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Time to stop tactical fouling

Blind Hammer argues it is time for an important rule change.

After our opening day humbling by Manchester City, Manuel Pellegrini joined the increasing number of people criticising the tactics of cynical fouling which has underpinned the success of both city and Liverpool.

Both City and the Reds employ an extreme high press in order to dominate possession in their opponent’s half. Earlier this year, I discussed statistics which showed how teams that achieve majority high possession are, over time, more successful.

Yet the risks associated with the high press is, of course, vulnerability to a counterattack.

To counter this risk more than half of Manchester City’s 13 fouls against West Ham were committed, not defending their goal, but high up the field whilst in West Ham’s half.

So, to minimise and, in many cases, eliminate risk of a breakaway, both Liverpool and Manchester City deploy the tactic of cynical tactical fouling in their opponent’s half.

Manchester City coach Mikel Arteta was famously caught in a TV documentary explicitly instructing his players that if there is a what he called a “transition” they must make a foul. The fact that City players are coached in this tactic makes Pep Guardiola’s insistence that his team are innocent of this cynical tactic hollow.

Data analysis quoted by the BBC also show how both City and Liverpool deploy foul play of this kind to support their high presses. Liverpool were the worst offenders with 63% of their fouls committed high up the pitch in their opponent’s half, with Manchester city third with 58%.

The other measure the BBC looked at was the speed of fouls committed after losing possession. Over the last two seasons Manchester City and Liverpool are amongst the worst offenders, both committing fouls between 7-8.3 seconds of losing possession. This season only Arsenal are worst.

The cynical aspect of this fouling is also supported using skilful niggardly trips and nudges designed to avoid attracting yellow and red cards.

So, I believe this unfair tactic has been exploited scientifically by teams such as city and Liverpool, already advantaged by massive cash in-balances.

Referees need a further sanction to counter tactical foul high up the pitch. Referees are currently inhibited from penalising with yellow or red cards, given the distance from goal, and the lack of violence with these niggardly fouls.

Years ago, there was an experimental provision where a referee could advance a free kick 10 yards in the case of dissent. This was abandoned by FIFA, but I believe a similar provision is now required.

My suggestion is that in the case of a cynical tactical foul committed high up the field to support an extreme high press, then the free-kick should not be where the foul was committed, but instead anywhere on the D of the offending team’s penalty area.

This would provide the referee with an essential extra sanction. It would also reduce the incentive for city and Liverpool to exploit the rules in this way.

The current sanctions of free kicks, yellow cards and red cards are clearly not adequate.


David Griffith

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About David Griffith

My Father, born in 1891 was brought up in the shadows of the Thames Ironworks Memorial Ground. I remember as a child jumping over the settee when Alan Sealy scored in our 1965 European Cup Winners triumph. My first game was against Leicester in 1968, when Martin Peters scored what was adjudged by ITV’s Big Match as the Goal of the Season. I became a season ticket holder in 1970. I was registered blind in 1986 and thought my West Ham supporting days were over. However in 2010 I learnt about the fantastic support West Ham offer to Blind and other Disabled Supporters. I now use the Insightful Irons in-stadium commentary service and West Ham provide space for my Guide Dog Nyle. I sit on the West Ham Disabled Supporters Board and the LLDC Built Environment Access Panel. David Griffith aka Blind Hammer

10 comments on “Time to stop tactical fouling

  1. A fair point but the argument would always be if it was a deliberate act to negate an attack. Also, would you involve VAR for such actions?
    If we adopted a rule from RU, a better way to eradicate such tactics would be to automatically sin bin a player for 10 mins for such a foul. Everyone would be aware of the consequences of the action & it would certainly hurt a team more than a free kick on the edge of the box.

    • And then, would Citeh be allowed to be left playing 5-a-side…..?
      Agree it works in egg-chasing ball….

  2. Well said David, I like the rule idea also, what I would say is that with video refs there would be no need even to slow the game down by penalising behaviour not in the spirit of the game. They should retrospectively book or sin bin players who the video refs deem have fouled to gain advantage. City and Liverpool with Arsenal now joining the fray are happy to play their free flowing football and complain when anyone has the audacity to foul them, yet are fouling with impunity often in numbers in areas of the pitch unlikely to result in appropriate penalty. Wenger used to play the football without the unsportsmanlike fouling just as MP does. It is ugly and needs to as you say be looked at.

    • I thought the same 32 until someone explained to me why they don’t use that in other sports.

      What if: a team in the penultimate game of the season and leading title race by a slim margin, 1 point for example, during the game, the opposition simply kick them off the pitch gaining a draw, but not red carded, and retrospectively 6 players banned for next game. but the last game of the season the offending team play you main rivals for the title, but only field half a team and lose….. costing the offended team the title.

      If we go back to the infamous 2007 ‘Great escape’ season: Liverpool fielded a considerably weakened team Vs relegation placed Fulham, breaking Premiership rules (Don’t bother looking for the sanction Liverpool actually received, L-I-v-e-r-p-o-o-l….remember?), anyway, Fulham pulled out a 1-0 victory over Liverpool 2nds and that 3 points kept them up, Sheffield went down and sued West Ham for £25mil…..
      How would retrospective points/player sanctions remained fair and unbiased with the benefit of hindsight and consequence..?

  3. It won’t be stopped as technically it doesn’t exist. They are just “fouls”. I wish we were more “cute” and did the same thing. Declan Rice took one for the team at Brighton on Saturday. Right near the end of the game we fupped up a free kick for the umpteenth time and got caught on the break. If Rice hadn’t tripped their player they would have been clean through

  4. Great article, David. Very interesting!

  5. Good article, maybe we should take a leaf….

  6. The net result would be Even more VAR and players going to ground Even More regularly than they do already .
    I think a totting up System of fouls committed by a team during a game could be employed but , how it would work will require very careful consideration .

  7. Good article with good, incisive points.
    One of the things you miss out – and it’s crucial in this question – is the bias from the authorities towards these teams.

    If West Ham, Wolves – even Chelsea or Spurs, used exactly the same tactic, every one of these upfield fouls would be an automatic yellow card & the tactics would fail.

    The Manchester & Liverpool clubs know they have a free pass for fouling before every match and exploit this corruption successfully.

    Against West Ham, City’s Rodri would have been booked on his 2nd or 3rd foul if he’d been playing for us or in Spain, but Guardiola & Arteta would have told him “You can do all the fouls you like & the ref won’t book you”

    So yes, a good analysis of the tactic used, but it only works with the collusion and corruption of the referees

    • Totally agree David, the interpretation of intent is inconsistent at best.
      Although my interpretation of Rodri is he was consistent in his intent to be a dirty cheating motherfu**er!

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