Penalty! That’s a penalty kick!
This rule alone is actually worth an entire chapter. Or a book of its own. In principle, almost EVERYTHING could be said about the penalty decisions of these days. It is important to note, as always, that a decision against a penalty kick in a scene to be assessed, which would have the predicate “critical”, which is made by a whistle that is not blown, must also be considered a decision. Every statement made throughout the text originally goes back to the penalty and the way it is applied/interpreted.
In spite of a considerable amount of diversity, perhaps not suspected in this way, an attempt has been made to divide the entire problem into sections for the time being.
- a not entirely serious look back at the development of the rules, from then until today
- the revaluation of the goal-scoring chance
- handball – from then to now
- the assessment is based only on the action itself, not on its possible consequences (was it a goal-scoring chance? what dimensions?)
- disproportion of perception: wrong decision for goal and against goal
- possible consequences of the consistent application of the rule
- the psychology of decision-making
- a not entirely serious look back at the development of rules, from then until today
Rules are “generally” set up for a game in order to make it run as smoothly as possible and to declare a winner at the end, who is entitled to recognition because he has earned the victory within the framework of the rules. Breaking the rules, or even just violating them, is, generally speaking, undesirable (more on this in the chapter “What is a penalty?”).
One could basically state that every rule written down is based on a case in which the means chosen are recognisably not intended in this way and violate the spirit of the game. In principle, one could call this a “precedent”.
Simple example: one writes down that football is a game in which the ball may be played with the foot, as the name suggests. Whatever the rest then looks like to make it a game (two teams, pitch, two goals etc., whatever). Now the first game is played and a player gets the idea that it is much easier to play by hand and throws a ball into the opponent’s goal. The first precedent: “But that wasn’t the deal.” A discussion ensues, because what should happen now? The decision is made, still on the pitch: “Ok, blue has the ball, it is put down at the spot of the handball, and blue can pass it unhindered.” This is noted down as a rule so that in the following games, in which a comparable situation takes place, it can be continued in the same way.
Someone plays the ball with his knee. What now? No, that is also supposed to be irregular? But it is difficult to play a ball with the knee and then also purposefully and with momentum in such a way that it reaches a teammate or even just stays with you? No, we’ll let the knee thing go. No new rule needed.
Head, chest, abdomen, thigh, even shoulder will be allowed. The reason is simple: you only have a serious advantage if you have a much more skilful and trained hand. With the foot it is possible, but it is more difficult. All other body parts: increased difficulty, therefore an art to be mastered. That’s what we want to see. Who has mastered this art? In any case, it looks great when someone stops the ball with their chest and continues to process it directly with their foot, even though you would intuitively use your hands. That would be no problem at all.
In the end, you realise that the game that has been so beautifully and newly invented should actually have a completely different name. The only possible name: NOT-Handball. But let’s stay with football for now… and leave this digression at the same time.
Or let’s continue by leaps and bounds: rule after rule is written down, but at the same time ambition grows, as does the character of fighting and competition. The players don’t really want to break the rules, or even have the feeling that it wouldn’t be to their advantage to break them. Nevertheless, it may happen at some point that a striker is just about to place the ball in the box when an opponent, in his over-zealousness, recognisably drives him into the parade without playing the ball. Or a shot picks up speed towards the goal and an opponent, perhaps only in reflex, extends his arm and holds it in the path of the shot.
Now the indignation is great. What are you supposed to do? That was almost a goal that was prevented? A free kick, as with the previous infringements, doesn’t seem to be enough to judge the action appropriately, to not give the attackers a similarly good opportunity to score a goal?
Now you get the idea: if a violation of the rules happens so close to the goal, there is a free shot on goal, with no opponent in the way. Yes, that is fair, isn’t it? Before a great chance, now also a great chance? From the distance of, hmm, let’s say 12 yards, on the huge box — the dimensions of which had already been standardised before – should surely be some kind of “fair, appropriate” punishment? Now just the question: “How far from the goal may the action have been, or how close to the goal must it be, so that…?” The idea is already born: a penalty area is needed, drawn around the goal, at a distance from which the danger of scoring is obvious, so that a goal is more or less in the air. “Shall we take sixteen metres?” “Agreed, sixteen, that sounds good.”
Whatever rules are gradually written down by precedent: it gradually becomes a full-blown set of rules. “One of the players gets to hand.” “Okay, that’s reasonable, after all, the box is huge.” “Where does he get to play hand?” “We already have an area there, don’t we? The penalty area?” “Sounds good too. Let’s take it. Why should he be allowed to play anywhere? Afterwards he’ll just go out of his box and throw things in over there. No, it doesn’t work like that.” The player with special rights is simply called “goalkeeper”. He guards the goal, with the exceptionally authorised and not at all football-related body parts : all of them.
However things developed, the penalty kick has never been changed over the decades. Offences in one’s own penalty area can only serve the purpose of preventing the opponent from scoring or, if the hand plays the ball, to give it a change of direction that reduces or eliminates the danger of scoring. No, this is not only irregular and undesirable, it is also a punishable offence that can be perceived as a punishment: “Don’t do that, never do that again, it’s not good, it doesn’t help you and it harms the team. You are creating a goal-scoring opportunity for the opponent, which is almost of decisive proportions.”
Talking of not shaking it: there comes a time when strikers, suddenly driven by increasing ambition, even affected by expectations around them to win amounts of money, collect or increase wages, snatch victory bonuses, win new contracts, more favourable terms, win promotions and championships, secure revenue for the club, realise that you can even fake a foul here and there? A prankster who thinks evil of it. Perhaps feeling a touch, but not necessarily having to fall, but doing it anyway? You realise: a penalty kick is indeed the reward. Perhaps one even dares to try again?
There even comes a time when the referees, as a welcome and to show their appreciation, receive a small gift from the host upon their arrival? At the same time, on the next day, the day of the match, fate does not favour the host for long stretches and the result of the match does not match the hopes and expectations. At that time, when only a few photographers surround the pitch and not a single film camera is on site, it may happen that an attacker, upon sensing a breeze, simply reinterprets it as a “touch” and this highly individual interpretation, and this interpretation, supported by the fans, who perhaps in the glittering floodlights and fog and with the famous rose-coloured club glasses on their noses, more than clearly interprets this as a clear penalty, tries to push the referee in a certain direction with a spectacular fall and the referee gives in to everyone’s urging? The guests’ indignation merely finds a brief entry in the local reporting there as a “scandal whistle” – and Stepi’s “Läbbe goes on” already applies. For the few crowing roosters do so only in the local language. What did “scandal” mean in Finnish?
All these events contribute to the fact that somehow everyone knows: the striker would love to have been fouled, whereas the defender claims to have done absolutely nothing wrong.
Nowhere is the discrepancy greater than here, with the penalty kick. A swallow or a penalty kick?
Continuing with the “historical retrospective”: at some point or other, everyone realises that “falling sickness” could take hold and, since we intuitively know that the strikers would always like to have the penalty, we suddenly take aim at them: surely that is really unsportsmanlike? It was nothing, no foul, just a puff of air, and you want to get a penalty for it? No, you need a hefty penalty, a kind of “lesson” in yellow, and that’s the least you can do?
Times are changing. All of a sudden, the focus is on those who have learned to deceitfully fake a foul – and who have been able to convince the referees often enough in the game, and who have used the factual decision to cheat a penalty, a goal, a victory for their team, even though the TV pictures or a sufficient number of bystanders, objective reporters or whoever or whatever came to the quite clear conclusion that he should not have been given a penalty for it. Now, all of a sudden, those who “take” penalties are ostracised. It was tempting to try. There was no other way to score for 80 minutes, maybe it would work out that way? The success proved them right – the factual decision stood, regardless of the later realisation that it “wasn’t one at all”. Those who pointed their fingers at you and called you a “swallow king” were easy to take with the victory in the bag.
The time comes when the referees, after too many proven mistakes in which they have fallen for one of the penalty killers, suddenly blow the whistle two or three times in their mouths before they – in the end – prefer not to blow it, just to be on the safe side. “He wanted that one” and “that one was a bit too theatrical for me” and “I wasn’t sure about this one”. Suddenly the whistle remains silent even in cases where the experts are quite sure afterwards that it would have been one. But it wasn’t, and instead there were even ugly caution cards here and there.
The defenders, however, do not get any stupider during this time, on the contrary, they learn. They suddenly know that they are almost always on the winning side. So if a striker falls in front of/next to/with them, the defender tackles him directly and energetically: “Did you want a penalty for that, you actor?” The actor is himself and by no means a good one, but the general trend (striker = cheat) speaks for him. Yellow, yellow again for the attacker. This approach to the striker has proven itself and at the same time has a psychological cause: the strikers are ostracised, they are the “swallow kings”, they are on the receiving end, the referees and also the media, spectators. If the defender now goes straight at the striker instead of just making a defensive gesture to indicate that he has “done nothing at all”, then this approach suggests to the referee that there was nothing at all, at least no foul on the part of the defender, but, if there was, certainly not one that would justify a penalty in the form of a penalty?
So the defenders learn how to “foul skilfully”, so that it is neither sufficient for foul play in the general assessment, nor does it justify a fall of the opponent. Was the obstruction only very minimal and also very short and almost imperceptible? You really can’t be blamed for that… Although the minor obstruction is just enough to prevent the attacker from completing the goal action in a controlled manner. If the striker falls, despite the tiny but sufficiently restrictive touch, then it is called “he wanted it too much”. If he does not fall, then it is considered a “unilateral admission of guilt”. Then it can’t have been a penalty at all.
Strikers also “learn” the right way to fall, well, there you go. The touch must be there, of course (otherwise: “Yellow card!”, inexorable!), and then use exactly that moment. It doesn’t even matter if you have a real chance of scoring. Putting the ball past, threading your leg, going to ground, as one example. It doesn’t matter if you could reach the ball. Only this development is also to be considered a “miss”. Especially as falling is even advised if you have been fouled. “If he falls there, he gets the penalty”. But he didn’t. The fool. Or was he just doing what should be obvious? You fall when you fall because you’re being felled, not because you’ve learned how to “fall in exactly the right way”. But if you don’t fall because you could stay on your feet, that would still not be “fair play”. It would only be “omitted-unfair-play”.
And the media first. They contribute, with everything they do and how they judge situations, to the fact that there is a “state-of-the-art”. That’s how the whistle is blown, that’s how it’s judged, that’s how people orient themselves, including and especially spectators and referees. If the unanimous verdict, immediately after the action, is “for me that was not a penalty” or “that is not enough for a penalty”, then it was not a penalty here, not a penalty there, not a penalty yesterday, not a penalty today and even less tomorrow. The fact that these judgements are not “objective” should not really be the question. Because the “for me it was no one” or the “not enough” alone indicates that there should/could be alternative points of view.
In times when cameras monitor every step and the referees themselves are “controlled” in this way for every single action, there are no more gifts or any kind of benevolence. At least not for the benefit of the strikers. Those are the ones – as things stand at the moment — who want to “flay” the penalty and the defenders are the “hypocrites”. If anything, they have only very briefly and imperceptibly and almost unintentionally… Can’t be blamed for that, can we?
If one has to state that defenders always have to foul so much and so borderline that it is just not enough for a penalty, whereas the attackers have to go down at just the right moment to get a penalty and not a yellow card for an attempt to deceive, then there can only be one conclusion: there is something wrong with the rules.
- the upgrading of the goal-scoring opportunity
It leads almost straight to the phenomenon causally responsible for the problem described. Strikers AND defenders AND media representatives AND spectators AND coaches AND referees AND referee observers all know in principle — whereby this kind of “knowledge” is an inarticulate, correspondingly intuitive knowledge (while the present text attempts to initiate precisely the transformation of intuitive knowledge into conscious knowledge) — that in modern football almost every penalty awarded is disproportionate to the goal situation in terms of the size of the goal-scoring opportunity that was prevented by the alleged offence under discussion. The penalty – if it were awarded — would almost always (with rare exceptions) be a huge enhancement to the situation at hand, which is to be considered with a penalty kick. It doesn’t matter where the striker is now being tugged, pulled, obstructed: he would still not be in a situation to take a shot, but even if he were, it would first have to be a controlled, purposeful one, find its way towards the goal, but if it did, it would also have to find its way past the keeper and into the net. As a rule, there are too many hurdles to be able to call it a “clear goal-scoring opportunity”. But even if it would justify this classification (which happens from time to time, but also rarely), then this “clear chance” would perhaps still only be at 30% or 40% utilisation percentage, while the penalty kick is more like 75%. There is hardly a bigger and better chance than the penalty.
This valorisation of the goal-scoring chance is the crux of the matter. Everything that has already been said, the historical development, the behaviour of the defenders, the “addiction to falling” of the strikers, the averse referees and media assessors of the scenes, everything is causally due to the fact that this valorisation somehow does not belong to the attacking party. From no chance to huge chance, why should one? No, you don’t “just do that”. “Oh, I thought he had touched it, but he hadn’t? Well, I gave a penalty, why not?” Such a thought would almost be considered absurd: “He can’t just point to the spot just because he remotely sensed something that didn’t happen?”
That’s probably why there was an instruction to referees before the 2016/2017 season that would have gone something like this: “Only award a penalty when you’re absolutely sure.” But this is exactly the wrong sign. Because referees are never “quite sure”. There is always some kind and hint of doubt. Especially since the defenders may very well want to prevent goals with their actions, but they will never foul excessively and obviously to do so (it applies to handball in exactly the same way as a rule; elbow bent, arm not fully applied, or hit at close range: surely that’s not enough for a penalty kick?).
- handball – then and now
Exactly: handball. It should be examined separately at this point. The arm and the hand are the only parts of the body that may not be used in football. If you do, as was once included in the rules, you get a free kick; if it happens inside the penalty area, the rule is: penalty kick. The rules say so.
Of course, here too the basic idea is: you don’t want it, you shouldn’t do it, there should be a penalty and in the vicinity of (your own) goal, they should only have been used to thwart a great goal-scoring opportunity, possibly to deflect the ball on the line, like a goalkeeper, or at least to interrupt the trajectory towards the goal, to deflect the ball even slightly so that it doesn’t find its way into or towards the goal. Disgraceful. There is nothing left but penalty kicks, the free shot from eleven metres, with no defender in the way. That might be appropriate, even too little now and then (when the ball was cleared on the goal line?), but if it were too much, it would still be fine, because why not give a penalty for an offence? Small before, the chance, now big. Maybe you defenders will learn from this and avoid handball? Even if a goal is scored more than it would otherwise be because you “pettily” prefer to take your hand out of the way, what great damage would have been done? One more goal – a little more joy?
The defenders take their cue from that. If you are so stupid and play the ball with your hand in the penalty area, you have to reckon with consequences, even if it is only a clumsy reception of the ball. So strict instructions to the defenders, shouted by coaches and teammates: “Put your arms to your body in the penalty area. Otherwise you’ll damage our chances of success.” Of course: they stick to it. If someone doesn’t do it once in a while, then maybe even with the intention of preventing a goal, possibly taking the risk?
But what was that? The ball went to the arm, thus not into the goal or towards the goal at least, but the referee didn’t blow the whistle at all? Oh, that’s convenient. Why didn’t he? Well, as you find out later, he saw it but didn’t consider it worthy of a penalty. Then you can try it again like that or something similar? Let’s see what he says now?
As with foul play: here, too, it is developing in the direction that defenders “learn” how to skilfully and imperceptibly use their hand or arm to help and the media agree: “For me, that was not punishable handball.” Sure, it was his turn, but surely you can’t give a penalty for that either? Not for that, not for this and certainly not for something like that.
The excuses given to the players are many and varied and absurd. Here are a few of the frequently heard ones: “He can’t get away from the distance. Or: “no unnatural hand movement.” Or “when he falls, he touches the ball lightly with his hand. No, for me no penalty kick. He couldn’t help it.”
What the reporters don’t seem to notice is that since they started giving these or similar excuses, there have been an increasing number of such debatable scenes. Surely one should be able to conclude that there is some kind of “intention” behind it? In principle, the arms can be wherever they want. If the striker hits Art: it’s his own fault. “Well, I really couldn’t help it that you aim so badly.” Bad or good? In effect bad, because: neither goal nor penalty. “Good” it would only be if there was the penalty provided for it.
Even more absurd, almost, is the way crosses are “prevented” nowadays. You cross into it, but if you’re too late as a defender, you put both arms above your head. That is “natural” not “unnatural”. Isn’t that what everyone does? If the ball goes against: not my problem. The referee would have one, but only in theory. Because: he would have to reward the actually harmless cross (when are the attackers ever outnumbered and, what’s more, there are a few tall ones among them who could win a header duel, get the ball towards the goal and then even get it past the goalkeeper) with a penalty kick? No, you can’t do that. A goal “out of nothing?” I don’t do that, nobody does that. No penalty, play on.
The referee was “on the safe side” with this decision. If he is wrong and later it says “he missed a clear handball”, then the world just shrugs its shoulders. “So what? But there was NO offside twice over there…” It all evens out. And it didn’t become unequal in the first place. 0:0, final whistle, everyone happy?! It could have been 2:2, but so what? So what: more spectators, more fun, more entertainment, more justice, more goals, more joy.
- how great was the danger for the goal, what kind of goal chance was prevented?
Every action in the penalty area that has to be assessed (“play on” is also a kind of “decision”) also represents a “goal-scoring opportunity”. After all, it can be assumed that the ball is somewhere in the vicinity and therefore also near the goal. At the same time, at least one attacker is involved or, in the case of a handball, a ball is on its way into the danger zone or towards the goal (an exception here would be: a harmless ball accidentally and unluckily bounces on a defender’s arm or hand while he is handling the ball or just like that, it happens sometimes). These are scenes that occur in every game, usually several times. Here a possibility to point to the spot, there one, here for a foul, there for a handball. The “solution” offered is usually to play on. Well, this should not be the topic (again or still).
But rather this: you see the slow-motion replays, from all possible perspectives, you hear voices, during the game, at half-time, of an expert, a co-commentator, who describes the scenes in their own way. However, rarely or never is it taken into account how high the danger of scoring was. Now, according to “Justitia”, this may be the right way, but in football (a “game”, as it is still called, and perhaps it should have some of that character after all?) no one is on trial. So there would be room for manoeuvre in the decision-making process.
The one offered here would be like this: shots are fired from time to time with the word “goal” clearly printed on them. It would also be enough – as everyone can see in themselves – that one briefly holds one’s breath, instinctively, without wanting to, because one simply senses that this could be a goal. Be it against or for one’s own team or one that is emotionally supported at that moment (which a neutral observer also tends to do; unfortunately there are too few of them…): it smells like a goal.
If a defender’s arm “accidentally” gets in the way of such a shot, then that should be much more likely to be a penalty than if a disoriented ball strays into the penalty area and jumps at a defender’s arm, even if in the latter case the unanimous verdict is: “Stupid, but that was a penalty”, while in the former case it is often “that was not an unnatural hand movement. No penalty!”. Shouldn’t one simply take into account the danger of scoring a goal? Would that be doing anyone an injustice, would it offend the sense of justice?
Of course, this applies just as much to foul situations. As much as the whistle is generally blown for attackers, there is one particular scene that is often a source of annoyance, but which, unlike the many others, is often identified as a “clear penalty” and even awarded, which, from a local point of view, does not deserve it.
This recurring scene looks something like this: an attacker enters the penalty area as a result of a well-timed “deadly pass” that has not even been stopped by an offside whistle, and has only the goalkeeper as an opponent – apart from the frantically rushing defenders; so time is still scarce, especially as a defender takes the straight path towards his own goal line to prevent disaster there, with good chances of success –, decides to “play him out” as well, waits for the moment that he goes down, somehow plays the ball past him and uses some obstacle on the ground (in most cases the keeper’s arms) to fall over.
So here it is usually agreed: “that was a clear penalty. There is contact, ball not in play: no alternative.” Here, however, it is argued in such a way, and in a contrary way: it would have to be integrated for the judgement to what extent the striker could have reached the ball at all. Because: that does not interest him at all at the moment he puts it past. “The main thing is that the goalkeeper doesn’t reach it. I wouldn’t either, but nobody cares about that. The main thing is that I find his arms or any other part of his body.” The skilful falling already mentioned.
So it would be quite possible to even lay out certain scenes against the strikers with this method. Here one could clearly impute to the striker that he could not have reached the ball and did not even consider this important. In principle, it is clear from this that it is a “planned” attempt to deceive.