It’s a goal that has really split the pundits, ex-professionals and supporters alike. Bruno Fernandes scored a controversial 78th-minute equaliser in the Manchester Derby, before the architect of that goal, Marcus Rashford, hit the winner four minutes later to condemn Manchester City to defeat at Old Trafford.
Rashford chased a through ball ahead of City defender Manual Akanji, before Fernandes scored. The referee’s assistant flagged for offside against Rashford, only for referee Stuart Attwell to overturn the decision and award a goal.
Rashford was deemed as ‘not interfering with play’ before Fernandes scored. But his close proximity to the ball, and the fact that he was clearly in the line of vision of Akanji, must surely mean he was directly influencing the passage of play, and therefore interfering. Not according to Attwell.
The decision to award the goal has split general opinion to the point where the rules are once again being scrutinised to find out who was right and who was wrong. The problem is that referees, assistants and VAR all seem to have very different interpretations of the rules of the game. In addition, the rules have been changed so much over the years, that it’s getting extremely hard to keep up.
Take the handball rule for example. One time it was clear; it hits your hand, then its handball. But not anymore. If it hits your hand that’s in an unnatural position, it’s handball. But if a defender is on the floor and it hits the hand, then it’s accidental. Or is it? That seems to be the rule referees are adhering to. Take Rodri’s handball at Everton last season. In fairness, that should have been a penalty. But, because of where the ball hit him, it was deemed no handball.
The offside rule has changed so much that assistants are no longer supposed to put their flag up, even when it’s a blatant offside, until a goal is scored. Play is brought back and checked by VAR before a decision is made.
On Saturday, the assistant clearly thought Rashford was interfering with the play and flagged for offside when the goal was scored. Attwell disagreed and overturned the decision. Why wasn’t VAR involved? It was a quick decision that completely bypassed the technology that is supposed to put an end to referee mistakes, not add to them
Who was right?
The FA’s own rulebook states that if a player moving from, or standing in an offside position is in the way of an opponent and interferes with the movement of the opponent towards the ball is an offside offence. Rashford was in the way of Manual Akanji and therefore obstructing him, so, in this instance, offside was the right call.
The key to this is Rashford and Akanji’s positioning.
If Akanji is not in the equation, then there’s no issue. Rashford has followed the ball but is not obstructing anyone. There’s no chasing defender and the goal is legitimate.
Take Rashford out of the equation, then Akanji has a chance of getting the ball. With no striker in front of him, he has a clear run and an opportunity to make a tackle or block the shot.
But the fact that Rashford was in front of Akanji means he’s in the defender’s eyeline and therefore interfering with play. The assistant was right in his assessment.
Was it cheating? Were Manchester City robbed?
This is the million-dollar question. Some have called it clever play from Rashford, which is what it is. It wasn’t cheating as such; he knew exactly what he was doing when shielding the ball from Akanji. Rashford is a clever player and it showed on Saturday. You do what you can to win matches and if the officials are up to the job, then that should eliminate any cheating or misleading play. U
Unfortunately, Premier League officials are nowhere near up to the task and, if it wasn’t already clear from previous seasons, it is certainly proving so this time around. This decision changed the game and robbed the blues of a point if not all three. It’s not just this decision; the season has been riddled with a poor standard of refereeing that is not befitting of the so-called ‘best league in the world.’
The FA, Premier League and PGMOL need to get this sorted out soon. Decisions like this are ruining our game. How many more times will teams go through this before some sort of action is taken?