In the 42nd minute of the Community Shield match between Chelsea and Manchester City, Referee Kevin Friend showed Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic a red card for a tackle on Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov. As the footage below shows, Ivanovic attempted to dispossess Kolarov by a sliding tackle. While sliding toward Kolarov and the ball, Ivanovic raised his leading leg off the ground, exposed his studs and — with speed and fully outstretched leg — barreled his way into Kolarov’s shin, taking him down in the process. Mr. Friend did not hesitate and immediately showed Ivanovic a red card. Despite Chelsea’s protests at the severity of the punishment, Mr. Friend was absolutely right in dismissing Ivanovic from the game because his tackle was not merely “reckless.” Rather, it was “serious foul play.”
For the reasons explained below, Ivanovic was guilty of “serious foul play” when he tackled Kolarov and therefore deserved the most severe form of punishment.
Under IFAB’s interpretations of the FIFA Laws of the Game, fouls are divided into three levels of severity: (i) careless fouls, (ii) reckless fouls and (iii) fouls “using excessive force”. Each type of foul requires a different form of punishment. IFAB’s interpretations state that:
“Careless” means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.
- No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless
“Reckless” means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.
- A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned
“Using excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.
- A player who uses excessive force must be sent off
Moreover, IFAB’s interpretations state that “a player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play. A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play. Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.” (Emphasis added.) In its Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, the United States Soccer Federation added that “a foul committed while tackling an opponent with little or no concern for the safety of the opponent shall be cause for the player to be sent from the field and shown the red card for serious foul play.”
In this situation, there is no doubt in our mind that Ivanovic used excessive force that put Kolarov in danger of serious injury. Ivanovic’s sliding tackle was made from the side and at full speed. He had no chance to slow himself down in the event he realized that he was going to miss the ball. We think that was precisely the point of Ivanovic’s tackle: stop Kolarov at all cost because he was on top of the penalty box and sprinting toward the goal. Secondly, Ivanovic’s leg was fully outstretched with studs exposed. At this speed, he could have easily broken Kolarov’s leg.
We realize that Kolarov was able to walk away from the incident without suffering any injury. However, the fact that Kolarov was lucky to escape the encounter with no apparent injury does not lessen the severity of the foul in the eyes of the law. It is the fact that Ivanovic exceeded the necessary use of force, showed no concern for the safety of Kolarov and put him in danger of injury that qualifies this foul as “serious foul play” for his use of excessive force. Referee Kevin Friend made the right call as Ivanovic deserved to be sent off.