Why are referees so scared to give penalties?

The performance of referee Felix Brych throughout Manchester United’s 2-1 Europa League loss to Sevilla raised plenty of eyebrows. Some decisions were genuinely laughable, and it’s hard to believe that an official who is ranked so highly across Europe could get so many simple decisions wrong in such a short period of time. 

The major talking point came when what seemed to be a clear foul on Bruno Fernandes wasn’t given as a penalty. United’s poor finishing, coupled with managerial failures on the night by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, were enough to warrant defeat. However, United had already went ahead early on through a penalty that was (correctly) given. So why wasn’t the second claim given? It would definitely have changed the game, but there are explanations that are clear to see. 

“It would have been a soft penalty!”

A lot of people are already countering United fans’ with the commonly used phrase: “It would have been a soft penalty!” I have always despised this notion – there is no such thing as a soft penalty, and it’s either a foul or it isn’t. Referees can make wrong decisions, but if a foul occurs it should be penalised. It doesn’t matter how soft it is.

If the foul on Fernandes had occurred anywhere else on the pitch, it would have been given as a foul. So why do defenders get away with the same offence just because it takes place in their own box? I have no doubt in my mind that the referee felt that because he had already given United one penalty already, it would be unfair to give them another. This is a ludicrous mentality, and denied United another attempt from the spot. 

Decisions like this happen every week for every team. Fouls that would given anywhere else on the pitch aren’t punished due simply to a shared opinion that it would be ‘soft’. If a foul takes place, penalise it and stop letting defenders get away with murder. Some of them might then learn how to actually defend and wouldn’t rely on nudges off the ball to protect their goalkeeper. 

VAR is incompetent 

It’s no secret that the use of VAR is absolutely abysmal and this decision laid it bare to see yet again. According to the commentating report, they looked at this foul once and immediately relayed to the referee that there was no infringement. We have been forced to wait much longer for other obvious decisions to be made, so why was this check over so quickly? And why did they get it wrong?

For me, it quite simply highlights the fact that the level of officiating in Europe is very poor right now. It’s incredibly difficult to understand how a group of professionally trained referees can watch that event on a video screen and still come to the conclusion (within around five seconds) that there was no offence. It is genuinely mind boggling. 

Referees are genuinely scared to give penalties

The fear referees have of giving too many penalties also plays a major role in these poor decisions. They have been coerced into believing that giving too many fouls in the box is a mark of a whistle-happy referee, but this couldn’t be further than the truth. Again, I’ll reiterate an earlier point; it’s either a foul or it’s not. It doesn’t matter if it’s ‘soft’ or not. 

This leads to many fouls in the box going unpunished, and it’s led to a generation of defenders who struggle if they can’t slyly foul an opposing player. Why do you think games among Europe’s elite clubs (Bayern Munich against Barcelona a few nights ago, for instance) are being defined by poor defending? When it comes to defending properly, with timing, tackling and positioning, teams are getting worse and worse. They rely too heavily on ‘soft’ fouls that referees will not punish. 

I realise this article started out a bit Manchester United-orientated again, but that’s just because the most recent example took place in their game last night. I’d also like to point out that there is nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned shoulder barge, and that I’m a fan of these. However, last nights foul wasn’t far off borderline assault and should have been duly punished.

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