Wanja talks to his children, today about…
Often enough it happened that Wanja held a kind of question and answer session with his children. He had already explained and told them a lot, and they were docile and inquisitive pupils. And he certainly didn’t know what topic he had already discussed and to what depth. Apart from that, one could test knowledge and understanding from time to time, but one could also appeal to and stimulate the children’s ability to think logically and ask them to make the connections themselves, which ultimately led to the foundation of their own planet and thus of their so perfect football world.
So he asked his children the following question in the weekly round we are already so used to and familiar with: “Was foul play frequent on Earth?” “Frequently or rarely, that’s relative and possibly earthlings would have called it ‘normally often’, but there were far more foul plays than here with us, in about ten times as many.” “The candidate has 100 points.”
“But now a little more into the details: why then were there these foul plays at such a much higher frequency?” “This too is simple,” the middle man spoke up, “because the punishment meted out was more like a reward. Nothing at all happened to the offender and the free kick was by no means a more favourable playing situation than that which would have arisen without the foul play.”
“The right answer, but not 100 points, because…?” the elder cut him off, “the offender was often not caught at all. That means something like: you fouled, but you always did it in a borderline way, so that you made it as difficult as possible for the referee to interpret it as a foul in the first place. You pushed a little bit, you pulled a little bit, you pushed minimally, you tugged just a little bit, and so you had the chance to get away without any penalty at all, but with the ball, which you had won in this borderline unfair way.”
“All this the perfect answer. Still, one could add something, make this even more psychologically plausible. Does anyone know anything?” Questioning looks, no, no one spoke up.
“It went more and more in that direction as time went on. What might have been a clear foul in 1960 was no longer a foul in 1980. But the scene that was still considered a foul in 1980 was no longer one in 2000. The defenders tested these limits and pushed them further and further. So if he didn’t give a free kick for that, he can’t give one for that either? Likewise, the skill in tackling increased, especially on the part of the defenders, who, for example, were very much aiming for the ball when straddling it, but who became more and more indifferent as to whether there might be an opponent’s foot between their own and the ball? If they hit the ball and the foot, they were more and more lenient, according to the motto: ‘yes, he hit the ball, that’s undoubted’. The question of how many opponents he had also hit was increasingly pushed into the background. ‘Correct boarding’ or even ‘good tackling’ was given the right of way.”
This made sense to the children, but Wanja still hadn’t listed all the points. So he added: “And the ultimate criterion was success anyway. Winners were celebrated and this regardless of what means they had used.”
“Dad, why don’t you tell another little anecdote in between, a classic example, you always have one ready?”
“Of course. Again, this little story immediately comes to mind: in the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool FC in 2018, Sergio Ramos here and Mohammed Salah at Liverpool were mainstays, partly or even mainly responsible for the serial successes. Sergio Ramos as an outstanding defender and Mo Salah in the attacking role. When they met in a duel and both fell, Ramos, who was of course physically more robust, fell accidentally or deliberately — but in no case did he avoid falling towards his opponent — onto Salah’s shoulder. The latter had been badly injured. Although he even resumed the game in severe pain, he had to leave shortly afterwards in tears — of grief and pain. Even if it had only been tragedy: the world simply had to feel for the attacking player. At the same time, of course, Liverpool were at quite a considerable disadvantage. Nevertheless, a good hour later Ramos stretched the trophy into the night sky and seemed to feel nothing but joy and was cheered accordingly. A little while later, he was even heard to mock Mo Salah rather than apologise or show any sort of compassion. And, no question, the media later spoke only of the towering Madrid heroes either way. No thought of unfairness or at least compassion for the loser from that side. But for me the scene was clear anyway: the fall towards Salah was intended by Ramos and he definitely accepted the injury.” “We feel for Salah for that now. It really wasn’t nice back on earth. We would never have something like that!”
“Generally, on the pitch, there was plenty of fouling to one’s heart’s content, without any disadvantage for the team committing the fouls. If anything, it gave them an advantage. The argument alone that the free kick situation was by no means a more favourable one than the one that would have arisen without the foul would have been enough to make a rule change actually inevitable according to logic and common sense. Yet a) this did not happen and b) there was an area of the field where the foul play did not seem worthwhile from the point of view of the defending team. Which area was this?” “The penalty area, the penalty area,” replied the youngest, who with his seven Earth years was nevertheless long old enough to understand such simple connections. “Right. And why wasn’t it worthwhile there?” “Because according to the rules at the time, it was penalty kicks for fouls in the penalty area.” “And what was the problem with that penalty?” “No problem. A penalty was 80% a goal.”
“Nevertheless, a problem arose from it. Who can explain it to me in more detail?”
The elder took over: “The problem was that what had previously been a very small goal-scoring opportunity suddenly gained an upgrade. The game situation itself would have resulted in a goal on very rare occasions, while the penalty kick awarded very often became a goal.”
“Yes, that is true, but still only the beginning of the problem. How does the chain continue?”
First of all, questioning looks again. The children were sure their father knew the answer.
“Well, as we have just recapitulated, any free-kick situation on the field was a devaluation of the goal-scoring opportunity, respectively, due to the other criteria, the matter went in favour of the fouling party in the aggregate. No free kick and no problem. Something like that. In the penalty area, however, it was the other way round: as soon as the whistle was blown, it was practically without exception a revaluation. Now, did this lead to less foul play in the penalty area or, say, a lot of penalties, because of the frequency of foul play?” “Probably not, as far as we know so far, but actually it should have…?”
“Yes, the fouling itself didn’t stop in the penalty area either, rather it was increased because of the increased danger of scoring. So there was even more fouling and at the same time a bit more.” “And then why weren’t there penalties all the time?”
“Yes, now we are gradually getting closer to the matter. Because of the recognisable upgrading of a game situation inside the penalty area from little danger of scoring a goal to almost scoring a goal, which there would have been because of the awarding of a penalty, the strikers were basically under general suspicion.” “Ah, logical, because they were always accused of wanting a penalty? Kick the ball somehow into the penalty area, rush after it and fall over some leg lying around. Then you get a penalty and score a goal.” “That’s kind of how it was. At least that was the basic assertion, which contributed significantly to the assessment of the scene.”
After the children had familiarised themselves with this idea, Wanja continued, for still the chain of reasoning was not complete. “In fact, in the very old days, it was also the case that strikers tried to take penalties. Because in times when the games were not broadcast at all and the referees were not observed and their performance was not assessed — except that the match report might show a 2 or a 3 afterwards, graded that way by a random reporter — it often happened that an attacker of the home team dropped himself abruptly — hence the term ‘swallow’ — and practically without contact, hooked somewhere, sought contact or put the ball wide, past the goalkeeper but out of reach of himself, then let his feet sleep and got caught on the keeper’s hands without any necessity and the referee, impressed also by the impatient crowd with whistles, pointed to the spot. “
“But that wasn’t right either?” “True. However, it was precisely this earlier phase of the penalty shirking that led to the fact that precisely, as I already mentioned, the strikers were under this general suspicion. They always wanted to have a penalty – and that was counted against them when judging any scene. ‘You won’t get it.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Well, because you wanted it.’ ‘What can I do about the fact that it says in the rules that there are penalties for fouls in the penalty area?’ That’s where the problem finally lay: it was once written down that there were penalties for fouls in the penalty area – and the statement that it was an inappropriate penalty because it was usually too harsh was never made.
On reflection on the facts of the case, one would have been faced with this alternative: either, apply the rules as they stand, or simply amend the rules adequately.”
“So, what was the choice?”
“I told you, one was faced with the alternative. In fact, one did not recognise this choice and the problem, just did not think it through thoroughly. It remained that way. The rules were neither applied nor changed. Foul play in the penalty area became a special situation. The language, also in the media, developed like this: Sometimes it was said, ‘that’s not enough for a penalty’, sometimes it was said, ‘he fell too quickly’, sometimes it was said, ‘other referees would certainly have given one, but he decided that way’, sometimes it was said, ‘that was a 50/50 penalty’, whereby no one noticed that the 50/50 decision was always to the disadvantage of the attackers, sometimes it was said, ‘the referee was standing awkwardly; if he had seen it the way we do now, he would have given it’ and whatever other justifications the reporters could think of. “
“And, Dad, what did you do to influence that, even in Earth times? You have to do something, don’t you, shake people up, write something, record videos, publish letters to the editor, ideas? What have you done?”
“Nice of you to ask. Of course I tried a lot of things. For example, I kept suggesting that scenes should be edited together, where a commission of referees would have to decide the scenes after the fact and looking at these pictures: Foul or not foul.”
“But surely the same people have already done that in the game? The media have already reacted as well, so where’s the kicker in that?”
“The clou is this: in the pictures you can see the players fighting for the ball, you can also see the ball, but you can’t see anything around it. Only the duel.” “Yes, and then?”
“Now that you don’t know whether the scene is in the penalty area, at the centre circle or even on the other side of the field, that is, the defender in possession of the ball, the striker trying to win the ball in the form of a one-on-one. One has to assess only and exclusively the duel. Foul or non-foul?”
“And what came out of it?” “Well, the suggestion went unheard. No one would have gone for it, it would have been graded as silly. What’s the point of such nonsense, they would have said? It was forgotten before anyone thought about it.”