Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Four-Four-Two's fan-question interviews with football stars are rarely worth reading, but there was a gem in this month's chat with Thierry Henry.

During the World Cup, late in the Round of 16 match against Spain, Henry took what many considered to be an outrageous dive. Spain and Barcelona defender Carlos Puyol charged in front of Henry in the scramble for a loose ball and made contact with Henry's chest as he went by. It was a borderline foul, but it certainly didn't merit Henry's crashing to the floor clutching his face (not his chest) in agony. The resulting free kick led to France's second goal in a 3-1 win.

Henry had a previous with Puyol. The defender had more or less kicked him out of the Champions League final six weeks earlier, but Henry siad at the time that he had not fallen down because he was not "a woman". The new interview quotes him as saying that during the CL final he actually asked the ref to call Puyol's fouls only to be told by the ref that he couldn't do so because Henry "hadn't fallen down".

This is interesting. What, exactly, is a player supposed to do when a ref doesn't call the game according to the rules? The Laws of the Game are pretty clear on this point: fouls occur when a player kicks an opponent. Period (see previous post for more details). Whether the player who kicked meant to do so is irrelevant. Whether the player who was on the receiving end of the kick falls over is irrelevant, too.

So, Henry put up with Puyol's shin-scraping techniques for something like 160 minutes over two matches without the ref in either match choosing to enforce the rules of the game (an elbow off the ball, and a hand in the face, in both cases not called because France have the advantage...which Henry correctly noted in his interview is not a reason not to call a foul or give a card once the ball is out of play). Then he decides that since the refs have their own interpretations of the rules (i.e. a kick is not a foul unless someone falls over), he might as well play to their obvious prejudices and start falling down. Cue the face grabbing incident.

Henry at the time only offered the following: "I don't cheat. In my head, I am not a guy who goes down or cheats". But apparently he is a guy who will go down if he becomes convinced it is the only way to get the ref's attention. As he said in the new interview, "Maybe it's not good, but after a while you realise you aren't doing yourself any favours by staying on your feet. For me, it's justified."

Now the case against Henry is pretty simple - what if everyone behaved like this? It would be chaos. Ref-inspired chaos, but chaos nonetheless. We do indeed need to get refs to interpret the actual rules of the game (one practice that definitely needs stamping out is handing out a yellow for a "third offence" - particularly common in the EPL but utterly without foundation in the rule book) - but having players take it into their own hands isn't going to help.

That said, if a ref told you he wouldn't call anything unless you fell...what would you do?


Blogger Matthew said...

Regarding the booking for a "third offence" which you note is particularly common in the EPL and further assert is "utterly without foundation in the rule book":

I would suggest that referees are likely cautioning in this instance for "persistent infringement of the Laws." So, I would argue that there is some basis for this practice, however, it certainly seems legitimate to question the hardening of a "3 offence" rule. Why three fouls, and not four or five? What about two hard challenges in a very short period? etc. etc.

As to the larger issue that Henry brings up, I believe this is a serious problem at all levels of soccer and is what leads to the problem of diving. Despite what the Laws say, many referees I know, and from what I can observe on television, only award fouls if the actions of a player have caused a distinct disadvantage to his opponent. This encourages players to go to ground when they feel they've been disadvantaged so as to force the ref's decision.

(The best strategy is to go down and then grab the ball with ones hands, which absolutely forces play to stop and almost always in favour a restart for the player on the ground).

I think this way of playing is so ingrained in the game that it would take a massive and years long effort on the part of FIFA and the other national and local associations to effect a change, much of which would involve A LOT more time and money invested in referee development and training.

4:06 PM  

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