stadium conditions be remediated immediately, before he restarts play.

He can also prevent individual players, managers, staff and other stadium authorities from being present during the game (by reporting them to the stadium authorities) if in his opinion they represent a risk to the players, by reporting them to the stadium authorities.

This requirement to protect and ensure the players’ safety is one of the three pillars of the prudent exercise and professionalism in officiating. The other two are being firm in ones decisions and actions and being fair in the application of the Laws.

When you have thousands of people watching an event it is essential that the referee keeps his eyes out for things that can injure or threaten the players, whether they are on or off the field. That is why Wenger’s decision, supported by his Arsenal medical team and the referee’s acceptance, was the correct one in allowing Kos to return to play.

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11 Replies to “When it is serious”

  1. Its not a good decision at the time as the result shows.

    Problem is not so much the other side would score with an injured Koz there or not. Its more that he’s clearly out of shape when he could have done more.

    On the other hand, we shouldn’t be too hard on Wenger because if you put Chambers there and still lose a goal or two, he also get the blame.

    Result shows its not a very good call but its a very tricky situation.

  2. Nelson,

    If everyone concludes everything by the final result, then they will be no mistakes in this world. The world that we know now would be completely different as ‘we learn from our mistakes’ does not apply anymore. They will be no innovations and developments. The important thing is that as an adult, we should take accountability and responsibility for our thoughts, words and acts. Arsene clearly did that and as always he will. Maybe the subject should be the rough treatment acted upon Arsenal players week in and week out. To talk tough is not the same as act tough. Arsenal players this season have stopped talking, maned up and giving it back. And they are punished by fouls and cards that their opposite peers pussied out.

  3. Don
    I think the fact that Leicester scored shortly after Kos coming back on is very relevant, and the subsequent subbing of him almost immediately after bears this out. Yes, it’s true they could have scored at any other time and whatever the situation regarding his fitness was, but the facts are they didn’t, they just scored at this one time.
    I don’t see any blame attached to Arsène over this, he must have been assured by all parties that Kos was Ok and allowed him to play on. I don’t know how sophisticated the risk assessments over allowing head injured players back onto the field is, but I’d say it failed here.
    My guess is that he was still a bit shaken by the collision and not focussing as well as normal and let the striker out of his vision.

  4. Whenever a player returns to play after being off for a few minutes he is always vulnerable but especially so with a head injury. Those first few minutes are therefore always a going to be a ‘suck it and see’ situation to a degree. It was just unfortunate I am afraid that the cross and header occurred so soon after he returned, I am sure Kos would have dealt with the situation under normal circumstances.

  5. Yes, Kos would have reached out to the ball rather than allowing it fly over his head because the injury played on in his sub-conscious mind . It’s quite unfortunate but no blames should be traded. We have all seen several times in a game where an injured player came back on and soldier on to finish the match changing a blood stained jersey and carrying a ‘turban’ in between.

    But it’s ok to blame Wenger for everything since he is responsible for ISIS, Ebola, global warming, divorce, and poverty.

  6. At one time, there was an idea to ban ALL sliding tackles.
    A bit extreme, but this would result into far less significant injuries.

  7. Oldgroover…….that is certainly among the possible explanations and maybe Kos was hesitant to try and head ther ball after taking a whack to the head like he did.

  8. Oldgroover……myself as well. A bug part of the manager’s tactical and man-management responsibilities and risks are to decide whether a player should continue after an injury of any sort. That doesn’t mean that they get it right ever time.
    Another explanation is that Kos, having been assessed, reassured and fitted with a skullcap, convinced Wenger that he should return. He is such a lionhearted and passionate Gunner that Wenger probably (perhaps against his own better judgement?) decided to allow Kos back on. Had Chambers come on instead, perhaps things would have been different but the cross was perfect and should have been cut out before it occurred. As well, maybe Szczesny should have been there as well? There are always countless ¨what if’s¨ to every mistake…..and we can cherry-pick every failure but what’s the point?

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