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Professional Foul. Yes or No?

31 January 2010 by

The football “professional foul” is a fairly recent phenomenon. Years ago the prospect of waving a red card at a player for fouling an opponent and ruining a goalscoring opportunity would never have been considered. Now it is common practice and as a consequence more and more matches are finishing with teams having less than 11 players on the field. Is this a good thing? Does such a crime warrant a player being sent off? Are we looking at the full options?

I have long considered that a better rule would serve our game much more consistently and without detrimenting the remainder of the game.

Football is an expensive sport to follow. Admission charges are on the increase, and at a time when the world is developing many others ways in which to spend our money clubs need to be very careful not to price the fans out of the game. For this reason, more than ever before, football needs to entertain the paying spectators. The English league now has an abundance of quality within its ranks, players from all over the world flock to our game. Matches are no longer just games of football but instead are days out for the whole family. The amazing players on show are just part of the package. Pre-match and half time entertainment, huge comfortable stadiums, childrens activities, and corporate niceties are just some of the ways clubs try and make the whole experience ever more enjoying.

Cue the game, ten minutes in, your teams most revered player, a player paid £100,000 a week, tangles with an opposing player near to the penalty area. The referee sees it as a professional foul. The player is sent off.

The game stops. That’s it. All that preparation, all that pre match entertainment to get everyone in the mood and the promise of an amazing spectacle, gone. In ten minutes.

The referee suddenly creates a different game. A game where we expected to see the lavish quality of these players with amazing ability, instead becomes a drab event of 11 players attacking a team of 10, defending behind the ball. The professional foul rule in its current format has once again ruined a football match. All inside 10 minutes. 80 still to play.

In essence the rule is good. I like it. Years ago, denying a player a goal scoring opportuinty and receiving a telling off served no justice to the attacking team. It isn’t the rule that’s the problem, it’s the punishment.

Here’s my solution. In situations where the referee has deamed a professional foul has taken place, by that I mean the decision is to send the player off, we don’t send him off. Instead a penalty is awarded. This means that wherever the offence occurs on the pitch, the goalscoring opportunity is still there. The match stays 11 on 11, the guilty team is punished, the victim is rewarded. At the end of the day, there really is no better goalscoring opportunity than a penalty kick. The whole term “professional foul” suggests that the foul has been committed purely to stop the goal scoring opportunity. By awarding a penalty you negate the crime into one that is not worth making. After all, ask the fans of a team who have just seen their player denied a goal scoring opportunity, what would they rather have? A penalty, or a player sent off and a worthless free kick 25 yards out. Similarly ask the opposing fans what they would rather have? Their team down to 10 men, or facing a penalty kick. Don’t forget, this “professional foul” could have occurred with 5 minutes left. What chance does any team have of making the extra man count in that situation anyway?

On occasions where a goal would have been scored, ie a shot being handled on the line, or a keeper dragging a forward down just as he is gonna knock the ball into an empty net, award a penalty goal. Much like they do in rugby. Once again, the match stays 11 on 11. Once again, the crime is not worth making.

I am keen to punish severity. Over the top tackles, elbows in the face, knee high lunges. That’s when the red card should be used. By introducing a different punishment for less violent attacks, offences that are often nothing more than a tangle of legs, we keep players on the pitch and better punish the crime. The team gets its goal scoring opportunity. The game goes on.

I am growing tired of seeing games that had so much promise ruined by a player being sent off in such circumstances.

Sometimes common sense is just that.

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