1) A few preliminary considerations
In principle, of course, it is not only a good idea to decide on advantage in certain situations, but it is in itself a matter of course. You only have to imagine this simple situation, where an attacker nevertheless remains in a favourable attacking situation after a clearly recognisable foul play. The referee would have the chance to stop the play but, recognising this “advantage”, does not do so. Free kick would be favourable, but, thanks to the rule to grant the advantage, the situation without free kick is the one the attacking party would prefer. Recognising this, or at least thinking it possible, the referee even signals, as usual of course within tenths of a second. This would be the theory.
The discussion to be opened here now is logically about how the rule is applied and when it is applied. It has already been said more than once that the referees are basically afraid of a goal being scored. This fear is actually a double fear: firstly, that of being to blame for a goal being scored, where it can be proven afterwards that the goal was scored irregularly. Secondly, the fear of scoring a goal – the resistance to this statement is taken into account – which exists simply before the score changes, because it is usually accompanied by an immense shift in the distribution of chances. The term “fear” may be slightly exaggerated, since no question of responsibility arises (“Ref, it’s your fault that we lost”), but the underlying feeling goes back to this simple consideration: no matter what the action, a goal is practically always too high a reward for it or, conversely, too high a penalty for the opponent.
Especially when it happens towards the end of the game. Every goal that changes the tendency, i.e. from a draw to a win or from a deficit to a tie, are the relevant goals towards which there is at least a certain awe. Somewhere in the back of your mind you always think: “Maybe there was something wrong somewhere that I missed? So that it goes back to the first part of that fear or is an interplay.
The referee is “conservative” in a way. Maintaining the score that has been built up over such a long period of time is intuitively more comfortable, safer, than changing it. This accounts for the timidity. As shown elsewhere, it would not only be the task of the referees to take away this timidity – goals are desirable for everyone, except for the very few negatively affected – but could also directly cause the timidity to decrease by itself through a higher number. As soon as more goals were scored, the importance of a single goal would be reduced.
Well, again some preliminary skirmishing, back to the advantage. Two scenes described could possibly be helpful in formulating a statement, perhaps approaching an idea for improvement.
2) Sportsman Marek Mintal
Towards the end of the 2006/2007 season, it happened in an important match for 1. FC Nürnberg that Marek Mintal appeared relatively free and alone in front of the goalkeeper in the middle of the penalty area. Just as he was about to put the ball away, however, he was fouled – obvious to everyone. However, he managed to hold on to the ball and still managed to finish the goal. The ball was brilliantly placed despite the obstruction, but landed at the far post. The game continued – naturally (??) – with a goal kick. The chance was lost, the game lost (or it remained a draw; it was towards the end of the game).
The media verdict was unanimous: if he had fallen, he should have been awarded the penalty. The man in question, Marek Mintal, was a sportsman through and through. He would have felt the foul very well, but saw the huge chance to place the ball successfully in the box anyway. The referee, who was also consulted, had it relatively easy. He related his behaviour to the reasonable application of the advantage rule. He would probably have determined that it was an infringement of the rules. However, since the attacker was able to maintain possession of the ball and would have had a promising finish, he saw no need to award a penalty kick.
Incidentally, the Nuremberg coach at the time, Hans Meier, also commented on the matter. Hans Meier was known for his pithy sayings and fortunately he did not show excessive deference to the representatives of the reporting guild. So the answer came: “What do you actually expect me to say to that? For next time, I will ask him to fall down!”
3) Sportsman Ade Akinbiyi
Incidentally, the scene witnessed from England was completely identical. It was just before the end of the game when then Burnley attacker Ade Akinbiyi got into a similar promising situation in the penalty area. The opponent pulled and tugged at him, bringing him down – clearly against the rules – but Akinbiyi decided to go for the ball anyway, falling, as he could still reach it well. The ball did not go in, and shortly afterwards the game was over and lost for Burnley.
However, immediately after this scene, the disappointed Burnley attacker, stalking off the pitch, could not avoid running into his coach, who presumably sought contact. And even if the specific wording did not become audible, it was clear from gestures and facial expressions what the coach thought of it from his gestural expression, which expressed this rebuke: “Next time you drop, stupid, we’ll get a penalty.”
4) What is an advantage?
These scenes have one thing in common: the strikers clearly had no advantage from the situation. This statement stands, without ifs and buts, and there is simply nothing to shake about it, regardless of the fact that the reactions naturally expressed it.
At the same time, everyone could testify that in both cases the finish lost its effectiveness and precision due to the obvious and irregular obstruction. Both strikers, rather obliged to a pure sense of honour, but also, according to the media, did not indulge in the pronounced and exaggerated falling addiction (remember: the media literally hunt down the swallow kings). A very honourable approach. However, in both cases they did not benefit but suffered disadvantages. This is evidenced by the coaches’ comments (reactions), among other things. Whether the penalties would have ended up in the goal remains to be seen.
Another common feature: It was recognised in the general judgement (Hans Meier put it in a nutshell) that the strikers’ correct action in reality would have been not to continue playing after the obstruction but to make it clear that under these circumstances they could no longer manage a promising finish. Then their “advantage” would have been obvious. The decision would have been inevitable: Penalty. As noted elsewhere, there is never really a situation in the game that comes close to a penalty kick in terms of the size of the goal-scoring opportunity.
Here, however, the question may very well be asked which behaviour and which scenes of play one would like to see, which ones one would like to promote and which ones one would like to ban from the playgrounds. The trapping demanded by the ridiculous interpretation of the rules, to which the attackers would almost be forced by the senseless, wrong way of interpreting the rules in order to get the better chance of scoring by penalty kick, should in any case not be desirable. In principle, it would be tantamount to a swallow if one fell although one did not have to (as in both cases mentioned).
As a standard situation, a penalty would also not be the ideal solution for the game scene. Sometimes it is the only solution. But apart from that, a fighting and fair player, who gives everything and is not even remotely interested in unsportsmanlike conduct or taking advantage of any scenes and their consequences, who fights to the death in the true sense of the word, is what one would like to see. However, it is precisely this sporting spirit that is violated by such an application of the rule, and more than severely.
5) The alternative proposal
The current rules and their application are generally viewed critically here. If a rule is questioned in such a critical way, one should of course always have an alternative solution at hand in order to eliminate the recognised grievance. Otherwise it would be: “Anyone can complain. But do better?”
The player would then actually have an advantage if he were given credit for having the honourable intention of trying to put the ball in the goal despite an obstruction. The foul play was recognised – as per common application by the ref by gesturing “I saw it, but play on” while pointing both arms forward — play continues until possession is lost or the ball ends up in the goal (by which, however, it is also lost; the opponent has “taken a knock-on”).
However, if the ball is lost, the action is still penalised according to the rules. With a free kick or, if in the direct vicinity of the goal (the area is usually called the “penalty area” for a good reason in the past). The referee, by the way, would not have succeeded in making it appear that he had not recognised something that was not in accordance with the rules. The indicating gesture was visible.
In the examples, the strikers should have tried to finish the ball, that is sporting, fair and desirable as an action, and afterwards the referee would still have the chance to punish the previously recognised foul play.
Certainly, the similarity with ice hockey, from which this rule is borrowed, is recognised here. But since it is a very sensible rule, one should not be ashamed to simply adopt it. Because it could also help to prevent a lot of foul play beforehand. The player violating the rule would realise that either a goal-scoring opportunity or even a goal would be created despite his foul play, or alternatively, even if the ball is lost to the attacker, the subsequent free kick could create another moment of danger. Surely that must be desirable? Fewer fouls, more chances to score, more goals. And if a chance was prevented by a violation of the rules, there would be a clearly increased chance for the attackers to score. Either the goal straight away or later the second chance, via free kick or penalty. At least you keep the ball and at least it’s subordinate to the basic idea of “crime don’t pay”: Crime doesn’t pay, so it’s better not to foul. Who could actually disagree with that?
The practical application would actually be quite simple. The gesture, which is already used today to indicate an advantage, would signal the seen foul play as a substitute (sure, he already does it today, only there is no turning back for the referee after letting the ball go on) and, as soon as the ball lands with the opponent – be it many seconds later – it would still be penalised according to its severity. There might even be the additional case that a later violation of the rules, after the foul has been recognised and the ball has been allowed to run on, results in an even more favourable position for a free kick, but even then the advantage is recognised and play continues. Now, if the ball is lost later, the referee would have two free-kick positions at his disposal and would naturally choose the more dangerous one (closer to the goal).
The rule, simplified and formulated as follows: “If the referee recognises a violation of the rules, he shall indicate this by an agreed hand signal. If the team in possession of the ball loses the ball later or at the same time, a free kick is awarded from the place where the infringement occurred. In the penalty area, the decision is: penalty kick.”
This rule would be universally applicable. It would be a further contribution to banning unsportsmanlike conduct from the football pitch, which could ensure a general increase in (neutral) fan interest. More justice perhaps the central headline here.
6) Barcelona – Arsenal
Here, with pleasure, another example of a curious decision that may never have been examined for its exact causes and, in principle, its implications. In the 2008 Champions League final, Arsenal London met FC Barcelona. From a German point of view, of course, it was also interesting because Jens Lehmann was Arsenal’s goalkeeper. However, he became an anti-hero very early and quite involuntarily. When after a few minutes a Barca attacker was free, Lehmann had to leave his goal to prevent the worst. He succeeded in the sense that he brought down the striker – highly unsporting and not only against the rules – but he managed this, one is inclined to say, feat outside the penalty area. The ball, which then bounced somewhere, fell directly at the feet of another Barca man and he had little trouble putting the ball into the orphaned goal. So far, so good.
The tense whistle-blower, for his part, also had a view of the scene, a reflex and a set of rules that he would be prepared to rely on at any time, even if an application or interpretation of a rule went wrong. However, despite all the criticism, one must not forget that a man appointed to such a game is probably one of the best representatives of his guild. He saw Jens Lehmann’s rude intervention and – here comes the author’s presumptuous interpretation – had spotted a favourable opportunity to interrupt the game immediately (in brackets, of course, is the fact that not only did Jens Lehmann pull the emergency brake, but the whistle man also pulled out the last of all possible stops, his kind of emergency brake, a whistle that at least ensured that the ball would not immediately hit the goal, which could then no longer be disallowed under any circumstances).
So he whistled. Now that he realised the extent of the catastrophe – because he had just killed a clear goal with his really rash whistle-blowing – there was only one form of justification left to him in order not to lose face completely in front of the world watching the spectacle (yes, a Champions League final is watched, everywhere): He showed Jens Lehmann the red card. The accompanying justification goes something like this: With such a bad foul, I have to whistle immediately, there is nothing else. And I underline this with the immediate and energetic rubbing of the red card under the nose. So everyone sees that I had a decent reason to interrupt.
Now let’s think about this scene one more time after the introduction of the small rule modification: The referee has no reason to blow the whistle immediately, no, one would actually have to say he shouldn’t at all. He must first see how the scene develops. He could very well raise his arm to indicate the recognised infringement. Then the Barca man would get the ball, push it into the empty goal and the goal would count.
The score would be 1:0. Now he could continue to punish the foul. Since the recognised goal might also make the Barca players a little more merciful – after all, they don’t really want much more than to score a goal? – the punishment could well be a yellow without causing any particular damage. Of course, such a “concession decision” could also be discussed, especially why it should be suggested in the first place. It is to be understood here as a concession.
What would have been the great harm? The world would have seen a goal, the game would have gone on in regulation with the score at 1-0 with 11 men against 11. So we saw a game with 11 against 10 at 0:0. Even if one may call this exciting (after trailing in the meantime, Barca won 2-1) : Aren’t goals basically the salt in the soup?