Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I wonder what Newton thought?

Well friends, now comes the hard work. Work where we take apart a match and see what we as referees could have done differently, or better.

As before I am not going to share an opinion here about how Webb did specifically. I will reserve this one for a piece I am writing side by side with a National coach that will be posted on www.massref.net in the days ahead breaking down the final (report here). Today, I will ask a simple question, with what I believe is a very complex answer.

Do the laws of physics change for matches like these? In other words is a foul in a "regular game" the same as a foul in a "big game"? Should these matches be called the same way?

Take the following example:
I was sitting in Fat Patty's last week with the whole Region I crew after a steamy week of matches. We were having lunch and watching the URU v. NED match (report here). At one point in time, a NED player bicycled a kick and cracked a URU player in the mouth. Almost immediately there were cries of "RED CARD", "SEND HIM OFF". In reply there were cries of "WHAT, ARE YOU KIDDING? THIS IS THE WORLD CUP".

Now here was a group of very experienced referees who saw the same incident and came to two very different conclusions. Some, wanted to apply the laws as they exist and deal with the player for what they did. Others saw the pageantry in the match and just assume let the player off with a caution. What is a referee to do?

I would opine this is an untenable position for a referee at times. While the referee is certainly charged with applying the Laws of the Game in Law 5, and is also impliedly charged with upholding the Spirit of the Game, where are referees charged with upholding the pageantry of the Game? When is a foul not a foul, or a misconduct not a misconduct for the entertainment value of the game?

Granted I am oversimplifying an extraordinarily complex answer at levels such as the World Cup. I do believe however these answers become simpler the further down the "food chain" the match is. Let me use it as a spring board to make a point about matches we do everyday.

With the incident above from the World Cup final, I believe Webb painted himself into an untenable corner. For those players in that match, the bar was set that the foul in the above picture was a caution. So anything up to and including repeat offenses of this foul would receive no more than a caution. I believe the players responded accordingly in this match.

Take the incident local now. Would you allow this as a caution? Why or why not? As a referee you must always be aware of what the "tone" or "level" the match is at. There is a line that you draw as referee that if players dance over it, action must be taken. Depending how far over the line they go, will dictate the response from the referee.

A minor incursion may provoke only a mild rebuke, a look, a quiet word. A more substantial one, an "ass chewing" or misconduct. Go way over the line, and you have little choice in the matter. As referee, YOU set where that line is and how to deal with folks who go over it. Note that the line can and does change from match to match, and can even change within a match depending on how things are going. Sometimes the players need the ball taken away ... sometimes they need the ball more.

Understand that the tools you have such as cautions and send offs give cues to the players as to where that line is, and what the "tone" of the match will be. Players are looking for these cues from you, just like you as referee are looking for cues from players. Work with the players to help them understand where your "line" is, and your match management will show well for it.

Do I believe the laws of physics change for matches such as the World Cup Final? Yes I do. But I also believe that all the way up to that point everyone did just fine with the Laws as they were meant to apply. For a match, this single match, to contort the Laws, and the person charged to apply them, certainly did defy physics. History should remind us however, as it did here, that funny results can occur if we defy the Laws of Nature, and the Game.


  1. I have no doubt that Mr. Webb's position was untenable. No matter what he would have done in this instance, he would have been crucified.
    Give a red card and HE would have been blamed for ruining the game with more than 60 minutes left. give a yellow card and draw the ire of everyone for not applying TLOG.
    Everyone in the world, and I mean everyone, knew this was a red card.
    The Laws of Physics and Nature cannot change. What changes are the Laws of Men and their fickle desires. The rate at which these desires fluctuate is inversely proportional with the risk we have in the decision. the smaller the risk, the more we change our desires.
    watching a game from the comfort of a chair (with no risk to our bodies or our reputation) we can can easily change our desire from wanting to see a "good game" to demanding that TLOG be applied appropriately.
    I for one refuse to blame Mr. Webb for The fiasco caused by the Netherlands team and their strategy.
    I did not enjoy this World Cup Final.
    It is a sad anti-climax to what was an interesting tournament.

  2. Is it not the age old conflict for the referee between the "SOG" (Spirt Of the Game) and the "LOL" (Letter Of the Law)? One being some what 'etherial' in nature and oft less defined and the later being fairly black & white?

    Level of play, (age of players and over all skill of them) becomes a factor in the SOG, and perhaps modifies the LOL aspect some what, to keep the game flowing. Is this not what is outlined in the 2009 USSF paper "Game Management Model: Flow, Foul Selection/Recognition & Game Control"

    "Hence, referees need to find the right balance between foul selection/recognition and allowing flow and game control."

  3. I think that Webb should have given the red card to De Jong for his karate kick on Xavi Alonso. However, I think he could have avoided this situation by carding Van Bommel for tackling Iniesta from behind a couple of minutes earlier. Bottom line is that the game should have been called the same as a regular league game. Player safety should come first regardless of the game (World Cup final or U10 Rec).

    I don't think Mr. Webb will be giving another high profile game again.

    I enjoyed the world cup final as I was borned in Spain. Every sports publication in Spain anticipated a match where Webb would allow lots of fouls. He is got that type of reputation in Europe. I think the Netherlands took advantage of it.

  4. So where is the side by side with you and the coach? I have been checking since Sunday.

  5. My friend Colleen ... the side by sides have been sent in to massref.net and I expect they will be posted sometime today. I will also be posting the full and unedited versions here, as for brevity sake, some elements were cut from each analysis going on massref.

  6. "The Laws of Physics and Nature cannot change. What changes are the Laws of Men and their fickle desires. The rate at which these desires fluctuate is inversely proportional with the risk we have in the decision. the smaller the risk, the more we change our desires."

    Well said Anon!

  7. I for one think Webb should have hands down sent De Jong off for the karate kick. I believe it set the tone for the rest of the game and gave assurance to the Dutch that their tactic of dirty play was going to be allowed. At half time I said this is going to end up being a short sided game really quick. And it should have been. From an entertainment perspective, which ultimately I'm sure FIFA might have wanted to see, if he was actually sent off, the game might have opened up more and we would have seen multiple goals from Spain. And the soccer critics would not have the ammunition they still have that soccer is a sport of diving cry babies and boring to watch. Oh how the power one referee has to change the minds of millions of people.

  8. Derek ... you are rooting around where I was. When the massref post get up to that site, read my review, we have similar opinions.

  9. While I do not support fouls of any kind, there is a big difference between trying to do minor fouls and ones that are possible career ending/injuring fouls which the Dutch seemed to favor. I saw one foul where a cleat was rammed onto a players calf. I never thought the Dutch were going to play like this was some sort of gang brawl.

    Anon said: "Every sports publication in Spain anticipated a match where Webb would allow lots of fouls. He is got that type of reputation in Europe. I think the Netherlands took advantage of it."

  10. I would like to point out that unlike other games. This is one where the Center Ref owns most of the responsibility. I do think the Assistant Referees were absolutely great! I notice we are not talking about them much. But, they did a great job!

  11. I strongly agree and the scant mention I gave them in this regard hardly does justice to the work they have done. Look for more in an upcomming piece.