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Let's be clear, there is no defence for the actions of Marouane Fellaini on Saturday who, within a period of 90 minutes, aimed an elbow, forehand punch and headbutt at Ryan Shawcross. Referee Mark Halsey did not spot any of the three incidents and the Belgian was incredibly lucky to escape with only a three-match ban.
Nothing justifies violent conduct on the field, and two wrongs do not make a right - especially when one of those wrongs is the planting of forehead into another's nose - but the fact remains that on all occasions, Shawcross had hold of Fellaini, and not a tender 'your heading gets me weak at the knees' hold but a two-hand grab more associated with wrestling or judo.
It is a situation seen at every ground during every match at every level of the professional game. Just like diving, as the stakes get higher and the need gets greater, players are prepared to take bigger risks in order to gain an advantage. But, whereas bookings for simulation are the current cause célèbre of refereeing - logically leading to a reduction amongst the more intelligent culprits - shirt-pulling at set-pieces continues to go unpunished.
In truth, who can blame the players? If a hundred people were given the information that there was a £50 note on a table and that there would be no punishment for pocketing the cash, how many would take advantage? There will always be a moral select that believe things should be done in the 'right way', but as others continuously profit from such immorality, this righteous element decreases through experience.
The Laws of the Game are clear on the practice: 'A direct free-kick (or penalty) is awarded if a player holds an opponent, irrespective of the position of the ball, provided it is in play.' The cliché of 'anywhere else on the pitch you'd get a free kick for that' is obvious, but rings true. Referees seem at best averse and at worst allergic to awarding penalties for such fouls. And it's blighting the game.
Giving a penalty for holding or shirt-pulling is almost seen as a 'soft decision' - another phrase created in the imaginations of football fans but bearing no resemblance to reality. It isn't 'soft', and it isn't any less of a penalty than scything a forward down in the box, because the Law doesn't distinguish on severity. There is no mention of 'blatant', 'denying a clear goalscoring opportunity' or 'persistent', so these too are descriptions that have simply been invented by partisan supporters and interminable pundits. Fans, players and managers may moan when penalties are awarded for such offences, but with the clear technological evidence on display almost immediately, referees would have near-instant justification in the minds of the sane.
Many of you will consider me pedantic for touching on such a point, but this isn't pedantry, it is aiming to eradicate a form of cheating. It would be heart-warming to hear Tony Pulis moan at the 'soft' award of a penalty for Shawcross' holding (and he is just one of an infinite number of perpetrators) for an interviewer to show the manager the footage and remark, "well it looks to me like he is holding him whilst the ball is in play, old chap". Referees might feel uncomfortable about becoming the focal point of a game in which multiple penalties are awarded, but the stupidity of the offender cannot become an excuse for wilful ignorance.
What makes the current status quo so bizarre is that prior to set-pieces, the referee actively warns players not to offend, a unique event within a match. Mike Dean didn't call over Ben Davies and warn the defender not to hack down Aaron Lennon should he ghost past the full-back, but yet every referee will halt the taking of an early set-piece and remind established professional players not to hold each other for fear of punishment. The cross is delivered, attackers are held, and the game carries on merrily, the warning cripplingly unheeded. Akin to a parent warning naughty children on December 23 that Santa won't deliver when the presents are already wrapped, hidden in upstairs cupboards (spoiler alert, kids), past experiences teach players (and kids) that they can be blasé to the cautionary advice in the safe knowledge that the deterrent is rarely administered.
Another excuse offered is that such decisions are difficult for officials to spot given the melee that predictably ensues when 20 grown men occupy a relatively small area, but the flaw in that reasoning is that offences committed by attacking teams appear to be comparatively easy to spot, and referees have become attuned to giving free-kicks to the defensive side for misdemeanours. So why the apparent blindness when the roles are reversed?
UEFA's introduction of fifth officials had the intention of assisting the referee, but said officials are almost impressively unhelpful, continuously fearful of overruling the referee's determination of an incident. If they could be commanded to display more pro-action then, thankfully, a solution could be near, but I'm certainly not going to be the one to attempt to persuade the cynical masses of football supporters that five officials is the answer. Not when they insist on wearing those sartorially disgraceful tight tracksuit bottoms.
I'm loathe to attack referees because there is a growing moronic minority that cry foul enough for the rest of us, but this is a clear and consistent failing in the application of the Laws of the Game. Football is a contact sport, but such contact must be regulated appropriately. Fail to do so, and farce soon ensues. Give an inch to football players and managers in a pressured situation, and it is difficult to be surprised when they take a mile.
Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter