It would bound to happen. You keep hitting a pinata, it’s bound to break. You keep shaking a bottle of soda and eventually, it’s bound to explode. You keep abusing referees and one day, they’re bound to react. That’s exactly what happened and it culminated in Darren Drysdale reacting.
Of course, it wasn’t the Zinedine Zidane on Marco Materazzi-esque headbutt that many on the interweb were claiming with it more a tensed stoop or locking of heads with the player. And it all came after he, Drysdale, did not see Alan Judge being fouled by Northampton’s Peter Kioso as a foul which lead to everything. That foul would have conceded a penalty which would have won the game for Ipswich Town and it saw Judge react.
On the same night, Kylian Mbappe was wowing the world with his heroics at the Camp Nou, this was taking place at Portman Road and the funny thing is, nobody was surprised. Not one person, footballer or even those that surf the internet because everyone expected this to happen. Because, whether people like it or not, the red mist tends to descend and take over all of us although given the abuse referees get, many are surprised that it doesn’t happen even more.
There are rules to be followed and the Professional Game Match Officials Limited enforces them with an iron fist but even then, the amateur game is rife with incidents like this. Less so in the professional game but eventually everyone breaks and loses their temper, which is why a few fans or even footballers were shocked at Darren Drysdale’s reaction. Not even the midfielder he reacted against.
Especially since that very weekend, Mike Dean had asked to be removed from the referee’s lineup because of the death threats and abuse he received following a red card to Tomas Soucek. But that’s beside the point because in all reality few people were actually shocked at the fact that either incident happened because, in the age of the social media world, football has joined in.
Now instead of just getting abused by the fans and players within the confines of the stadium, the referees are forced to deal with it from across the world via the internet. And all for what? Because they follow the letter of the law which has only been made worse by the VAR. It was supposed to be a game-changer especially after its implementation in the Champions League the year before. But then the warning signs have always been there especially after the technologies catastrophe at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019.
Yet, IFAB, the FA, FIFA and everyone else assured the world that they had made tweaks to the system, sorted out the chinks in the armour and made something close to perfect. That was until the season started and the decisions started flying in from left, right and center. From offside decisions based on the finest of fine margins, to handballs that had no reason to be given as handballs, or even the record number of penalties given.
That simply increased the abuse, the hate and even saw many showcase rather creative banners as their way of saying, get VAR out of the league. That wasn’t just the case in England but across the world with even the A-League having serious issues with the technology. There have been many looking into the issue and some, like Greg O’Rourke, believe “The problem with VAR is not the technology itself but its subjectivity.”
Whereas former referee Peter Walton believes, “It’s the law” and Walton might have just hit the hammer on the nail and driven right to the point. The laws of football created to game shape and structure to an otherwise rowdy game between people. Every sport needs its laws to help keep the game fair and true to the very nature of sportsmanship but in football, the laws have changed the entire game especially in the advent of the modern era.
It started with the goal-line technology but that was a simple decision and created no big issue around the world but the VAR is a different thing. What it does is magnify the problems with football’s laws, that have so many grey areas that it makes no sense for the referees to wear black. Take the handball rule that has been changed about a billion times this season and it has brought about some results.
But there is that lingering question because if there’s no clarity as to what is a handball and what isn’t, then does the rule actually make any sense? The same goes for a penalty and you can clearly see a change in the laws as this season has especially in the last few months starting with the controversial decision to award David Luiz a red card. While there was contact, no matter how soft or who hit whom, things have changed with two similar decisions not getting red cards.
Jan Bednarek vs Manchester United was an eerily similar decision, as compared to the Luiz incident, but in this case, the Southampton defender’s red card was turned over and rescinded. Nobody knows exactly why the Saints’ appeal was successful and why Arsenal’s wasn’t with no clear clarification given especially when the two defenders made similar challenges.
The penalties have still been given, as we witnessed in the Champions League after Frenkie de Jong hit the floor, but the red cards haven’t been. Whether that’s down to subjectivity or something else at play, football’s laws have made it easy to inject an ounce of subjectivity into said decisions. The same goes for Mike Dean awarding a red against Tomas Soucek for what looked like an innocuous arm raising with no intent.
Even Aleksandar Mitrovic who hit the floor dramatically regretted his decision to do just that and, reportedly, told the referee that it wasn’t a foul. But in the laws of a game any contact, intentional or not, on a fellow player is grounds for violent conduct and thus deserves a red card. Which Mike Dean awarded although it has since been turned over and there you get even more problems. Because as Peter Walton stated, “It’s the law” and Dean had no choice but to award a red card.
That brings about grey areas, which leads to decisions being made based on the said laws, which leads to controversies, which leads to referee abuse which leads to explosive reactions. Why on earth does football need all this extra drama in a game that is filled with, week in and week out, enough drama to fuel a Shonda Rhimes show for centuries? Sure, the added drama makes the game far more marketable and easier to advertise as the most dramatic sport available but at what cost?
Although, FIFA tends to disagree with this with their spokesperson telling Sky Sports earlier last week that, “FIFA is overall very satisfied with how VAR is used around the world. It is a fact that VAR has ultimately led to a significant increase in correct decisions and this is something FIFA is both pleased about and proud of.” Football’s governing body and IFAB are set to met during IFAB’s annual general meeting on March 5th although no law changes related to VAR will be proposed at the meeting.
Instead, FIFA will be showcasing how to make the VAR more affordable and provide cost-efficient technologies to help introduce this tech across the world. Instead, shouldn’t they at least consider trying to tweak, change and maybe even completely re-write football’s laws, to help make jobs easier and make the law far more clearer? There should be no grey areas, no room for a player to dive and get a penalty, no room for a clear and obvious error and especially no room when it comes to penalties.
The footballing world is obsessed with the penalty and that is partly because the laws behind it, at the moment, are weird, iffy and definitely not clear. Change that and the entire game changes because, at the moment, the only thing that dominates the post-match talk is the refereeing controversies. When there really aren't any.