Yesterday's Champions League tie saw a pivotal moment in first half stoppage time when Salomon Kalou fell in the penalty area following pressure from Walter Samuel. If the referee viewed the incident as a penalty he would also have had to send off Samuel as he was the last man. After looking to his linesman for assistance the referee decide there was sufficient doubt not to award the penalty. This decision drew a lot of criticism from ITV's commentators & studio guests, though the Chelsea coaching staff took the setback particularly well. One of the points made over & over again by the ITV team was that Kalou had nothing to gain by going to the ground. Well that's not true in the slightest. If the referee had deemed Samuel's challenge worthy of a penalty Chelsea would have obviously got another goal scoring opportunity as well as seeing their opponents reduced to ten man for the remainder of the match. That is more than sufficient cause for Kalou to consider going down.
Now I'm not saying that is the reason Kalou went down, simply that it is a possible explanation. The incident itself did in all probability warrant a penalty but with no obvious challenge from Samuel plus the slightly theatrical nature of Kalou's fall I can see why the both the referee & the linesman did not call the foul. But the biggest obstacle in neither official blowing for the penalty was/is the rules themselves. The referee wouldn't just be awarding a spot kick he would be changing the whole complexion of the tie. That raised the implications of the decision & therefore in conjunction the level of certainty that the referee needed. And with the pressure on referees today it wasn't surprising that the referee decided to err on the side of caution.
This is where I believe a change in the laws will not only help officials but also make the game fairer. In these circumstances many commentators have noted the unfairness of the double punishment of conceding a penalty plus the sending off a player. This is particularly relevant when a keeper in an attempt to win the ball from an attacker brings him down resulting in a spot kick & his dismissal. The problem is that two laws are being applied here. Firstly any infringement against the attacking team in 18 yard area constitutes a penalty. While the second rule is that any offence committed by the last outfield player that stops a goal scoring opportunity will result in that player given a red card.
The problem with this second law is that its application does not always benefit the attacking team while conversely at times it can punish unfairly the defending team. For example a player who is through on goal only to be tripped outside the box will get a free kick but his goal scoring opportunity has gone. And while the other team will be down to ten men they haven't conceded a goal & will have a chance of seeing out the game. Many will remember Ole Gunnar Solskaer cynically fouling Rob Lee late in a game to deny him a goal scoring opportunity. It meant Man Utd got a point when they should have lost. And given that they were towards the end of a title race with Arsenal that one point could have been crucial in them claiming top spot. Fortunately for football fans Arsenal won the title that year & so no great injustice was done other than Newcastle not gaining the win they deserved.
While genuine attempts to win the ball inside the box will punish a team twice. And as a result they alter the nature of the game. Over the years there have been many occasions where a team is 1-0 down & reduced to ten men effectively ending the contest.
Now I have never understood the relevance of a red card to the offence of stopping a goal scoring opportunity. Surely if a goal scoring opportunity is denied then justice would deem that one is given in return. So what I would suggest is that any infringement that denies a goal scoring opportunity regardless of whether it is in the box or not should result in a penalty kick for the attacking team. This would ensure that the attacking team gains what its play deserved while the defending team would not profit from cynically stopping an attack outside the box. And before people start complaining that fouls committed in the attacking teams half would lead to penalties, under the current rule the referee has to be certain that no defender will intercept the attacker & therefore in reality it would only be applied within reasonable distance of the goal. Please note that this is not a change in the interpretation of law but altering the punishment for infringing the law. Also the penalty box will not be made redundant as it will still be relevant for all other types of offences. The other benefit of such a system would be that a last man foul in the box would not lead to a sending off for the defending team thus keeping the game a fair contest.
This interpretation of the law will take away any major incentive to play the cynical card in such situations but even still one further deterrent would be a two match ban for any player committing such an act.
Football's inability to innovate means that any change is likely to be dismissed as unnecessary. After all it has been unable to introduce goal line technology when most other major sports have some sort of line calling technology active. Who would have thought that cricket would be more open in embracing new techniques & changes to its laws than football.
The principle in the re-evaluating this rule I believe is sound. Based on common sense & justice it will provide a positive change in football, which all but rules it out of consideration for the likes of Michel Platini & Sepp Blatter.