50 shades of grey in A-League’s Match Review Panel
Adelaide United's Dario Vidosic heads the ball away, during their A League game against Wellington Phoenix. APP Image/David Mariuz
You’ve got to feel for Jarred Gillett. There probably won’t be too many Wellington fans who do, but on Saturday another key decision in the early stages of this young referee’s career fell smack bang in the middle of unchartered territory.
The Jeronimo Neumann/Ben Sigmund incident in the 77th minute of the clash between Adelaide and Wellington at Hindmarsh Stadium might just rival the Besart Berisha penalty in the controversy stakes.
It was a foul, a dive, a highly-contentious red card (and thus a one-game suspension) and a moment stranded in what could only be described as a black hole in A-League legislation – all rolled into one.
To truly understand the madness that has gone on, it’s important to look at this step by step, which is something that we must remember Gillett never had the opportunity to do.
The Match Review Panel did, however. But it turns out they were hamstrung by their own rules.
The foul. If you look hard enough, it was there. Sigmund uses his left hand to grab Neumann on his right arm and pulls him back, and that is probably enough to constitute a foul for holding.
The law states the player needs to be ‘prevented’ from moving past the other player by use of the arm or hands – depending on your level of pedantry, you could reasonably argue that Neumann was never ‘prevented’, because he was able to keep going, but I digress.
Yes, it’s soft, and it happens all the time and all over the ground in football, and it kind of opens its own can of worms if you’re going to award fouls for this sort of thing every time it occurs, but it was there. Just.
The dive. Neumann takes three paces after the grab and tumbles to the ground in, let’s be honest, what will go down in A-League history as one of the worst dives on Australian soil.
He took the tumble purely to accentuate Sigmund’s arm-pull in the hope of winning a foul, maybe a red card and hopefully a penalty. Gillett was technically right to award the first, but was duped on the second. Fortunately he didn’t fall for the third.
Would the foul have been given without the dive? That’s questionable, and a whole other story. But there was another source of motivation in Neumann’s dive – the fact that he wasn’t getting the ball in the first place. That leads us to…
The red card. A send-off can only apply in this situation, according to the Laws of the Game, if the player is denied “an obvious goalscoring opportunity”. There is no ‘last man’ or ‘last defender’ law. This is the rule.
At no point was the Argentine in possession of the ball. It was always going straight down the throat of Mark Paston, who approached the headed flick-on at a fairly leisurely pace and then took the ball comfortably – before a diving Neumann barrelled into his legs.
Even accounting for Sigmund’s pull, Neumann never slowed down. In fact, he’s probably quite fortunate to have taken the dive because if he didn’t, the diminutive South American was about to get rolled by Paston’s hulking frame.
This is Gillett’s error. How could Neumann have been denied an opportunity to score a goal, given all of this information?
Ricki Herbert was thinking the same thing and, fuelled by anger at the result and the dive, the Phoenix submitted an appeal via an Obvious Error Application (OEA).
The appeal. We’ve seen two players – Patricio Perez and Michael Baird – banned for simulation before, back in 2010-11. In the case of Perez, a successful OEA saw a red card to Liam Reddy rescinded – although from memory, the footage was not 100 percent conclusive.
Which makes you wonder what Sigmund has done to deserve this. The burden of proof for an OEA is so high, the only decisions that are overturned are the ones that “no referee in the possession of all the facts, including all Broadcast Footage, could reasonably have made”.
In other words, only the most blatantly wrong, obvious blunders get fixed. As obvious as it seems that Neumann was not denied a goalscoring opportunity, it’s just not obvious enough of an error to pass the supremely strict test of the OEA.
In turn it means that Neumann cannot be retrospectively punished for simulation – because for that to happen, an OEA needs to be upheld, and there needs to be proof that the player was not fouled, but rather pretended to be fouled.
After all, the Match Review Panel is there “to correct patently wrong decisions that no one can argue about. It’s not there to second-guess the referee,” according to A-League head Damien de Bohun.
An acceptable explanation. But not when a diver escapes scot free, and a tug of the arm costs a defender a week on the sidelines when it shouldn’t have.
So what happens now? Well, nothing. Herbert and Andrew Durante will probably find themselves in hot water for their comments, which have not exactly covered Wellington in glory.
But they only expressed what the footballing public was feeling – incredulity, that one of the most ridiculous dives ever seen in the A-League has gone unpunished.
This sends a message to those contemplating simulation that they may as well go for it. Why not? You won’t get banned unless the TV cameras manage to capture precisely the right angle of your dive. Or if there was a foul involved.
If this is the way justice is served in the A-League then maybe it’s the laws that need a good, hard look.
Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard that is the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. He is a Port Adelaide fan by birth, as painful as that has been recently. He's now sports editor of The Area News in Griffith, NSW.