I know that Pep Guardiola doesn’t agree with me but I thought Andre Marriner had an excellent game on Sunday and was right not to award the visitors a penalty in the final minute.
There is no doubt that the ball hit Nacho Monreal’s arm in the penalty area but that does not automatically mean it was a penalty. Andre would have seen the contact but what he would have been asking himself was whether it was a deliberate handball.
To award a penalty or a free-kick for handball you have to be certain there was intent from the player concerned, and that makes it one of the most difficult areas for a referee to adjudicate on.
I think in this instance there was enough doubt for Andre to make the decision he did. The ball was dropping from a height while the player was in motion and it seemed to me that he just misjudged it. His arm was in a natural position and it struck me as an accident rather than an offence he intended to commit.
That said, if you asked a group of referees whether that was a penalty then I believe half would say it was and half would say it wasn’t. The interpretation of whether an action was deliberate is entirely up to the referee and each may see an incident differently - but on this occasion Andre and his assistant were well positioned and both agreed it was not something Monreal did on purpose.
While ‘deliberate’ is a word that remains in every referee’s handbook the word ‘intent’ was taken out some time ago in relation to a player making a tackle. Now a referee cannot ask him or herself whether a foul was intended to cause harm but instead whether it was careless, reckless, or used excessive force.
That distinction is important because it gives you more leeway to judge each decision, and it was the wording of that law that I feel saved Jesus Navas from a red card for his early challenge on Monreal. As with the handball incident the outcome - Navas catching his opponent - is not in doubt. But it struck me as an accidental challenge and one that crucially did not use excessive force.
That to my mind was the biggest difference between that tackle and the one by Ross Barkley on Dejan Lovren in the Merseyside derby that to my mind should have seen the Everton midfielder sent off by Anthony Taylor. That challenge was extremely dangerous and was a clear example of excessive force, which should have resulted in a red card. The Navas challenge was certainly deserving of a yellow but I didn’t think it quite crossed the threshold to merit a red.
Above all, what these decisions show is the importance of interpretation, which is something the referee must make a judgement on dozens of times in a match. Did a player mean to handle the ball? Was that challenge designed to hurt an opponent? Could they have gone in for that tackle without endangering the other player?
Deciphering the intent of players is part of the job, and officials do get it wrong, as with Taylor in the Barkley incident. But despite the protestations of Guardiola and his players I feel Andre Marriner was spot on at The Emirates yesterday.
- Keith Hackett is a former referee and resident expert on You-Are-The-Ref.com