Is there a shade of grey in the Sadio Mane discussion?
It’s like that dress all over again. Is it blue and black, or is it white and gold? Something to do with the left and right side of your brain apparently.
This time, is it red? Or is it yellow?
Gary Neville says yellow (at worst). Jamie Carragher says red. The left side and the right side of David Jones on Sky’s Monday Night Football.
We are, of course, not talking about a dress. We are talking about Sadio Mane’s red card at Manchester City at the weekend. Jon Moss’s decision to send off Liverpool’s main man has got people talking.
Whatever your view, there are some things that are incontrovertible: There was no malice, Mane only had eyes for the ball and, going on the letter of the law, Moss was right to dismiss the Senegalese forward.
But it’s the letter of the law, and how that is upheld where the issues begin to arise.
“A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality must be sanctioned as serious foul play” – and therefore worthy of a red card, according to the FA’s laws of the game. The requirement of the referee to decide on possible intent was removed.
Neville’s issue isn’t that the referee was wrong; it’s that the rules by which the red was awarded are wrong.
Define “endangers the safety of an opponent”. Define “excessive force”. Define a “challenge” while you’re at it.
There is no mention of whether you win the ball or not. Was Ederson not ‘endangering’ Mane by coming charging out to head the ball away? Ambiguous terms, one and all.
Let’s play it back, and this time Mane just clatters into Ederson. Is it a red? Ederson could have been winded by Mane, or vice versa. He could have landed awkwardly and suffered a serious injury that way. Surely, Mane endangered his opponent by running so fast?
What if Mane had nicked the ball away rather than making contact with Ederson’s face? Would Ederson then have been sent off? Quite possibly, yes, but for what reason? In that instance Ederson would have been sent off for preventing a goal-scoring opportunity, not serious foul play.
Then we have the issue of ‘excessive force’. Mane wasn’t swinging wildly at the ball. He wasn’t trying to lump it in to the air. His intention was to get a touch on the ball to nick it away from the on-rushing keeper. The momentum of two players running at speed is what created force, excessive or otherwise. Had Mane been standing still, with Ederson rushing at him, the impact of boot to face would still have been enough to hurt the keeper. Should Mane then be held responsible for the force in which Ederson came at him?
One thing is clear; Mane had to challenge for the ball. Joel Matip, the player who made the fateful pass, would demand that he did. So would his manager. So would Liverpool’s fans. Once the pass was made, Mane was on course for a red card it would seem. His pace, a major part of his game, counting against him.
No sooner had Gary Neville taken to Twitter to predict a spate of confusing decisions from referees, than Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie had connected with the head of Swansea’s Alfie Mawson.
The decision? A yellow card.
On Monday night, just 48 hours later, West Ham’s Winston Reid had a similar ‘high boot’ go unpunished against Huddersfield to complete the set. Three incidents of endangering an opponent in three days, with three different outcomes. Neville couldn’t have scripted his point any better.
The laws around serious foul play are too ambiguous. What if the caveat of intent was still written in? Mane; not guilty. Ritchie; not guilty. Reid; not guilty.
Nobody wants to see players with serious injuries – head injuries particularly. No amount of money charged at the gate or deposited in a players bank account makes that acceptable. But it is still a contact sport, played at the very highest level, by professional athletes in peak physical condition. Had Mane been just half a second quicker, he would have most likely levelled the game at 1-1, rather than been sent off.
In his weekly column for the Mail on Sunday, the Mail’s Chief Sports Writer Oliver Holt insisted we can’t go back to the days of Chopper Harris and Tommy Smith, but isn’t there 40 years of progress we can call on since the “blood and thunder” challenges of the 70s? Holt seems to think nothing came between then and now.
In the 2007 Carling Cup Final, John Terry was knocked out cold from a boot to the head from Arsenal’s Abou Diaby. There was no red card (in a game with three of them). Why? No intent. It was a sickening injury but Diaby had merely made contact with Terry, rather than the ball.
The question of a ‘high boot’ doesn’t come into it. If there was a rule governing how far off the ground a player’s foot may be, then Andy Carroll wouldn’t have won goal of the season last year. Had a defender been nearby, he may well have been sent off.
The simple fact of the case here is Moss was right, and Neville was right. It is the laws around serious foul play that are wrong.
The dress, by the way; it’s blue and black. Deal with it.