The heavy consequences of ‘light touch’ refereeing
New refereeing protocol is intended to make football more free-flowing
It won’t please English football fans, said Susy Campanale on Football-Italia.net, but Romelu Lukaku got it right. Italy’s Serie A, said the Belgian striker, who has just returned to the Premier League after being lured away from Inter Milan by Chelsea, is “tactically and technically a better league” than England’s top flight. The chatter in the opening week of this season has focused on Lukaku’s transfer fee (a club record of £97.5m) and whether he was worth the money – a question he helped answer with his terrific opening goal in Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Arsenal last weekend. But of equal interest are the questions Lukaku raised about English football. In England, he said, football is “all about the intensity”.
The Premier League is certainly intense, said Henry Winter in The Times. And thanks to new instructions given to referees this season, it will be more intense than ever. They’ve been told to apply a new “light touch” protocol. Small niggly fouls are more likely to be ignored; attackers will be given the benefit of the doubt on tight offside calls. It’s meant to make the game more free-flowing, but some fear it will just make the English game more intense and physical – and more hotly disputed. Arsenal were incensed, for example, when shortly before half-time, they were denied a penalty after Bukayo Saka “took a strong shove” from behind in Chelsea’s box. Last season a penalty would probably have been given.
Managers are worried too, said Adrian Kajumba in the Daily Mail. Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp has warned that football could turn into a “wrestling match”; Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjær said the sport was in danger of “turning into rugby”. Yet they are “trying to make a big deal out of nothing”, said Tony Cascarino in The Times. When I played in the 1980s and 1990s, defenders got away with far more than they can do now. Using physical force has always been a key part of the game.