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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


Should Robin van Persie Have Been Sent Off?

Written by on March 9, 2011 | 18 Comments »
Posted in UEFA Champions League

The dismissal of Robin van Persie against Barcelona produced the expected howls of outrage from Arsene Wenger against the match official, and the decision was equally lambasted by the commentary team covering the game. So should van Persie have been sent off for kicking the ball away?

That’s a trick question of course because he wasn’t sent off for that offence, he was merely cautioned. The sending off occurred because he had lost his head at the end of the first half and been booked for a needless hand in the face against Daniel Alves (indeed Wenger may be better placed questioning why his players lost their heads in that five minute spell which subsequently cost them both van Persie and a goal).

Even if we put all that aside could the referee’s decision still be justified? The laws of the game state that a player must be cautioned for “kicking the ball away after the referee has stopped play”.

Clearly that is exactly what van Persie did, so from a purely technical point of view the decision was correct. Of course in reality players do this all the time. Against Sunderland Andrei Arshavin  put the ball in the back of the net after being called offside without receiving a caution so what dictates the issuing of a caution or not?

The state of the game is the crucial factor. When Arshavin “scored” Arsenal were chasing the game and he clearly had no intention of delaying the restart. Against Barcelona the Gunners were holding on to tenuous lead and were  grateful for any delays (witness the “injury” to Jack Wilshere), so all this would have been in the referee’s  thinking.

Without the previous incidents I don’t think that he would have cautioned van Persie, and the Dutchman paid the price for an accumulation of incidents.

Much also seems to have been made of the fact that only one second elapsed between the whistle being blown and van Persie kicking the ball away, but a player of van Persie’s calibre earns a living from making decisions far quicker than that, if he had to wait over a second every time he tried to do something on the pitch then he wouldn’t last long at the top-level.

My own opinion is that he knew what he was doing but took the risk that the referee wouldn’t yellow card him for it. He turned out to be very wrong and it may have cost his team the match. Arsenal lost to a better team but they need to accept that they contributed far more to their own downfall than the match official did.

You can find more of Russell’s writings on soccer at The Vancouver Sun.

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18 responses to “Should Robin van Persie Have Been Sent Off?”

  1. Gus Keri says:


    No question in my mind that Van Persie deserved the card. But considering that he was already on yellow and the significance of the match and the numerous times that this infraction went unpunished, the referee would be wise to caution him with words. And if he tried to waste time again after the warning, he would be sent off.

    Saying that, this sending off was not the reason why Arsenal lost, in my opinion. Arsenal didn’t play well at all. The most disturbing thing to me is the fact that the best possession team in the EPL couldn’t hold the ball for few seconds in Spain.

  2. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:


    Officials need to display a little more ‘common sense’ and not go ‘by the book’ in such cases. I say this as an FCB fan (despite my pen name) … Busacca’s decision making in giving RvP the second yellow for time wasting was pitiful and lacked the common sense I want to see from a top official. He should not be chosen to do another UCL match this season.

  3. greg mclauchlin says:

    He may or may not have heard the whistle but he definitely knew that play had stopped. What other explanation is there for blasting the ball into the stands instead of beating Valdes?

    That said, there was only a second for him to react and although technically it could have been a yellow it’s not like the game was being exactly to the letter of the law. He didn’t, for example, caution any of the Barca players for waving imaginary cards.

    Gus – It shouldn’t be that surprising regarding possession no? Against that kind of pressing by Barca the only team that could play a passing game is…Barca.
    You just have to adjust to a more direct style I guess.

  4. Soccerlogical says:

    First off, RvP didn’t blast the ball into row Z. He missed the nearside by a few feet and hit the ads behind the goal and the ball ricocheted into side netting.

    Secondly, as we all are aware that at a 90K Camp Nou there was just a one second time difference between the whistle and RvP’s shot on goal, this piece seems a bit disingenuous and is somewhat pandering.

  5. redfan says:

    Sad decision and ruined the game. All it did was rile an angry Whinger. who was already fuming because his side could not keep the ball. The only way to beat ‘total’ football is to be better at ‘total’ football but Arsenal were well off the pace yesterday.

  6. Theo van Nasarshavregas says:

    Some points to consider:

    1) the referee was well behind RvP and well out of RvP’s sight
    2) a full Camp Nou is just under 100K angry, loud Catalans (I believe RvP very well may not have heard the whistle) … and angry Catalans whistle to show their displeasure like Americans boo
    3) RvP is focusing on the flight of the ball (as he should) and not the linesman
    4) the way the offside rule is now called (~ not called until the offside player touches the ball)
    5) RvP hits it first time and the shot is not far off the mark
    6) a verbal warning could have been given under the circumstances before a second yellow issued – if the official thought it was time wasting
    7) time can be added to stoppage time for the preceived time wasting
    8) it wasn’t a clear cut incident of time wasting (in my eyes) … I thought Wilshere’s ‘injury’ was however (but we can’t say that about English players because they are not like that … please, give it a rest love)

    Under the circumstances, it was a pretty lame call and poor decision making by Busacca. I don’t believe it affected the outcome of this tie but any dubious red cards (and yellows for a player’s future participation in the competition) and penalties generally greatly affect a two legged competition. They should not be handed out so cheaply. Discretion and common sense are also in the purview of a good match official. Not just the rule book.

  7. Rahul says:

    Yes, the Arsenal players may have lost their composure at the end of the first half, but I don’t think it was appropriate.

    In itself, the second yellow may be justified. Maybe its my blind passion for the Arsenal, but I thought the whole match, the ref wasn’t consistent. I thought Kos got a yellow for a very light foul and I don’t recall which Barca player did a tackle much worse, but nothing….

    Undoubtedly, Barca was the better team, but the fact is that the game was ruined by the call. The better team doesn’t always win. thats why the game is played. and yes, life isn’t fair, but it should be somewhat equally unfair. huh what?

    Good article thought.

  8. Russell Berrisford says:

    Thanks for the replies- I honestly think that van Persie knew what he was doing, but that the referee should have shown some lenience.

    But in the end RVP gave the official the chance to show a yellow card and he did.

  9. Tim says:

    the card was given because Arsenal was stalling all game and the ref finally had enough…RVP was the final straw…even so..NO shots on goal…no debate

  10. Esjay says:

    Let me just add another voice to the corus of “Common Sense”. I felt that the ref was out of line. There were several ways that the situation could have been interpreted, and further still many ways to have resolved the incident. This poor/sorry ref decided interpret it in a suspiciously home-town friendly way; but worse than that to resolve the incident such that it ruined the game for the fans.

  11. John Bladen says:


    I can’t argue with any of your points. For what it’s worth, I can believe RvP didn’t hear the whistle and just carried on playing. None of us can know what he heard or was thinking, obviously.

    Although I’m loathe to criticize match officials, I do think it was a bit of a soft card, and if the ref had it to do over again he might do it differently. We’ve all felt that way, of course.

    That said, there were a number of other calls in which he could have issued yellows (by my count, Koscielny bagged three potential yellows in the game, only one actually administered). There will always be things officials don’t see (like Abidal’s throat grab), or just don’t get a good view of. Also, we can’t know how badly RvP was mouthing off after his run in earlier in the game. It may be that the ref had simply had enough… something I can understand.

    And though we Gunners fans are downhearted, we can’t really blame the ref for our loss. We were outplayed, badly. And despite the 10 man finish, if Bendtner only had a decent striker’s first touch, our boys could have gone through…

    I’ve always said there are at least ten decisions or ‘maybes’ in any game that could ‘determine’ the outcome, if one is of a mind to make a fuss of these things. RvP’s idiotic second yellow is just one of those, I’m afraid.

  12. jaelle says:

    Crap article. The referee was extremely petty, like he was determined to look for something, however small, to punish RVP. He facilitated Barca’s strategy all game long: foul when they lose possession. He had every fighting Arsenal player booked, you couldn’t dare try to get the ball off of them–while NOT booking Barca for far worse fouls. He allowed Alves to scissor tackle Nasri from behind with no booking. There were a couple of other very hard challenges that any other ref would’ve called a foul but he just ignored. He saw THREE instances of Barca players grab the throat of Arsenal players right in front of him and did nothing. So apparently assaulting opponents by the throat is fine but kicking a ball toward goal a second after the whistle blows is a bookable offense.

    Any little touch Arsenal players gave to Barca were called. Wilshere “injured”?? Oh you mean like Alves CONSTANT rolling around on the ground at the merest hint at the approach of an opponent all game long? That’s ok then.

    The red card changed the game. Before the sending off, Barca had only ONE clear chance on goal – 4 shots on target. 15 of Barca’s shots on target came AFTER the sending off. It was an extremely petty decision – just one among MANY MANY petty decisions he made all game. He booked Sagna for absolutely nothing – I couldn’t figure what the hell Sagna did. While allowing Barca to do what they liked. Before and after the game he was sharing water and laughing/joking with Barca players. He’s reffed 29 games with Spanish teams – and the Spanish team have all won.

    RVP’s 1st booking was stupid–unfortunately he allowed Alves’ serial, deliberate provocation to get to him. That was his biggest mistake. But the 2nd booking was ludicrous. And it’s a thoroughly ludicrous rule applied by this ref with total hypocrisy since he totally ignored Barca’s own timewasting tactics later in the game.

  13. Al Harris says:

    So it’s all those shifty little swarthy Spaniards getting up our lads’ noses with the connivance of the ref, is it? The red card was soft, but you’d think a player on a yellow would be doing everything possible to avoid giving any ref a reason to flash a second one. Robin was stupid to give him an opportunity to make a bad decision. On the day, Arsenal were very disappointing whether their plan was to defend or they just got pushed back by a superior Barcelona. End of tale, I’m afraid!

  14. PoolGunnersUnited says:

    Divided loyalties on this game – being a fan of both sides, and would enjoy seeing both play as much as possible.
    I side with fans that in such a highly anticipated, high level match-up, especially with Arsenal leading the tie, that such a petty 2nd call was a serious disappointment and disservice to the game and the spectators. Even Pep was hoping that RvP would be able to play before the match, so that it would be closer still to a “true” match-up between the teams (without a few key players, on both sides, of course, due to injury, etc).
    The argument put forth, given the time, the noise, etc I think would be valid. Do you *really* want to make something like this be a factor?
    And how much “time wasting” would there really be, in CL games. Unlike many EPL games, where they seem to want to use the same ball kicked into the stands to start the corner, goal kick, or throw in, in CL games the sidelines are surrounded by balls, just for things like balls blasted into the stands, to minimize any downtime that may have occurred anyways. Add it on to the end of the half, if he must.


  15. J says:

    The only way a second yellow gets delivered in that fashion is if you’re looking to give a second yellow card.

    Did it ruin the game? No, Wenger’s decision to park the bus ruined the game. He succumbed to the fantasy that Arsenal could sustain a 0-0 or 1-1 tie, rather than attack and allow his team some space to operate. I can’t think of a single game – even against lowly Orient – where Arsenal operated with any competence with a single striker up front. Wenger introduced a set of tactics that his team – injuried and lacking confidence – looked clumsy and desperate in employing.

    Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe that all the FA’s Blatter-bashing during the week didn’t play into the decision and the subsequent demands for punishment. Yes, the better team won, but not without significant assistance.

  16. shmish says:

    There’s no way RVP should have gotten a second yellow. We can say he was time-wasting only if we can be certain that he heard the whistle. Some say that he probably did, some say that he didn’t. Only RVP knows the truth and obviously there is enough doubt on the issue that having the game swerve on such an issue is ridiculous. If RVP gets a yellow for time wasting regardless of whether he hears the whistle, then I guess every break in play due to an injury should also be time wasting, regardless of whether there is a real injury or not.

  17. jpt says:

    Forgive me for piling on to what may be a dead thread — this game hurt. :,)

    It’s helpful to put the card on RVP in context. Barcelona appeared to be working Busacca the whole match with regard to time-wasting. Whe Wilshere went down — and I thought he really did take a knock — the Barca players were all over him, grabbing and pulling, leading to the fracas that cost RVP his composure. Obviously, they made a great noise to Busacca during the event. Then, Arsenal came out for the second half late. THEN, Koscielny booted the ball intot he stands following the Busquets OG. Put it all together, and I think the ref came to believe that Arsenal wasn’t interested in playing 90 minutes of football. Rightly or wrongly, I think he was primed to discipline an Arsenal player.

    Additionally, RVP reacted to the Wilshere affair in a petualnt way. He yelled at the ref, he carried on and on . . . I think Busacca was ready to believe bad things about him. So, when the shot came off after his whistle, I think he reached for the cards by reflex. And, if I’m notmistaken, once the card is shown . . . that’s it. Busacca had called a pretty tight game on Arsenal before then — but after RVP was sent off, he became much more forgiving. It would be nice to know what he had to say about the matter after reviewing the incident; too bad that’ll never happen.

    Russell, if you watch the replay you’ll find that RVP never touched Alves in the head. The push foul was one hand to the shoulder, one to the chest — hence, not reckless, ergo not deserving of a yellow. Like Busacca, you were undoubtedly misled by the way Alves grabbed his nose after the foul. The explanation is as follows: he’s a cheating little weasel. He pulls that stunt all the time, and both of you were fooled.

    Greg, you asked why RVP would power a long shot wildly instead of going directly at Valdes in goal. I’m guessing you don’t watch a lot of Arsenal matches . . .

    Having said all that: wonderful peformance by Barca. Arsenal’s getting a lot of heat for playing cynically. Watching the game, I thought the Gunners were trying to attack, but were basically blown off the ball. Barcelona is a better team because they concentrate so much better. While Arsenal’s intensity tends to ebb and flow over the course of the match — they very rarely play the whole game through — Barcelona is always mentally ready to dominate for 90 minutes. Now, it’s physically impossible to keep up that tempo for more than about 70 minutes . . . but because Barca concentrates so well, they’re always ready to turn up the heat in response to any weakness. I love the Gunners, but they’re going nowhere special until they can find a way to develop this kind of discipline.

  18. Gbenga says:

    I watched the game and the ref was to harsh on Van Persie… A warning should have been good enough… Still I felt Arsenal didn’t approach this game the way they should have. They are lacking in confidence at the moment.

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