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The Red Card System. Where’s the justice?

The Premier League has seen a significant few red cards brandished only 4 games into the season. The most recent of them was shown to Sadio Mane of Liverpool, who was involved in a horrifying accident with Manchester City’s goalkeeper, Ederson.

Mane’s boot was very high, and as Ederson rushed out of his box to head the ball clear, his left jaw was met by Mane’s stud, a clash which left him grounded for 8 minutes and consequently stretchered off. Referee Jonathon Moss brandished the red and caused controversy worldwide, sparked by Gary Lineker’s tweet, which read “Rubbish decision to send off Mane. Rubbish”.

In the games that followed, equally bad, if not worse tackles were made, by Matt Ritchie, Renato Sanches and Wayne Rooney. Ritchie’s was the carbon copy of Mane’s, but one which received only a yellow. Rooney’s was, in the eyes of Don Hutchinson, the worst tackle of the weekend, as he had no intention whatsoever of getting the ball, his sole purpose going into the tackle being to take out Dele Alli. The result – A yellow card.

The incident with Ederson has divided the world into 2 conflicting opinions – Whether or not a red card is justified. The FIFA document on the Laws of Game has this to say on the matter: “A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play. A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play. Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play. […]A player who is guilty of serious foul play should be sent off and play is restarted…”

Mane in no way meant to injure Ederson, that can quite clearly be seen from the replay, as his eyes were fixed upon the ball from the moment it was chipped up to the moment his foot made contact with the unfortunate Ederson. He did not see him coming. Going by the letter of the law, was his tackle using excessive force? Was it brutal? Did it endanger the safety of the opponent? A resounding yes to 2 out of the 3 conditions. The only argument that can be made against the red card is that Mane had no intent. But the rules do not mention intent as such. Besides, a player ideally would never go into a tackle with intent to do anything other than get the ball, least of all to deliberately harm another fellow player. Well, this conflicts with my above statement and goes against Wayne Rooney’s objective as he slid in on Alli. In the past too, there have been many such incidents, with Aguero’s lunge on David Luiz fresh in my mind, as was Joey Barton’s own confession when he went to close down Xabi Alonso by the corner flag many seasons ago.


Which brings me to my next point. Such lenience afforded to the players by the referee in dealing with said challenges needs to be put an end to. There should be straight red cards brandished for these malicious tackles. Furthermore, I would also recommend that the FA looks at every single straight red dished out by the referee. Being as physical a league as the PL, reds are not handed out lightly. A player really needs to leave the referee with no alternative in order for him to be sent off. Every red should be scrutinised by the panel, and then the appropriate number of suspension matches should be determined and announced. Football is a sport that, many a times, is open to interpretation.

Meaning what one referee deems a caution-able offense, another referee might be willing to let off. As a result, each red card has varying degrees of severity. Being a Man City fan, the best examples I can give are of the stark contrast between the red cards that Fernandinho saw against Burnley and the one Kun Aguero saw against Chelsea, both cases from last season. Trying to be as neutral as I can possibly be, I can see Dinho deserving 2 games on the sidelines, while Aguero’s challenge mandates a significantly longer time away from the pitch, in the neighbourhood of 10 games. However, both got the standard time off. A card of different colour may be introduced, the showing of which would indicate ‘A sending off in the present match with a panel meeting to determine the full extent of suspension’. This would not only provide punishment in consistency with the severity of the actions of the player, it would also put an end to the “appeals” process, as the very same panel would be determining the severity.

Speaking of appeals, one thing that should be made open to appeal, but currently isn’t, is the sending off via 2 yellow cards. Raheem Sterling got sent off against AFC Bournemouth for a very late second yellow card, that too for ‘excessive celebration’. While there are restrictions on celebrating a goal, Sterling’s was within the limit of the law, and still cautioned, which caused him to miss the match against Liverpool. Likewise, Kyle Walker was sent off on his home debut against Everton, for 2 laughable yellow cards. There was minimal contact on Baines on the first yellow card, and the second yellow was given when Walker was adjudicated to have elbowed Calvert Lewin, a frivolous accusation at best. City played the match with a man down, and dropped the only points they’ve dropped this season. Owing to the fact that both the sending off instances cited occurred due to double yellow cards, City were unable to appeal either, both of which would have been overturned without a second thought. Not only should the FA screen all direct red cards, the option to appeal red cards owing to double yellows should be made available to all clubs.

By implementing such a system, I believe the ‘justice’ part of the title should be taken care of, as clearly, in the present system, there is no accountability.

Written by Ayush Verma.

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