It's one of my biggest pet peeves in football and it happens all over the world and it happens often. Moreover, it makes the game a little less beautiful. I call it the "deliberate handball swindle."
A player, believing he's been fouled, grabs the ball while falling to the ground, forcing the referee into making a decision in the player's favour. As a long suffering observer of CONCACAF, I'll cynically assume that this technique originated in Central America and spread like a disease to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, FIFA has allowed the plague to fester...until recently it seems. More and more, we are seeing officials make the correct decision, by giving a free kick in the other direction, while brandishing the yellow card that is automatically awarded for intentionally handling the ball.
Unfortunately for Whitecaps fans, it was a Vancouver player that fell victim to that modern interpretation and, because Mattias Laba was already in the book, it was an indisputable sending off in the Whitecaps' 2-1 loss to Colorado Rapids on Saturday.
Was Laba pulled back by Nick Labrocca in the 77th minute and might a foul have been awarded? Yes. But there were a full two steamboats between Laba tumbling to the ground and the Argentine midfielder grabbing the ball. Enough time for the referee to blow his whistle, which he didn't, and enough time for Laba to consider the circumstances - already on a yellow with his team leading by a goal. Perhaps in his home country, in front of a huge crowd, a referee might have caved to the con and we see that all the time. I sympathize with officials who are constantly being put in a position of having to interpret deceit.
So for the good of the game, I'm glad Ionnis Stavridis construed the law the way he did and I hope his contemporaries in the game consistently follow suit and react the same way in similar circumstances.
There is part of me, though, that also wonders whether in this instance, if the referee knew right away that Laba was already on a yellow for a belligerent foul just 23 minutes earlier ,as there seemed to be hesitation between him showing the secnd yellow and then the red. If referees themselves strive for anonymity and the desire to let players decide games, then, upon reflection, perhaps Mr. Stavridis might have secretly wished he had just awarded a foul to Nick Labrocca and not influenced the game to that degree.
But it doesn't change the fundamental issue - grabbing the ball to force a referee into a ruling falls under the same category as diving or, as it's now known, “simulation." It's cheating plain and simple and if the Whitecaps truly want to live by their slogan “Our All, Our Honour”, maybe they need to learn from this incident and encourage players to think twice about employing one of the game's most notorious swindles.