Some years ago, I wrote an article for the Football Referee Magazine in which I explained how I judged if a tackle for the ball was fair. If the tackler played the ball and the opponent then went over his outstretched leg, I said this was a fair tackle. If however, the tackler caught his opponent before touching the ball then it was a foul. Whether a coincidence or not, my wording appeared in the revised Laws of the Game for the following season. They no longer appear in the Laws however and to be fair, it was just too simple.
The fact that a player plays the ball first, does not always make it a fair tackle. There are times when a player plays the ball first but then brings down his opponent with his trailing leg making it a foul.
I was reminded of this when watching the pulsating Everton v Stoke City match on television, which was decided by a last minute penalty. Everton manager Roberta Martinez said in the post match interview on Match of the Day that for Mark Clattenburg to get such a decision wrong was unacceptable and had cost them at least a draw. However we saw on the television, Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic dribbling the ball past Everton full back, John Stones, in the Everton penalty area. Stones stretched out his leg touching the ball. So far good but he then brought his other leg round, bringing Arnautovic to the ground.
Clattenburg’s decision was correct but the pundits in the Match of the Day Studio, including the ever righteous Alan Shearer, agreed with the Everton manager, claiming it was because Stones used his ‘wrong’ leg to make the tackle. After all these years, it seems unbelievable that the Match of the Day producers still haven’t found a way of having such decisions explained by someone who knows what he is talking about.