Football 11/12: The Penalty Box Problem

It was while watching David De Gea and Javier Hernandez getting manhandled in the penalty area on Saturday that it truly struck me about the on-pitch double standard.

Whether it is in the defending of a set-piece or a penalty kick decision, the normal rules of the game do not apply.

In the first, shirt pulling, pushing, obstruction and the like, are all done freely, and go largely unpunished. Yesterday I saw the immensely tall Peter Crouch stand in front of David De Gea and push him around while attacking a corner.

In the second, fouls, pushes, trips, pulls that would be punished by a free kick anywhere else on the pitch, are ignored and given greater leeway in the penalty area.

Now, there are lots of reasons for this. The most obvious for the first is that referees, linesmen, have only so many sets of eyes and can’t see everything that happen in the penalty area, so focused they are, perhaps, on the activity around the ball exclusively.

For the second, I would posit that it is a desire to avoid the direct impact on the game that such a decision means. Refs crave anonymity, and granting penalty kicks tends to degrade that anonymity. The result is that most Refs tend to err on the side of the defence in regards penalty decisions. They just don’t want to give one for everything that happens in the penalty area, or every game would have five spot kicks.

Of course, I still don’t like it. Rules are rules, and they aren’t being enforced in a uniform manner. It’s unfair on players, teams and supporters. If the rules are enforced correctly, you will see less of it.

A further solution? A general increase in the competence of officials (and punitive measures against those who don’t measure up), extra officials behind the goal lines in all competitions, and, most importantly, the implementation of video referrals. The game has rules, and we have the technology to help them to be better implemented. Shall we enter the 21st century?

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