Should the retrospective ban rules be revisited?
By Joe Harker
With all the modern technology in football it is getting harder for players to dupe the referee. Even if none of the match officials saw an incident it can still be viewed and judged on replays, occasionally leading to a retrospective ban for the offending player. Just because you avoided the ref's gaze during the game it doesn't mean you can get off scot free, there are plenty of cameras pointed at the pitch and they will see what you're doing. Diving and foul play is getting harder to do without the risk of punishment.
However, players can still get away with plenty and avoid punishment if the referee spots them but doesn't award a card. If the ref gives a foul then in all but the most serious of circumstances there will not be retrospective disciplinary action as it would override the match official's decision.
In recent weeks there have been a few contentious moments where most watching think the referees got it wrong and failed to adequately discipline a player. Plenty of fans have been left to wonder why a player who gets caught out by the replays might face a retrospective ban when those who are spotted by the ref but given a lenient decision get away with it, particularly when replays show how severe the incident was.
In the Premier League game between Newcastle United and Manchester United an incident where Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey made a studs up challenge into the back of Paul Pogba's leg. Replays showed that Shelvey should have been given a red card for his challenge but since the referee gave a foul and a free kick he will get away with it.
Everyone who watches the replay of the incident can see that Shelvey deserved more than a stern talking to but since the ref didn't give anything more serious in the heat of the moment he won't get anything. If the referee has dealt with the matter on the pitch then that decision is judged to be final. At the moment retrospective bans are there for the things the officials miss.
The Guardian's Daniel Taylor wrote about the incident and asked whether refereeing decisions out to be looked at with a more critical eye. Referees can make mistakes during the course of the game and retrospective bans for challenges that really should have seen a player walk aren't too intrusive on their authority on the pitch.
It's easy for a referee to spot a foul and not realise how severe it was from one perspective, only seeing the full extent from post match replays. There's a balance to be struck between respecting the referee's decisions and applying the rules of the game in situations where it is clear a card should have been shown.
Late last year a clash between Arsenal's Stephan Lichtsteiner and Liverpool's Sadio Mane also raised the issue. Replays showed the Arsenal defender hit Mane with his elbow, leading the Liverpool forward to put his hands around Lichtsteiner's throat. Neither player received a card and once again they will not face retrospective action because the referee saw it and dealt with it during the match.
There are also debates over the way referees officiate games to try and keep every player on the pitch. During Manchester City's crucial 2-1 win against Liverpool a foul and yellow card early in the game for City captain Vincent Kompany really ought to have been a red, which would have put City down to 10 men and had a huge impact on one of the most important games of the season. Again, the referee made a decision which cannot be altered as he already dealt with it on the pitch. Where's the line between enforcing the rules of the game properly and undermining those who do that job?