THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Awarding Sassuolo's points to the losing team also hurts the rest of the clubs in Serie A

5 September ~ On August 28, Sassuolo beat Pescara 2-1 to go joint top of Serie A with maximum points from two games. Two days later it was ruled that they had fielded an ineligible player and the game was awarded 3-0 to Pescara, who went to four points with Sassuolo staying on three.

The player in question, Antonino Ragusa, had come on as a 65th-minute substitute with Sassuolo 2-0 ahead. He had been signed a few days earlier from Cesena, and Sassuolo assumed that they had completed all the necessary paperwork to clear him to play.

The authorities decided otherwise, claiming that the email which would have allowed him to play had arrived too late. Sassuolo are appealing and it may be that there will be a change of heart, since it was clearly not their intention to cheat.

But however this particular case finishes, it raises important issues. While it may be acceptable to punish the offending team, many question whether it is right to award a team a win and three points that they did not earn on the field of play.

Pescara, to be fair, did not ask for this reward. It was a league official who spotted the anomaly. Of course we are talking here about a league match. In a cup it is probably acceptable that the offending team is eliminated because you only get one chance, and the rules for leagues and cups do not have to be the same. In fact, they seldom are.

This case occurred when the season was in its infancy. But you only have to consider the repercussions if it had occurred in the final round of games. Very unlikely, I know, but just possible, and it is surely a worst-case scenario that should guide those who make these rules. It could then have resulted in Pescara staying up and a team that had avoided relegation on the field being relegated.

I do not think that any team would take that lying down, and the authorities would be faced with a veritable minefield, largely of their own making. They should also remember that when they award three points on a technicality to a team that lost on the field, they are indirectly punishing all the other teams in the league although they are blameless.

Clearly teams that field ineligible players cannot get away scot free. On the other hand, if their offence was technical and entirely in good faith, they should not be punished too harshly either. At the same time, their opponents should not be handed on a plate points that they did not earn on the field.

A number of solutions suggest themselves. You could let the result stand and dock the offending team one point, say, without awarding any to their opponents.Or replay the part of the game in which the ineligible player was on the field. In the case of Sassuolo v Pescara that would mean from the 65th minute with the score 2-0. And whatever the final result you could still issue a points penalty.

As you could in a third scenario, which would be to replay the whole game, annulling the previous one. In both these cases Sassuolo could end up with from three points to six on the field, reduced by whatever their penalty was.

It is probably impossible to find a solution to this problem that satisfies all the canons of natural justice, but it simply cannot be right that Sassuolo are being punished more severely for what was at worst an oversight than some clubs have been in recent years for match-fixing. Richard Mason

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