Penalty Decisions Need to be Rethought

Please take some time to imagine the following two scenarios, both of which happened during last weekend’s football:

Scenario 1

A ball is played beyond Team A’s defensive line. A forward for Team B races through and beats Team A’s goalkeeper to the loose ball, just outside the area. He pokes the ball past him, but is fouled by the onrushing goalkeeper. What is the outcome?

Scenario 2

A corner, half cleared by the defensive team leads to an attacking player collecting the ball on the right hand edge of the penalty area. A defender is blocking his path to goal, so the forward makes to take the ball out of the penalty area, heading towards the touchline. The clumsy defender sticks his leg out, and brings the forward down. Again, what happens?

You may have recognised the scenarios as happening at the Hawthorns and Stamford Bridge last weekend. The first scenario, whether or not you think Wojciech Szczęsny should have been sent off, saw Chelsea gain a free kick just outside the Arsenal penalty area? Now, if you have Juninho Pernambucano in your team, this may be quite valuable, but for the rest of the world, it probably isn’t. The excellent Soccer By The Numbers blog estimated that only 3% of Premier League goals are scored from free kicks. Is this really a fair outcome for a team who will have had a free shot on goal, without a goalkeeper to beat? And yes, Szczęsny should have been sent off and that would have made a difference in terms of the match. But instead of that example, look at this foul by Ole Gunnar Solksjær – more than happy to take the red card to save a goal.

On the other hand, it was Jerome Thomas who fouled Luis Suárez in a seemingly innocuous position on Saturday. Despite the protestations of Paul Scharner and Roy Hodgson, it was clearly a foul – this is not in dispute. But, given the nature of the foul, clumsy but not dangerous, should this really give a Liverpool player a free strike at goal from 12 yards? Figures show that penalties are scored around 77% of the time, and of course, Charlie Adam stepped up and netted the spot kick. Is it fair that a genuine attempt to get the ball in a position up to 25 yards away from the goal (the distance from the goal post to the corner of the edge of the area) results in an opportunity to score that a team will take nearly 8 times in 10?

Of course, the argument is that if the defender fouls a player, they get what they deserve. But that assumes that the decision is right in the first place. And that isn’t really the point. The point is that difference between an (almost) worthless free kick on the edge of the area and a potentially match changing penalty is just twelve centimetres. Imagine the same foul, committed twice within five inches of each other – one leads to a clear goal scoring chance, one doesn’t. Where is the consistency there?

I don’t know whether there is a simple solution to this problem, or indeed whether other people think it is a problem. Giving the referee the opportunity to award a penalty 30 yards away from goal is surely not something that referees will want. They are under enough scrutiny as it is. Maybe this is the sort of decision that could potentially fall under the jurisdiction of video referees, should they ever be introduced. Given the current issues in football, I very much doubt that this is something that any governing bodies will even be thinking about, but it’s something that has annoyed me for a while, and last weekend’s football highlighted the disparities between the decisions.

Tom Bason @toomb306

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