Laszlo Szirtesi

In the game of football, a red card can swing everything. Yet when more than one player gets sent off it can send things into disarray. Recently a match in Brazil went far beyond that point when ten red cards were issued. The strange result has caused a debate to spread through the footballing world.

When two teams are pitted against each other with eleven players on each side football can seem like a game of chess. The strategy that goes into every position is incredibly detailed. You must know everything about your position and the man or zone you are marking. When one player gets sent off all of that strategy goes out the window yet teams usually have plans in place that the team has trained for. They know that if any player gets sent off they (usually) substitute one striker and resort to some form of a four-four-one formation. This is manageable.

When two players get sent it off it can be difficult to manage. Yet when five players get sent off all hell breaks loose. Actually the rules do state that if a team can’t field seven players (including a goalkeeper) in a game that game must be abandoned. It appears that even the rules are in place to stop such a spectacle taking place, and rightly so.

In the game in Brazil, the first card came in the very first minute of the game. The signs were ominous from the beginning. The match was between two local rivals Bahia and Vitoria and tempers were clearly running high. It appears based on the referee’s quick reaction that he was expecting an aggressive display and was trying to lay down an early market that no foul play would be allowed. His early warning was ignored. 

The match remained just below the boiling point until the second half. A penalty was awarded to the away team and the goalkeeper did not enjoy how the opposing players celebrated the goal. Words were had and punches were thrown. Before anyone knew where to look an all-out brawl had started with everyone involved.

The game had to be abandoned due to the number of players still allowed on the field but likely would have been abandoned due to the nature of violence that had taken place. It would be unfair to ask a referee to continue to oversee a game with such tempers and silly to allow players to continue.

The debate that has risen from the game though concerns the role of the referee. The question is if a referee should take into account the occasion, rivalry, location and other outside factors of a game in his decision or if he should judge it like any other? This referee was clearly trying to make a point when he issued a yellow card in the first minute and whether that point was understood is a different debate. The question is, was he entitled to make such a point? 

A number of professional referees have come out in his defense and said that no ref should ever show bias to one club but if there is a derby taking place where things will clearly become agitated they are right to show an early sign that they will take no-nonsense. Others disagree and say that it is the job of the referee to adjudicate the game not to dictate it. That if teams want to act stupidly and get their game abandoned that is their decision. If the referee intervenes he is adjusting the outcome of the game which is unfair on the teams involved and other teams in the league.

The debate will likely rage on for some time but as with any rule, we believe common sense should prevail. In this case, he knew something was going to go crazy and was right to try and stop it before it happened.