This section here is intended to be a preliminary consideration of a fundamental nature, dealing with the question of a real “punishment”, the purpose of which is to actually banish certain breaches of the rules from annoying everyday football by making the punishment more severe…
In order to break a child of a certain, undesirable behaviour – as a family father you know comparatively well what you are talking about – there is a method that is often used, but usually not with overly great effect: come to the child with reason. “You must realise that…” or “if everyone behaved like you, then…” or even “think about it, this isn’t right.” As I said, the rather ineffective attempts. One appeals to reason, sense, sense of honour, whatever, and thus puts the child on a par with a (supposedly) reasonable adult. Occasionally – depending on age and previously established authority – there may even be small partial successes here or there, but on the whole it usually proves to be useless. The children test their limits, they want to find out not only what is really not allowed and what can cause serious harm, but also how much the person threatening the punishment is suited to take on this role for the child. So it has a lot to do with credibility.
Insofar as one is very seriously interested in breaking the habit of a certain behaviour, in enforcing a certain rule, it is necessary here and there to operate with real punishments. There are two very essential stages in this: The first is the threat of punishment, the second is the imposition of punishment. It makes no sense – although it is quite common in practice – to threaten a penalty and then not implement it in the event of a violation of the requirement. One loses credibility and is guaranteed to have a harder time enforcing what was intended the second time around in the same way. From the third time onwards, it becomes correspondingly more difficult even with regard to any other introduction of rules, as the application of the punishment is generally doubted. It may even be that the child goes even more overboard than before, because as an educator one has the obligation to fulfil the educational mandate. This results in a certain disorientation of the child, so to speak, for which one is basically responsible.
However, it is equally pointless to impose a punishment without first threatening it. The child cannot make a direct connection between the misbehaviour and the punishment. The reaction will be perceived injustice, which will only lead to rejection later on and yet to doubts about the measures of the punisher, which cannot make sense at all.
Transferring all this to football results in a simple conclusion: which behaviours seem appropriate, correct or within the bounds, which ones would you like to get rid of, would you like to see seen. If there is agreement that one does not want to see an emergency stop, it would be necessary to find a penalty that discourages the emergency brakeman from using it.
To give a practical example: On the first matchday at the 1996 European Championships, the Croatian Vlaovic broke through alone in the last minute against Turkey (after their corner kick). The last man, Alpay, had the chance to stop the opponent with an emergency stop shortly behind the halfway line. It should have been a bone-crushing tackle, but he could have managed it. Everyone, including the Turkish coach, saw that. Vlaovic finished, scored 1-0 and the game was over.
The discussions that followed are what might now cause a stir or what gives this example the mention here — and thus the reader the opportunity for reflection. The Turkish player Alpay was praised and ennobled by the world for fairness. The Turkish coach complained to Alpay and then left him on the bench. Alpay later received the Fair Play Award.
When you think about it, you can start to have considerable doubts about the meaning of sport and success, about ideas of morality and ethics, about football rules and about fair play.
First of all, Alpay did what should be a matter of course. Of course you don’t foul, especially you don’t make an emergency stop, pretty much the basest thing imaginable: You deny your opponent his own hero status through an illegal action, even if it is only a well-deserved goal. That simply has to be a matter of course. The fact that the recognisable possibility of an unfair action is mentioned at all is almost an absurdity, but it speaks volumes for the conception of long-vanished notions of honour that a John Wayne once perhaps embodied in the ideal. That the foul required could even have meant serious injury to the opponent – which is certainly not the case in all such cases – only makes matters worse. That there should be a fair-play award for not committing a gross, quite bad absolutely inhuman, thuggish, mean, nasty attack, makes one finally throw all doubts overboard: Moral standards have degenerated. There is no such thing as fair play. It’s just ridiculous, embarrassing, exposing. Alpay did the right thing, no ifs, ands or buts. His coach made a mistake. Turkey was unlucky. But FIFA? They made a fool of themselves without having the slightest idea. Embarrassing. Fair play is a failure to apply the emergency brake?
But if you think about this scene and the discussions further, something else comes to light that might have remained hidden at first glance: He should have made this emergency stop to force the goal. The established view is that if he had done so, he would have helped Turkey to a 0-0 draw. It is almost unquestionable. For: the rules provide for the following penalties: Turkish defender Alpay receives an outright red card. Emergency stop or rough foul play or both, unquestionably. He has to go down. Ouch, what a “penalty”! For 30 seconds they have to play with less players! How can they cope with that? But the Croatians would have had a great chance to score: A direct (!) free kick directly behind the halfway line, i.e. already in the opponent’s half! The statistics prove it: Such a gigantic opportunity easily reaches the per mille range!
Thus, it is easy to follow up on the introductory words and the chapter title: What is a penalty? Or: How can players get rid of undesirable behaviour? Surely there must simply be a level of punishment that is sufficient to break the childish tendency to repeat the behaviour, to use it at all?
The whole thing is transferable to every action on the pitch. An opponent who is being played around will foul again and again, of course not badly, always only by holding or tugging on the jersey or falling down himself, but that happens to be right in front of the feet or in the way. Not at all worthy of a yellow, no, of course not. A simple foul. But one thing is certain: the defender knows what he is doing. And he also knows why he is doing it.
What is he doing? He fouls. There is no compromise. Before he lets the opponent go? Well, you’d have to listen to the other players! Why does he do it? Because the benefit is greater than the harm. That’s how it will always be. This is how far the media have brought us – pardon me, 5 euros in our own phrase bank, which will later be emptied with constant stirring over the ocean of charity and humanity -: everything that brings success is good and right. Any thought of honour is forever (?) banished from thought and feeling. Long live the winner! Down with the underdog! What does Robben, that creep you just can’t stop, also have such terrible glass bones that he has to be carried off again for a very simple blood stomp from behind? “If you really hit him, he’ll go down. And without it, they’re only worth half!” That’s the way it is!
The resulting demand is clear: a penalty would actually have to be a penalty. If a tactical foul makes sense because it brings benefits, then the punishment would have to be harsher so that it is no longer worthwhile. After all, who doesn’t want to see the promising counterattack that is just initiated after losing the ball, but instead a yellow card and a ridiculous free kick from their own half that simply has nothing whatsoever to do with goal danger or the previous situation?
By the way, a foul just before the penalty line is also a good deal. You didn’t risk the penalty, you fouled the striker who had broken through just in time, but of course not in a manner worthy of a red card, the goal-scoring opportunity that was exchanged is much smaller and the person who might have been given a yellow card is replaced immediately afterwards if necessary.
No, the rethink applies to all areas. The media have the chance, apart from celebrating winners and despising losers, to highlight an unfair action and make it recognisable as undesirable. They have the chance to make it more difficult for the perpetrators because of the reactions they reap. But those responsible for the rules also have the chance to seriously consider which behaviour they want to stop and which they want to legalise. The spectators, too, have their say by voicing their displeasure – even if only live in the stadium – with certain actions (out with the air: whistle). And even the players could reintroduce certain terms of honour among themselves. They are all in the same boat, playing with each other one season, against each other the next, why not reach agreement on which means should, can, may be used for success? As soon as a little focus is put on it, from all sides, this way of thinking and acting could take hold again. Because: It was like this before. And everything really was better in the past. Even the future.
If you take the whole example of children further, then the “testing boundaries” part also has its meaning. Players also always push the limits when it comes to judging legality and illegality. Whether this is desirable or not remains to be seen. If the severity of a certain offence is not punished once, then the limit is automatically pushed back a little further in the next attempt. As a player, you think: “If he doesn’t penalise the slight push, then it’s possible that he won’t blow the whistle for the slightly stronger push either.” So the boundaries are constantly being tested – and pushed backwards.
One (further) example of this is the throw-in, one the handball. Both make the above statement vivid. With the throw-in, there was once a realisation in the 80s that the throw-in was gaining metres. There was a spot where the ball went out of bounds. The thrower rushed after the ball rolling in his direction of attack (there used to be only one ball), grabbed it and even ran diagonally back to the line of play, and then ran several metres forward, always hinting at the throw-in. This often resulted in more than 10 metres by which the regular throw-in was postponed.
The rule makers wanted to put an end to this and wrote into the rules the passage that the throw-in had to be taken exclusively and exactly at the point where the ball had crossed the line. Penalty for infringement: Change of the throw-in party, the opponent gets it. Now the years went by. At first, the players behaved very well, because they were afraid – see kindergarten — that the rule would actually be applied. Sometimes you could even see a player asking the referee for the exact location so as not to run the risk of breaking the rule (if this procedure is used today – the attentive reader will have noticed right away – then it only serves to stall for time; you know exactly where it was, but you point again and again to indicate an intended conformity with the rule, “but take quite a few seconds off the clock”, according to the reporter’s German).
More years passed. At some point it occurred to someone that the rule was not actually being applied. The penalty was threatened, yes, but maybe the referees forgot at some point what it was for penalties that are rarely if ever called? The first player tries again with half a metre to spare. The second thinks to himself, “if he doesn’t whistle at half a metre, he probably won’t at a whole one either?” So the line is pushed further and further out. The rule doesn’t really exist any more, because it is not applied. But more importantly, the players almost have the right to do so. It is a kind of customary right that creeps in. Because, quite honestly: If an overzealous whistle-blower were to blow the whistle today for a throw-in position rule violation of one metre, the “punished” would have every right to be upset. Because: “Not only yesterday did someone scrape 6 metres and go unpunished, today I am being punished for one metre? That’s not right and it’s incorrect.” That’s right.
The same applies to holding the ball when a goalkeeper is teeing off. I think the current rule is that the goalkeeper is allowed to hold the ball for 6 seconds before he has to leave his hand again. One should turn on the stopwatch to see exactly how many seconds the biggest time-wasters get. But the whistle blows after 8 seconds? That’s not possible. Because the last time one of them lasted 9 seconds. Common law in kindergarten.