It looks weird, but it’s legal
Lionel Messi caused a bit of a storm last week when he passed a penalty kick to a team-mate, but it was nothing new, writes S’Busiso Mseleku The penalty pass
Many football enthusiasts were shocked when five-time World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi coolly rolled the ball from the penalty spot for team-mate Luis Suárez to slot home in a 6-1 drubbing of Celta Vigo. Some thought the goal should not stand. However, aficionados must have nodded in agreement, as the goal was legitimate. It was also not the first time this had been done. Belgian internationals Rik Coppens and Andre Pieters are credited with being the first to try the move – in an international match against Iceland in 1957.
Arsenal team-mates Thierry Henry and Robert Pirès tried to re-enact it in 2005, with calamitous results ( see graphic).
This week, Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, who scored a similar goal in 1982, praised Messi.
“What Messi did was to enjoy himself, and for the fans to enjoy themselves. The lack of respect is not recognising that Celta played a great game, and it was a tough game for Barça,” he told Catalan newspaper El Periódico.
A YouTube video that went viral this week showed how Cruyff passed the ball to Ajax Amsterdam team-mate Jesper Olsen, who had two touches before dishing the ball back to Cruyff to score in a match against Helmond Sport in 1982.
Cruyff revealed the referee had not been sure whether to allow his goal.
“Everyone was very surprised,” he said. “The referee came over and asked me ‘Is that legal?’ Of course it was legal. I passed the ball forward, he came running in from outside the area. Later, there was a lot of talk about it – the media, the fans, everyone asking if it counted.” And therein lies the rub! The key is in moving the ball forward (and the penalty taker not touching it twice before someone else does). Rule 14, which governs the penalty kick, is quite clear about this.
Answering questions about Messi’s kick on his website, asktheref.com, Australian referee Jason Wright, wrote: “There’s nothing stopping a player from doing that. However, the ball must move forwards, and the team-mate must not enter the penalty area until the ball is kicked.”
There have been changes to the penalty kick law in recent years, but they do not affect the important elements that: The kick must send the ball forward; All team-mates must be outside the penalty area and the D at the time of the kick; and
All players, except the goalkeeper, must not be in front of the ball – that is, to the side of the penalty area.
Football has had its fair share of controversies over the years. While some are caused by referees getting it wrong, mostly it is the fans who are driven by emotion and a lack of knowledge about the laws of the game.
Among the biggest controversies were when players headed the ball out of goalkeepers’ hands.
This happened in the 1989/90 English Premiership season when Nottingham Forest’s Gary Crosby sneaked up from behind and headed the ball out of Manchester City goalkeeper Andy Dibble’s hand and scored. The goal stood, giving Nottingham Forest a famous 1-0 victory.
In the 1997/98 season, Coventry City striker Dion Dublin sneaked up behind Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given – who was rolling the ball on the ground, preparing to kick it outfield – and scored.
Heading the ball out of a goalkeeper’s hand(s) is no longer permissible and is considered dangerous play. Liverpool discovered this in October 2012, when Daniel Agger tried it in a game against Anzhi Makhachkala, but the resultant goal was disallowed.
Penalties and offside rules have proven to be the most controversial and misunderstood.
A fortnight ago, Chelsea skipper John Terry saw his goal-bound shot blocked by Manchester United defender Daley Blind’s arm, but referee Michael Oliver waved away the Chelsea protests.
Retired referee Errol Sweeney said the whistle man had been correct: “The law says the hand has to be moving towards the ball and not the ball towards the hand. It also says the refs must take into consideration the closeness of the player to the ball and whether he could have had the opportunity to get his hand out of the way. I think there is sufficient doubt there, so, in my opinion, no penalty,” he said.