Tackling with feet off the ground risks a sending off
One particular foul that has stirred controversy again this season is what I call the ‘flying tackle’. It is often referred to as a two footed tackle but it can be committed with only one foot leading the way. What has added fuel this season is the fact that at least two players at Premier League clubs have had their suspensions rescinded after appealing against their sending off for this offence. I’m often asked has there been a change in the law. The answer is no but of course individual fouls like this aren’t mentioned in the actual Laws of the Game. The relevant part of the Law says that a player who commits serious foul play must be sent off and it is the Interpretation of the Laws and Guidance for Referees, which appears in the back of the book, which focuses on particular fouls. Here it tells referees that ‘any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent, is guilty of serious foul play. So it must be remembered that what is at stake here is the safety of players. Accidents do happen in football, look at the two players in the England v Holland international last week who went to head the same ball and finished up heading one another. What we are talking about here though, is the unnecessary and perhaps even deliberate endangering of an opponents safety. The excessive force that the law talks about comes from the speed of the tackle, so this particular type of foul is almost always committed with a player running or jumping in from a distance. What is more, once the player has launched himself, lunges as the book calls it, he will have both feet off the ground and therefore has no control over his movement. He can’t pull out of the tackle or stop his forward movement towards the opponent and this is what makes it so dangerous, particularly as it almost certainly means that the player will be leading studs first. . A few years ago there was separate advice given to the Select referees of the Premier League, which was as follows; ‘when a player goes in at pace with feet off the ground, the referee should always award a free kick. If the tackle makes no contact then a yellow card should be issued. If there is contact with the opponent then it should be a red card.’ Whether that still stands I don’t know as the Premier League referees now have new chief but new man, Mike Riley, recently said to clubs and players, ‘if you commit a tackle at speed, with intensity, by and large with two feet off the ground, you run the risk of being sent-off’. It seems so simple with all this advice, so why has there been disputes and referees decisions overturned. It is all down to what the referees sees from his position at the time. When the tackle is shown from another angle on television replays it sometimes gives a different view of what actually happened. Recently, Mike Riley invited representatives of the Professional Footballers Association and the League Managers Association to view examples of tackles on DVD. The discussion over one tackle alone lasted an hour. There were arguments for it being reckless which is a yellow card and others for it being excessive force but in the end the stronger case was for red. But it just shows that these decisions aren’t always as easy or clear cut as people may think and we have to remember that the referee, with the instruction to protect players in his mind, has only seconds to make up his mind and take action.