If you watched this weekend’s 1-1 draw between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion (and let’s face it, you’re a Spurs fan, you probably did), you probably ended that match pretty ticked off at match official Mike Jones for how he handled Albion keeper Ben Foster.
Foster, being true to the ethos of West Brom under recently-sacked manager Tony Pulis, spent virtually every one of his possessions wasting time. Under FIFA rules, keepers are not supposed to hold on to the ball for longer than six seconds, but Foster kept the ball much, much longer than that, on numerous occasions.
The egregious nature of his time wasting was exemplified in one incident when Foster kicked the ball out of the hands of a Tottenham ball-boy who was trying to give the ball to a Spurs play for a throw-in. He got away with that, too.
Jones finally booked Foster for time-wasting, but it wasn’t until the 80th minute, and after numerous Spurs players, including Eric Dier, complained. Afterwards, Dier took to the media to talk about Foster’s cynical play.
"If you were to go and watch the game again and just add up from the first minute the amount of time that was wasted from their goalkeeper, I think you'd find quite a big number. It's confusing that you wait until the 80th minute to penalise [him], it when it's been happening from the first minute. It's something I really don't understand, it doesn't make sense.
"I think it helps the ref to stop it early doors with warnings, yellow cards. But it makes no sense for us if it's in the 20th minute, [to wait] until the 80th minute, because by then it's too late.”
FIFA rules state that goalkeepers are not allowed to hold the ball for longer than six seconds before releasing possession. Here’s how FIFA describes these situations under Law 12 of the Code of Conduct:
But Menno, you say, that’s literally never called in football. And you’d be mostly right. You can probably find at least one possession in literally every game of football where a keeper holds onto the ball longer than six seconds. There’s an unspoken agreement in place where officials don’t whistle that infraction unless there’s some really egregious time wasting going on.
But there’s one, controversial, exception. In the 2012 Olympic semifinals, the United States women’s team were the unexpected beneficiaries of the application of Law 12 when match official Christiana Pedersen whistled Canadian keeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball longer than six seconds. Canada was leading 3-2 late in the game and the USA was awarded an indirect free kick, which led to a penalty that USA converted. They eventually won 4-3 in overtime.
Most observers think that the above example is extreme, and that Pedersen probably should not have whistled when she did. However, the fact remains that the rule WAS in place, and you can also make the argument that Pedersen was following the letter of the law (if not the spirit).
Dier was irritated by Foster’s time-wasting, which started early in the first half in the game between Spurs and Albion. In his post-match interview, Dier, relayed a conversation between himself and Jones during the match, which seem to imply that Jones was not in a hurry to be “that guy”:
"He said [to us] that he doesn't want to be the referee that blows the whistle for someone holding the ball longer than six seconds, because no-one does. But if someone doesn't do it, then the goalkeeper's going to end up holding the ball for 30 seconds, 45 seconds.
"I think it's [meant to be] six seconds and sometimes it was a lot longer than 20 seconds for sure. I guarantee you."
Now, look — nobody’s saying that Ben Foster wasting time is what caused Spurs to drop two points to the Baggies on Saturday. Spurs played plenty crappy enough to do that on their own (though the gigantic green bus in front of goal also contributed). But Foster was holding onto the ball for a L-O-N-G time. Rules are rules, and Mike Jones didn’t seem to want to be the official that actually enforced them.
Despite writing nearly 900 words on it, I’m actually not especially salty about Foster (I’m much more salty about Spurs getting hacked the entire game without getting the benefit of “home calls”). But the yellow card that Foster picked up in the 80th minute would have been appropriate in the 15th minute, and might have changed Foster’s time-wasting behavior if it had come earlier. Instead, he was allowed to waste as much time as he wanted, and that time was not appropriately added on at the ends of the halves.
I doubt it would’ve affected the outcome of the match all that much, but it does point to an inconsistency in Law 12 of the FIFA rules. Either that rule needs to be adjusted to make it more in line with the way officials are calling it, or it needs to be enforced more stringently. Failure to address it will just lead to more situations like the one we saw on Saturday.