Having happily watched more of the soccer World Cup than I had expected, I was struck by a couple of differences between the rules applying to soccer and rugby. With the benefit of a general lack of understanding of soccer’s traditions and culture in my locker, it seemed to me that soccer might be improved if its authorities took some leaves out of rugby’s book.
Concussion and head injuries are a current source of concern in sport generally. Rugby is a particular case in point because of the deliberate physical contact nature of its collisions and I would not pretend that its historical record in terms of it medical and preventative measures is exemplary.
Nevertheless, the sight of the German player Christoph Kramer plainly suffering a head injury in the soccer World Cup Final recently and remaining on the pitch (after prolonged treatment) for a further 14 minutes before eventually being led off by the medics was puzzling and of concern to me – not least because he definitely looked as though he was in la-la land.
I read yesterday that the Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli had mentioned in a recent interview that he sensed something was awry when Kramer approached him and respectfully enquired if he could ask a question. Was he playing in the World Cup Final? (“… it’s very important to me to know”). Upon being told that he was, Kramer thanked him and walked away.
Last season rugby introduced a specific new head injury protocol, quite separate from the standard one that anything involving a blood spill requires the referee to order the player from the pitch to get patched up, if necessary to be temporarily replaced by someone from the bench.
However now, if a player has a head injury which the medics – or indeed any of the officials – suspect may involve concussion, he is immediately ordered from the pitch for a ‘5 minute concussion assessment’ by a pitch-side doctor. Again, he can be replaced temporarily by someone from the bench – if the assessment is that he has not suffered concussion – or permanently (if he has).
The important aspect of this new system is that there are no ifs and buts. The medics and officials are operating under a three-line whip. No rugby player, concussed or otherwise, would normally volunteer to leave the field in the heat of battle unless it was really necessary, but sometimes they have to be protected from themselves. Further, any diagnosis of concussion results in an automatic three week ban from playing, pending another assessment.
Perhaps a similar protocol on concussion should be considered in soccer.
My second subject is more contentious – yellow cards.
I get irritated by the conduct and attitude of some soccer players. Let’s leave out of this the faked injuries and rolling around on the floor as if shot for the moment, I’m talking about bad tackles, especially deliberate ones, that are straight-out dangerous to limb if not life.
Defenders often take a player out, by fair means or foul, and – when the referee goes for his pocket to bring out a yellow card – it is plain that receiving the official reprimand it represents is regarded by the perpetrator of the crime as less a slap on the wrist than to all intents and purposes of no significance at all. Yes, okay, if they get three or four cards in a short space of time they might have to go up before the beak to be considered for a match or two ban, but so what?
Getting a yellow is basically a case of ‘taking one for the team’, about a noteworthy as being buzzed by a bluebottle.
My suggestion is that soccer should undertake a trial of applying what happens in rugby – in which committing a yellow card offence means an automatic ‘walk of shame’ to the touchline and 10 minutes in the sin bin.
Even in one of soccer’s classic hatred-filled derby matches, if a prospective tackler knows that a yellow card will result in his team being forced to play one-short for 10 minutes, he’d be a bit more choosy and circumspect about when he went in with his studs showing and/or with intent or recklessness as to whether he potentially injured his target.
Similarly, I’d love to see one of soccer well-known diva divers do one of his inward one and a half somersault-with-pike specials … and then roll around appealing for a penalty … only to be told to get up, have a yellow waved in his face and be told to depart the pitch for 10 minutes in the cooler. If this version of the yellow card protocol applied, I suspect that plenty of the ‘villains’ in professional soccer would soon clean up their act. Further, if they didn’t, I’d hazard a guess that their team-mates and/or manager would soon point out a few salient facts of life.
As I said, just a couple of thoughts …