Sorry, but the Christian Benteke Red Card Was Correct

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Update: Here’s the excellent response about Benteke’s red card by Villa’s manager, Paul Lambert.

Usual disclaimer: I am not only a referee supporter, but a Tottenham supporter.

Let me start out by saying I hated seeing Christian Benteke sent off in the Villa v. Tottenham match. He was playing like a boss, and I honestly don’t think Spurs would have won if he’d stayed on the pitch.

However, I do think it’s correct that he didn’t.

The situation was that tensions were boiling over in the second half, thanks in part to an absolute lack of control by referee Neil Swarbrick, and what was seen by Villa as Swarbrick’s willingness to overlook dangerous challenges by Tottenham, including one by Jan Vertonghen. (Not sure I agree it was dangerous after seeing it on replay, but the Villa players certainly did on first blush.)

They were also upset by Spurs’ Erik Lamela going unpunished for a push on Benteke right before the fateful spat.

This all resulted in Benteke losing his cool in the 64th minute, and putting his hand to Ryan Mason’s face.

Swarbrick, to his credit, did not react right away. He broke up the ensuing brawl, consulted with his team (including the fourth official and AR, who were basically looking right at Benteke). Then he pulled the red card.

Let’s be clear:

Swarbrick gave the red card for Violent Conduct, in accordance with the Laws of the Game, and it’s been made abundantly clear over the last few years that raising a hand to an opponent’s face is always considered violent conduct.

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Unfortunately, the American audience was done a huge disservice by the NBC announcer, who kept insisting that it “wasn’t even a slap” and the referee should “use common sense” instead of following what is a very clear-cut, well-communicated law with a ton of precedent.

It got so bad that the other announcer – aware that his colleague was incorrect – had to point out that Swarbrick hadn’t given a red card in 44 matches and that in all cases, a hand to the face is considered a red card offense. He admitted that he knew Benteke was going off the minute he saw it.

Sadly, the first announcer’s lack of understanding of the Laws of the Game got picked up by fans, with people on Twitter saying it wasn’t “hard enough” to warrant a sending off. (Do we really want referees deciding by their whim if one slap to the face is hard enough to warrant a sending off v. another slap to the face rather than a straight forward “don’t slap the player’s face”?)

One poster claimed it was a “gentle brush of the face”.

People, this isn’t a gentle brush of the face:

Sorry, but while I agree that Swarbrick let the game get out of hand and that Benteke was right to be upset, you just can’t do that and every referee will show the red card for it. It doesn’t matter if you were right to be angry; you still can’t lay hands on your opponents.

Note: It’s been pointed out – and you can see in the above video – that Mason squares up to and leans into Benteke. Benteke still would have been red-carded for his reaction, regardless. But this kind of aggression – which from some angles appears to be a headbutt – can certainly be considered violent conduct, if the officials had seen it. If they did not, it may be reasonable that the FA could take retroactive action on Mason. It’s also another example of the referee’s lack of control in this match.

It sucked. Benteke is not a dirty player and Tottenham didn’t deserve to win that game.

But the red card was correct.

PS: As a Tottenham fan, it was utter bullshit that Erik Lamela waved an imaginary red card in Swarbrick’s face after Benteke’s mistake, right or no. Good on Harry Kane for telling him off. You just worry about you, Coco.

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