SFA disciplinary: IFAB the real culprit as clubs rail against system
When Brendan Rodgers had a go at referee Andrew Dallas and his assistants after Olivier Ntcham was sent off in Celtic's 0-0 draw against St Mirren on Friday there was nothing surer but that the manager's words were going to dominate the back pages the next day.
Some headlines from Saturday morning: 'Bren: Ref had howler'; 'Rodgers is seething at officials'; 'Rodgers has a pop'.
Rodgers didn't dwell for long, if at all, on Ntcham's four fouls in the 36 minutes he was on the field or on the general paucity of his own team's performance. The manager made the night about Dallas instead of making it about Celtic and their considerable drop in standards compared to their victory over Rangers in their previous game.
Referee calls dominate the headlines
It was another contribution to the intense debate about the decision-making at play in Scottish football. Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor kicks out at Celtic's Kristoffer Ajer and no action is taken, but there's a red card for Aberdeen's Mikey Devlin for fouling Eamonn Brophy despite the fact that Kilmarnock's Brophy appears to foul Devlin first. And then, to make matter worse, the red card is upheld following the Dons' appeal.
Rangers' Alfredo Morelos has his red card downgraded on appeal after having a swipe at Aberdeen's Scott McKenna and Hearts' Steven Naismith escapes punishment for a stamp on Celtic's Jonny Hayes, but Killie's Gary Dicker sees red for a tackle on Hearts' Callum Morrison that, at worst, was a yellow card and may not even have been that. Again, the appeal failed.
The confusing calls are not just happening on the field. Steven Gerrard said on Friday he doesn't like to comment on referees, but it was the same Steven Gerrard who said earlier in the season that referees have had it in for Rangers for years. There was no charge brought against Gerrard either.
- SPFL has no plans for VAR introduction
- Rodgers unhappy with officials at St Mirren
- SFA 'unprofessional' - Killie's Clarke
- SFA 'welcomes club input' on disciplinary process
On Friday, Craig Gordon spoke about the Scottish FA's new review process, which involves three unnamed former referees retrospectively viewing contentious incidents. "You don't know who they are," said the Celtic goalkeeper. "It's a strange system. You never know who the referees are or what their allegiances might be." Their allegiances? Was Gordon having a conspiratorial moment there? As of now, there's been no word of a sanction for Gordon.
'Where's the consistency?' is the cry. Steve Clarke, who had two more poor calls go against his team in Saturday's loss to Hibernian, is up on a charge of disrepute for criticising referee Willie Collum over the Dicker red card and for criticising the panel for, as he put it, pre-judging the outcome of the appeal. As many have said, there seems to be one law for some and another law for others. The SFA have done nothing to explain the blatant contradictions in what they see as chargeable and what they see as excusable.
Clarke has called in the lawyers for his SFA hearing next month. "There will be no retractions on my part," he said last week. "I stand by everything I said."
Disciplinary system ultimately down to clubs
Club after club have lined up to say that something must be done about the "unacceptable" inconsistencies in the decision-making.
Hibs manager Neil Lennon fears for the reputation of the domestic game. Aberdeen have called for the introduction of the video assistant referee (VAR) system, something Aberdeen and all other clubs could have already introduced if they were prepared to pay for it.
These clubs get the system that they vote for. They don't just have the right to moan about it, they have have the power to change it.
You don't need to be Detective Columbo to conclude that this is an unholy mess. The refs are getting it in the neck, the SFA's review process is getting trashed, managers are angry, players are befuddled. The three referee review needs changing for sure. The optics are not good. Their anonymity is understandable, but three referees is at least one too many. Possibly two too many.
IFAB has muddied the waters
There is some sympathy to be had for all these parties, through, because the root of the problem goes back to the wording in the laws of the game as decreed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
It's as one person close to the scene says: "IFAB have left everybody holding the baby - and then the baby has filled its nappy."
Some of this is new stuff introduced this season, some of it is not new. All of it is frying the footballing brain. This is the definition for violent conduct, punishable by a red card: "An action, which is not a challenge for the ball, which uses or attempts to use excessive force or brutality against an opponent." Brutality is defined as "an act which is savage, ruthless or deliberately violent".
Hence, Morelos gets his red card overturned and McGregor and Naismith are faced with no action because the SFA's review panel decided that their acts weren't savage enough, according to the laws. That was their interpretation of what the laws were telling them. Savagery and brutality. The IFAB panel that brought those words into play has opened a can of worms and then flung it into muddied waters.
The IFAB laws say that a player who "endangers the safety of an opponent" should be red-carded because that's serious foul play, but that a player who "disregards the danger to, or consequences, for an opponent" should only be yellow-carded because that's merely reckless.
Dundee have appealed against Kenny Miller's red card at Ibrox on Saturday. You can imagine how this might go. 'Mr Miller, you lunged in and endangered Borna Barisic's safety so it was serious foul play play and an obvious red card...' 'No, I lunged in and disregarded his safety so it was reckless and, by the book, it's a yellow card...'
If a video referee is using the same law book and the same weird definitions to adjudicate on these incidents then we're largely going to get the same outcomes. Take the Dicker case that is at the root of Clarke's SFA charge. The SFA's review panel had all the time in the world - way more than a VAR official would have had - to watch that incident and yet it upheld the decision of the matchday referee.
Referees get things wrong. That's the point of the review panel. The panel can pore over the minutiae of the IFAB's laws and apply them to the letter - or they can show a bit of common sense. Whatever the IFAB says, an off the ball kick is an off the ball kick and it should be a red card. Whatever IFAB's glossary may say about Dicker's tackle being a deserved red and the incidents involving Morelos, Naismith and McGregor being lesser offences then the review panel needs to have a mind of its own rather than aping the law book.
The IFAB won't change its definitions, so it's up to Scottish football to interpret them in a different, more sensible, way - or else anarchy beckons. Frustration led to Clarke lashing out at the system. He's off to Hampden next month to explain himself. It should never, ever have got this far.