Breaking the Law: eradicate double punishment for penalty area fouls


No matter how many times the incident was replayed, no one could be certain beyond doubt that Sergio Ramos had fouled Neymar in last month's clásico. Some people, squinting hard and slowing down the replay as much as possible, claimed that they could see the slightest of touches from Ramos, while others insisted that Neymar had made the most of what was minimal contact at best and conned the referee. Even after countless viewings, the evidence was inconclusive. For Alberto Undiano Mallenco, who only had a split second to make up his mind, the decision was simple once he blew his whistle and awarded Barcelona a penalty. He had no choice but to send off Ramos, Lionel Messi made it 3-3 from the spot and what had been one of the season's most thrilling games turned into an exercise in attack versus defence as Real's 10 men attempted to cling on to a point that would have kept them in first place. Real cracked in the end and another debatable penalty from Messi secured a 4-3 victory for Barcelona. Of course, it is not part of Undiano's remit to ensure a game is entertaining and to suggest otherwise would be abject bunkum. As much as Undiano may have wanted to prolong the entertainment for the watching public, referees are constrained by the laws of the game and must operate within those boundaries. A kind-hearted maverick who attempts to break free, sparing players like Ramos in order to improve the match as a spectacle, would only invite sanction from his superiors. Fifa's laws currently state that a red card must be awarded for "denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)" and "denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offence punishable by a free-kick or a penalty kick". There is no desire to be critical of the authorities on this issue, although pundits often call for referees to apply common sense, which is impossible when the wording of a law does not allow it and in most cases, that is preferable. As it stands, the law concerning goalscoring opportunities is far from ideal but it may be the best option available to us given that no one wants to live in a world where cynical players are able to escape justice. The law was introduced to prevent defenders from chopping down attackers who are through on goal, which is how Willie Young heinously denied West Ham a second goal by fouling Paul Allen in their 1-0 victory over Arsenal in the FA Cup final in 1980, and in that sense it should be applauded and we should all just get on with our lives and stop hassling officials. If the law was removed, then we would risk returning to the days where Ron Harris was able to attempt his infamous assault on a flying George Best, who nonetheless evaded his Chelsea assailant and scored anyway, on account of being ridiculously cool. Anything that acts as a deterrent to violence is undoubtedly something worth preserving. Yet perhaps there are modifications that can be allowed that will ensure that offending players are not punished as excessively as Wojciech Szczesny was during Arsenal's defeat by Bayern Munich, the goalkeeper making a genuine attempt to stop Arjen Robben from beating him but finding that the Dutchman was too quick. There was little that Szczesny could do once Robben had gone round him.