Each week (well, most weeks) I’ll be writing a column for TSC that isn’t focused on the England national team – I do sometimes pay attention to other football. We begin at Old Trafford in the UEFA Champions League with a penalty kick that reignited a longstanding frustration of mine and could easily have cost Manchester United a couple of points in their first group match in this year’s competition.
Leading 1-0 thanks to Michael Carrick’s determined first half finish, United were given the opportunity to double their lead when referee Wolfgang Stark – the subject of most of Wednesday evening’s talking points – awarded them a penalty. The spot hasn’t been kind to United of late, and this time it was Nani who squandered the chance, although there is technically cause to suggest it might have been re-taken because of encroaching Galatasaray players.
The Portuguese winger broke his run-up, clearly attempting to lure goalkeeper Fernando Muslera into an early decision and then send the ball the other way. The Uruguayan stood firm, Nani lost his composure and his weak effort was easily pawed away. But it was Nani’s method that will have angered Alex Ferguson, and it sure as hell angered me.
His run-up wasn’t so much stuttering as divided into at least two component parts, to my mind a clear case of unsporting conduct and one of the few in the game that can be easily eradicated. Nani is far from the only culprit and only being singled out here because (a) his was the most recent high profile example and (b) I actually watched the game. It is commonplace for run-ups of various levels of duplicity to precede penalties all over the world. Why is this allowed to continue?
From a quick glance through Law 14, which addresses the penalty kick, I was surprised to see that the nature of the penalty taker’s approach is not explicitly considered and is therefore presumably left to FIFA’s additional refereeing guidelines and, ultimately, the referee’s interpretation. Some grades of ‘stutter’ are seemingly allowed, while others are not: Nani’s run-up almost constituted a full dummy.
The argument in a refereeing interpretation of such incidents is essentially that the taker does not gain an unfair advantage by breaking his run, because the ball is dead and unless the ‘dummy’ occurs in close proximity to the ball it does not have enough effect to sully the integrity of the situation. I do not agree with this premise.
Even if the more blatant stutters are criticised, there remains a view that it should be permissible to wobble one’s run-up, which is why the referee’s decision, and the views of pundits and supporters, are all reduced to a murky grey when it comes to penalties. It’s all so unnecessary when there is no obvious reason to allow the likes of Nani any rope with which to hang themselves by way of over-complicated kicks from twelve yards.
What if – and you’ll have to forgive me for proposing something so controversial – we just rule that the taker of a penalty has to make a clean approach? Any deviation, be it stop, stutter or stammer, is considered an infringement by the taker and results in the same sanctions as any other: if he scores his kick is re-taken, and if he doesn’t he concedes an indirect free kick.
How about a little common sense?
(Photo credit: Whitley Bay FC via Flickr – there is no suggestion that Lee Kerr stuttered his run-up in the successful penalty, his third goal of the game. I just like the picture.)