6 October ~ While watching Napoli's execution of a penalty in their recent 3-0 win at Inter, I started to think about how often referees allow the laws of the game to be flouted in dead ball situations where the explanation that they have to make split-second decisions doesn't hold water.
For starters, there are corners and goal-kicks. In the match that I saw the afternoon after Inter v Napoli, several goal-kicks were taken with the ball at least a yard ahead of the six-yard line, and from one of many corners taken with the ball outside the quadrant the equalising goal in a 2-2 draw was scored. Corners taken from outside the quadrant are far from a rarity. In all these cases one might say that it's petty to worry about a matter of inches, but imagine that argument being used to justify not calling a no-ball in cricket. And the fact is that whether a goal is or is not scored is often a question of inches.
Next, throw-ins. I'm almost sure that even at the highest level many of them should be repeated, but so rarely is this offence penalised that I suspect that at many clubs young players are no longer taught how to throw in correctly. But here too goals can result – you just need to see Napoli's first goal in their win at Cesena on September 10. The throw may or may not have been legal, but it showed that in certain situations it can be a lethal weapon.
And so we return to Inter v Napoli and the thorniest of these problems. After 40 minutes Napoli were awarded a penalty (incorrectly, as it happens). It was taken by Marek Hamsik. Before he had made contact with the ball, his colleague Hugo Campagnaro was almost level with him and referee Gianluca Rocchi had them both in his sights. Júlio César saved, but the ball finished at the feet of Campagnaro, who put it into the net. Rocchi gave the goal, thus condoning a blatant infringement of the laws.
This happens far too often and is, frankly, inexcusable. The laws are perfectly clear and yet referees refuse to apply them even when the evidence is right under their eyes. So what to do? First, the authorities should make it clear to referees that if they don't apply the laws in situations where their decision is not a matter of opinion, they will be suspended. At the top level they are now well-paid professionals, and they are paid to do a job.
And in the case of penalties, the laws should be modified as follows. If the penalty is missed or saved but there is just one defending player in the area before it is kicked, it is automatically retaken. (I know that's not actually a change, but it needs to be emphasised). If a goal is scored, but there is just one attacking player in the area before it is kicked, the goal is disallowed and there is no retake. Play resumes with an indirect free kick for the defending side. In both cases, the number of players from the opposing side in the area is irrelevant, the principle being that when both sides infringe, the side that would have gained from the infringement is penalised.
And players like Camapagnaro should be treated like players who try to score with their hands and given a yellow card. If these measures were adopted, I don't think you'd see anyone in the area apart from the kicker. The bottom line in all this is that the game has laws, and they're all there for a reason. The duty of the referee is to apply them all, however insignificant some of them may seem, at least until such time as someone decides to change them. Richard Mason