The action caused a stir. Even continues to enrage more than one Marseille supporter. And to leave more than one observer speechless. We are of course talking about the hand of Moussa Dembélé in the penalty area while the score was still nil between OM and OL. A gesture that Antony Gautier – the referee of the meeting – did not wish to sanction and which had a key impact in this clash between Marseille and Lyon, largely won by Les Gones in the end (0-3). “Today I do not know the rule of the hand in the surface. Someone has to explain it”, summed up an annoyed Pablo Longoria after the meeting at Amazon Prime’s microphone.
It’s the salt of arbitration
Moussa Dembélé’s hand seems obvious when looking at the images. The Lyon striker stops Gerson’s cross by tackling. And he does it with his upper arm. “Defensive hands are punishable in two cases“explains Bruno Derrien, former international referee. “The first case is deliberate hands, which does not concern Dembélé’s gesture. He has no arm movement towards the ball. The second scenario is where the debate is open. It is about the fact that a foul is committed if a player artificially increases the area covered by his body when it is not justified by the movement of the body of the player for this specific situation“.
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Dembélé’s action falls into this case. But as the International Board (IFAB) points out, “any contact between the ball and the arm or hand does not necessarily constitute an infringement“.”Antony Gautier may have considered that the widening was not artificial and that the arm position was caused by a natural movement linked to his sliding tacklenotes Bruno Derrien. It’s up to appreciation. And it is said in the rule that the referees must use their judgment. Law 12 indeed grants a great deal of interpretation and maneuver to the arbitrators. Moreover, the law encourages not to systematically whistle the hands but pushes the referees to use their judgment. It is from this observation that Antony Gautier makes his decision.”
The sound of the referees? “It would help to better understand certain decisions”
The area hit by the ball on the arm of Moussa Dembélé could also have pushed Antony Gautier not to whistle. “There is a part of the arm that is not punishable“, notes Bruno Derrien. “In the context of hand fouls, the arm starts at the bottom of the armpit“, indeed specified in these modifications of 2020 the IFAB, which provides the referees with a visual to identify the sanctionable zones. But it is more the notion of interpretation which poses concern. “It is the salt of arbitration. To arbitrate is to interpret, answers Bruno Derrien. People’s incomprehension comes more from the fact that there is no homogeneity of decisions.”
So how do you avoid these frustrations? For Pablo Longoria, it’s a matter of sounding the referees in Ligue 1.”Because it gives more clarity“, launched the Marseille boss on Sunday. Everyone explained to me that there was no hand when you are on the ground but there was a hand when you enlarge the surface of your body. (…) Someone has to explain it.” The sound system for the referees is “essential“, added Jean-Michel Aulas, his counterpart from Lyon. “We have mentioned it several times. We also see that there are other things but we have to start with the sound system“. And Bruno Derrien traces the same furrow: “It would help to better understand certain decisions. The debate will still take place but we will have the explanation of the referee live. And it will be interesting“.
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