This weekend was matchday 26 in the Premier League and featured what should have been the game of the weekend, a top four clash between two of the hottest teams in English football, Liverpool and Tottenham. It was a game that should have been decided by a moment of supreme skill, when Mohamed Salah danced between three Tottenham defenders and lifted the ball over the keeper – easily my vote for goal of the season. But instead of a moment of skill, the match was decided by a moment, by two moments, of trickery and deceit.
For the first, Harry Kane stood in an offside position. Dejan Lovren took a swipe at a ball played through to Kane in an offside position and maybe got the slightest touch. He wasn’t trying to pass the ball backward, he was trying to clear the ball. But Lovren being Lovren, he failed. Kane, in an offside position, ran at the ball, the Liverpool keeper, Karius, had no choice but to come out and try to claim, and Kane seeing the keeper coming out, then kicked the ball well away from his ability to control and began his dive. Karius made himself as small as possible, but Kane, knowing that he needed contact to draw the foul, kicked Karius with his trailing leg. Just a touch, but hey, a touch is all it takes these days.
I was wondering the same thing so I got you a copy from somewhere. pic.twitter.com/BOaKeuD1J2
— Ali Khan (@khanalimuhammad) February 4, 2018
Moss blew up for the penalty and Kane stepped up to take. There was a sense of justice done when Kane’s penalty was saved but it wasn’t really justice done, since in my book, there never should have been a penalty allowed because Kane was offside and if you allow play to go on (incorrectly) then Kane should have gotten a yellow card for what was easily the dive of the season.
A few minutes later, Jon Moss blew up for a second penalty! This one even more tenuous than the last! Here we had Lamela in an offside position, and Liverpool’s £75m defender looks like he’s going to clear the ball, but actually tries to pull out of the clearance. His foot touches Lamela, Lamela goes down as if shot, and Jon Moss awards Tottenham a penalty. This time Harry Kane scores and celebrates the goal as if his team had done something well deserved and not at all the most shameful thing you could do as a sportsman.
The laws of the game have a ton of room for interpretation. In fact, almost all of them invite the referee to interpret the intent of the players. Handball? Must be intentional. Kicking someone? It’s not necessarily a foul, unless you’re careless, reckless, or use excessive force. Virgil van Dijk, by the very act of trying NOT to kick Lamela proves to me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he took great care. A full kick is careless, seeing the opponent and then kicking him is reckless, and going in with a massive roundhouse to try to kick the ball out of play is excessive force. Seeing your opponent in the middle of a kick and pulling out of the kick as much as you can? That’s using a great deal of care. So, this literally can’t be a penalty for me.
I’m no Liverpool supporter, I’ve seen them get the benefit of diving footballers as well. One time at Anfield, I watched as Luis Suarez did the exact same move, kicking the ball out of play at the exact moment he initiated a dive and kicked out at Szczesny to fake the contact. Suarez, however, to his great credit, also rolled around on the ground and even took his shin pad off to try to show that there was contact. In that match Szczesny also saved the penalty. Justice was done.
Mark Clattenburg, who is a sometimes controversial figure but who refused to sign a gag order when he left officiating in England, said he wouldn’t have given either penalty since they were both offside but stopped short of calling Kane a diver – instead absolving Kane by saying that there was contact. And he then a few seconds later says that the contact on Lamela wasn’t hard enough for him but that he knows why Moss gave the penalty – because he had to publicly support his assistant, who was the one who called the foul. Clattenburg claiming contact was enough in one situation but not in the other is actually perfect, because that’s how the Laws of the Game work!
The PGMOL, which is the worst acronym in history and stands for Professional Game Match Officials Limited, however disagree with me and with Mark Clattenburg. They went all in for Moss. Their statement is almost hilarious.
“Jon Moss was in a good position to see that a Liverpool player deliberately played the ball before it fell to Harry Kane in the penalty area. he then correctly judged that Kane was fouled by Loris Karius.” Their spokesman continues: “However, given the speed of the attack he was uncertain of the identity of the Liverpool player who kicked the ball. Eddie Smart, having identified that Kane was in an offside position, correctly sought clarification on whether Dejan Lovren had deliberately played the ball.”
“His question created some momentary confusion when Eddie asked if Lovren had touched the ball. Moss knew a Liverpool player had touched the ball but not that it was Lovren. He then asked a question to his fourth official, Martin Atkinson and acknowledges that referencing ‘TV’ was misguided. Atkinson did not reply to the question and so had no involvement in the decision. Having properly reflected on the questions asked, Jon knew that a Liverpool player, now identified as Lovren, had played the ball and that no offside offence had occurred. He then awarded the penalty. For the avoidance of doubt, Atkinson did not view a television monitor and did not relay any information to the on-field officials.”
This is an incredible insight into the laws of the game. I always thought that if a player was in the offside position and was interfering with play that he was offside. But now we are told by the PGMOL, the people in charge of the laws of the game in England, that players can and probably SHOULD stand in an offside position at all times, they should interfere with play as much as possible, because if a defender even remotely touches the ball, that offside player is now ONSIDE.
We are also now informed by PGMOL that any touch on an attacking player is now grounds for a foul. Even if the contact is actually initiated by the diving player, who was diving well before the contact, and who admits later that “I felt contact and I went down. I’m not going to jump out of the way because it’s football.”
In other words “I cheated but it’s ok because there was some slight contact, which I drew by dragging my leg across the keeper, and I’m not going to jump out of the contact, even though that would mean that I was 100% through on goal, because it’s football”.
Look, I’ve long ago given up on rooting out diving in football. It was Wayne Rooney who taught me many years ago that this play – where you kick the ball out of play and simultaneously fall over to draw the contact – is a foul and that it’s a good foul. So, no matter how clearly a player dives, if there is any contact it could be given as a foul. It’s up to the interpretation of the individual referee – it’s subjective.
This subjectivity is also what makes VAR such a raging failure. I think many people wanted VAR to come in and give us some objectivity to the laws of the game. I was one of them. I thought that if the officials just saw the game the same way that I did – through the lens of the television camera – that we could agree that Kane was offside and that he was looking for contact in that play which he actually drew by his own actions of throwing himself to the ground.
But what I forgot was that the laws of the game are almost completely subjective. The only objective laws are the ones where the ball goes out of play or crosses the goal line. Everything else is in the interpretation – is a player offside? Depends. Maybe a defender tried to clear a ball, maybe the attacking player was offside but wasn’t “interfering” with the play. Handball? That requires intent. The official has to decide if the defender intended to touch the ball or not. Contact? Is it a foul? Maybe, but only if it is reckless, careless, with excessive force, happens to an English player in the act of diving, or pretty much anything else that the officials want to call, or don’t want to call!
It’s kind of the perfect Catch-22. Whatever the referee decides is literally the right call, because the laws of the game are subjective. Just to be perfectly clear, this means that my interpretation (that Kane dived and was offside interfering with play and that Virgil van Dijk’s kick was very careful) is also unassailably correct. As is your interpretation. However you saw it is also correct. However Jon Moss saw it is correct. However Mark Clattenburg saw it is correct! Virgil van Dijk is right. Jurgen Klopp is right. Everyone is right!
That’s why VAR isn’t working for people. They expect things to be “correct” meaning that they expect the laws of the game to be interpreted their own way and as PGMOL, the match officials, the ex-officials, and I have just proven, there is no one way to correctly interpret the laws of the game. It’s all 100% subjective. So, feel free to argue your interpretation of any action on the pitch, you’re correct. But just remember that I’m also just as right as you are.
These are the Laws of the Game.