Bhaichung Bhutia’s ability to recall major moments of his career is perhaps worse than his skills as a goalkeeper. But though dates, opponents, the venue and the tournament remain a blur, he does remember being undone by a referee when a scissors-kick equaliser for East Bengal was disallowed for dangerous play.
“I remember seeing a television replay and realising that we were denied,” he said, on Wednesday, referring to the Scissors Cup match in 1994 which East Bengal lost and were eliminated.
Bhutia agreed that there’s a thin line between a wonder goal with an overhead volley and it being disallowed for dangerous play but said, the reaction of the opponents too have a lot to do with it. “If you look at the goals scored by Diego Costa (against Swansea) and Laurent Koscielny (against Southampton), you will see that the defenders didn’t exaggerate effects of the contact both scorers had with them. I have seen the opposite happen in India; defenders in such situations have acted as if they have been shot,” said the former India skipper, who said his most memorable scissors-kick goal came in a Kolkata league match on East Bengal ground.
“In terms of execution and the angle at which the ball went in that was perfect,” said Bhutia, who scored the I-League’s first hat-trick and whose record of 19 goals in the Kolkata derby is unlikely to be broken soon.
“You really couldn’t have faulted the referees had they blown for dangerous play but that would have been denying two spectacular goals,” said Bhutia, referring to the strikes for Chelsea and Arsenal.
Perhaps that is exactly why they were allowed to stand, said Udayan Halder, president of the Calcutta Referees’ Association (CRA). “Referees remember that while controlling a match is important, it is not them that people come to see. Also, over the years, if the fitness of players has improved, so has that of the referees. That also means they get into better positions to judge players. I think it was the combination of the entertainment angle and the referees’ positioning that convinced them that the goals should stand.”
Neither of the goals in question would rival Klaus Fischer’s effort in the 1982 World Cup semi-final between West Germany and France or the one by Zlatan Ibrahimovic against England or even Wayne Rooney’s effort in the 2011 Manchester derby but they were the best in the Premiership’s last round. But since Koscielny and Costa also made contact with the defenders --- Jordi Clasie and Kyle Naughton respectively --- the goals spurred a debate on their legality.
Matt le Tissier tweeted that the referee (Andre Marriner) should have disallowed Costa’s goal and Alan Smith pointed out that some referees would have charged the Chelsea striker with dangerous play. On the other hand, Sky Sports’ Alan McInally said: “Maybe by the law of the game it should be disallowed if the feet are so high. But you don’t want to take that out of the game. If the opportunity is there as a striker, you think ‘I’m overhead kicking this in.’”
That such an effort was disallowed last year by referee Simon Hooper, in his first Premiership game, and the criticism that followed may have weighed on the referees’ mind as well. Last season, Norwich’s Cameron Jerome ‘scored’ with an overhead kick against Crystal Palace but Hooper felt his high boot could have hurt Palace’s Joel Ward.
“The disallowed goal is the worst decision you will see all season - on the opening day,” said Chris Sutton on BBC Final Score. Ian Wright went a step further. “If, in years to come, Terminators take over the world and people ask me ‘where did it all start?’ I will say it was when Cameron Jerome’s goal for Norwich was disallowed on the opening day of the 2015-16 season,” he told BBC.
“It is important to see if the opponent is scared by the action of the attacker. If the attacker is doing something while attempting the scissors-kick that scares the opponent in going for a challenge, the referee will call it dangerous play and award a free-kick,” said Gautam Kar, director at the All India Football Federation (AIFF) who has also been a Fifa referee and match commissioner in an Asian Champions League final.
“The referee can do that even if the follow-up action of the attacker hits the opponent in a way that the opponent can be seriously injured. You see, the referee also needs to justify why he has called a particular action dangerous.”
Kar said he remembered a Durand Cup match when, as a referee, he disallowed a goal scored by a back volley because the attacker’s leg hit the defender on follow-through. It is important for the referee to balance safety, quality and entertainment, said Kar.
So rare, hence beautiful
Also called the bicycle-kick, the overhead volley with legs moving like scissors arms is a work of art that livens a football match. When successfully executed, it gets people talking. Shyam Thapa knows all about it. People still remember his goal for Mohun Bagan that made the difference in the Kolkata derby in 1978.
“In every 100 games you see, you would see goals from such efforts in, say, one or two games. I would try them while training alone but only during the monsoon as the ground would be soft. Just as important as connecting is how you land. You can break your hip if you don’t land properly,” said Thapa. “I know everyone talks about the goal against East Bengal but the one I scored with Goa’s Brahmanand (Shankhwalkar) in goal for Bengal in the Santosh Trophy was more satisfying. Even the one I scored against Rajasthan for East Bengal in the Kolkata league in 1970 was better,” he said.
For Bhutia, it was early initiation into gymnastics that helped. “That gave me agility and the flexibility. It is a totally instinctive thing. It is usually crowded inside the penalty area so you need to be aware if you are in a pocket of space where this can be pulled off,” he said.
Anywhere else on the pitch, barring perhaps clearing one’s lines, lifting the leg above one’s opponent’s waist would be deemed as dangerous play. Nani would know all about it when referee Cuneyt Cakir showed him the red card for a ‘reckless’ challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa forcing Manchester United to play with 10 against Real Madrid in the 2013 Champions League pre-quarter final.
The law on dangerous play is ambiguous and it’s not the only one. Playing in a dangerous manner is defined as: “…. any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone (including the player themself) and includes preventing a nearby opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury. A scissors or bicycle kick is permissible provided that it is not dangerous to an opponent.” Implicit in this is the licence for goalscorers to attempt the spectacular.