Last week’s sports pages reported that Manchester City were being charged by the FA with ‘failing to control their players’ in the 3-3 draw with Tottenham Hotspur. So, let’s look at what it was, that led to the players’ behaviour?
In the dying minutes of the match, City’s star striker, Erling Haaland, was fouled around about the centre circle. However, he still managed to pass the ball to Jack Grealish, who raced towards the Tottenham goal being chased by three Spurs players.
Referee, Simon Hooper, gave the play on, advantage signal. However, as the foursome drew nearer to the Spurs penalty area, he changed his mind, and blew his whistle for the original foul.
This led him being surrounded by hostile City players. It was for this, that the FA alleged the club had failed to ensure that their players didn’t behave in an improper way.
Playing advantage has been mentioned in the Laws of the Game for as long as I can remember, but didn’t get its own paragraph until 2016. In fact, there is little in there that would help in this situation.
However, Football Rules, a separate publication from the IFAB, aimed at simplifying the Laws for players and coaches, has some more information.
It says that ‘The referee should only play advantage if there is a real benefit for the non-offending team, no player is seriously injured, and there is no risk of a reaction or confrontation’.
It goes on to say that ‘The referee must make a quick, tactical decision, and should remember that allowing play is not always in the best interest of the non-offending team and a free kick in an attacking situation may be better for the non-offending team than allowing play to continue.
Another possible relevant comment is, ‘a referee can wait for a few seconds to allow a possible advantage to develop and if the non-offending team does not benefit advantage, the original free kick can be given’. However, if the player fails to score, there’s no second chance, the referee cannot go back and give the original freed kick.
Was this why the referee blew his whistle? Did he perhaps use the Law on denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity, which says, the referee must take into consideration, the distance between the offence and the goal, the likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball, location and number of defenders.
Did he think that with the proximity of the three defenders and with still a little way to go, Grealish was unlikely to score, so thought the free kick was the better option? We will probably never know.