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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