Last week the two biggest talking points, certainly as far as refereeing decisions were concerned, took place in the same match. And I missed it. The Preston North End’s FA Cup tie against Manchester United was live on BBC television on Monday evening and I had a meeting to attend. Ah well I thought, you can’t see them all. But then everybody was asking me about these two incidents so I thought I had better catch up. Thank goodness for BBC iPlayer.
Both those decisions concerned England’s captain, Wayne Rooney, although he was the innocent party. As those who did watch it will know, the first incident happened as Rooney was making his way back through the Preston penalty area when team mate, Ander Herrera, fired a shot at goal. The shot was going a little wide of the Preston goalkeeper on his line and could have hit Rooney but he quickly stepped sideways and the ball finished in the back of the Preston goal. Rooney was clearly in an offside position but the BBC’s co-commentator, Martin Keown explained that although he interfered, he had not touched the ball and he had to touch the ball for it to be an offence.
Despite having attended a referees’ course, Keown is getting two offside clauses mixed up. Yes, if Rooney had touched the ball he would have been penalised for interfering with play. But he could have been given offside without touching the ball. The other offside clause is interfering with an opponent and this is described as ‘preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the view of the opponent or challenging for the ball. The question is, did Rooney obstruct the goalkeeper’s view? The replay taken from behind of the goal, shows that the goalkeeper had a clear sight of the kicker and his view was not blocked in any way, so the referee was correct to allow the goal to stand. But, some will say, Rooney’s movement distracted the goalkeeper into diving late. Three year’s ago, the referee would have had to give this consideration but the previous offside offence of ‘making a movement or gesture which, in the opinion of the referee, distracts or deceives the opponent’ was removed in 2013, so the referee no longer has to make those judgements.
Rooney’s second brush with controversy came later in the game when he was following the ball inside the Preston penalty area. The Preston goalkeeper, Thornsten Stuckmann, rushed off his line to challenge Rooney with a two footed tackle. The ball had already gone and Rooney neatly jumped in the air to avoid Stuckmann’s flying feet but tumbled over in the process. Some people made a lot of the fact that the replay showed that Stuckmann did not make contact with Rooney. The Preston boss Simon Grayson was very even handed. ‘I’m not saying it wasn’t a penalty, I am saying there was no contact.’ However there are some witless twitters like former England player Matt le Tissier, who claimed that Rooney didn’t jump to get out the way, but dived to win the spot kick.
It is not the actions of Rooney that matters in this instance, it is the actions of the Preston goalkeeper. There can be no argument that his was a reckless tackle, feet first at speed, with no thought of the danger or consequences for his opponent. Imagine the consequences to Rooney’s ankles had he not been so nimble footed. There are many examples in the Laws where contact is not necessary. Take a player taking a punch at another and missing. The law says ‘Striking or attempting to strike’. It’s the same here. Rooney’s evasive action doesn’t absolve the reckless tackle.