Former refs' chief on Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp's 'worrying' chat with Craig Pawson and transparency over Leeds United's Pascal Struijk appeal

Former referees’ chief Keith Hackett has expressed concerns over the decision-making process that saw Pascal Struijk sent off against Liverpool, specifically Jurgen Klopp’s on-field confrontation of referee Craig Pawson.

By Graham Smyth
Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 8:10 pm
NO MALICE - Former referees' chief Keith Hackett said there was doubt around the decision-making process when Pascal Struijk was sent off during Leeds United's clash with Liverpool. Pic: Getty
NO MALICE - Former referees' chief Keith Hackett said there was doubt around the decision-making process when Pascal Struijk was sent off during Leeds United's clash with Liverpool. Pic: Getty

Hackett says he can understand why the decision to send Struijk was reached, although he has since noticed inconsistency in the refereeing of tackles like the one that left Harvey Elliott with a dislocated ankle.

He can also see why Leeds appealed. They confirmed their appeal on Tuesday afternoon and, on Wednesday morning, it emerged that an FA independent panel had rejected it.

Hackett told The Yorkshire Evening Post that it was the way the decision was reached that bothered him - the sight of Klopp entering the pitch and the mystery surrounding his dialogue with Pawson. Klopp later insisted he said nothing of import.

“What concerned me was the actual process,” said Hackett.

“The natural instinct of the referee when he sees a bad challenge is to blow the whistle pretty hard and, as I understand it, Craig Pawson didn’t. I’m sure he was then in communication with his fourth official [Andy Madley]. It’s been a concern of mine for some months now that we often see managers come onto the pitch either to shake the hand of the referee or remonstrate over a decision and that, for me, is a worrying part of the process.

“That conversation between Klopp and the referee did take place, we’re never going to be privy to what was said.

“It may well be the manager has just said he’s concerned about his player but there are professional people, doctors, top-level paramedics and the ambulance in addition to the clubs’ own medical teams. My worry was the manager coming on and having a discussion.

“It wasn’t a good selling process; it left some elements of doubt.”

Struijk won the ball but Pawson, who allowed play to go on until the medical team rushed on, eventually decided to show a red card to the Leeds man, deciding that the intensity of the challenge had endangered Elliott’s safety.

Hackett suspects the seriousness of the injury was a factor, when it should not have been.

“We know when a player launches himself off the ground, as this player did, he can’t stop, he can’t change direction and he’s out of control,” he said.

“That puts the opponent at risk. What we have now in law is ‘endangering the safety of a player’ which has opened the door pretty wide for interpretation. There’s no doubt the player making the challenge was moving at speed. It’s fulfilled excessive force and then the referee has to determine whether or not he is out of control.

“The outcome influenced the judgement in this process, where in fact it shouldn’t really influence the decision.

“I’ve had non-Leeds fans pointing out that the referee didn’t blow. He didn’t. Sadly, you look at outcomes and suddenly change your mind. You shouldn’t do, you base it on the tackle itself.”

The nature of the appeal process means clubs are up against it, Hackett feels, to have decisions overturned.

“I sometimes worry about the whole process,” he said.

“It’s an independent panel, as I understand, made up of a former player, a former manager and a referee. What they listen to is the appealing club, in this case Leeds, who have to submit a video and a very carefully detailed commentary, sticking very much to law. It’s down to the facts of the law as it is written, did they see this as a serious foul play incident and what was their defence?

“Have they got a referee, an expert to advise them in the terminology? This isn’t a criticism of Leeds, it’s what I see often. Because of the speed of the disciplinary process they have limited time and, if you’re going to effectively re-referee on an appeal, the panel itself has to be almost 100 per cent satisfied that the referee got it wrong.

“Then you’ve got to rely on the knowledge of the three people sitting in judgement. What are their skill sets? Is it a fair and just panel?

“I think, in fairness to the FA who have tried to put some balance into it, the club who is appealing has to have substantial grounds to appeal.”

Hackett saw grounds for Leeds’ appeal, room to explore the doubt around the decision.

“I didn’t see any malice or aggression from the player,” he said.

“I would have talked about the law and embellished it with video focusing on the reaction of the players. We didn’t see any animosity. All I saw was a very telling picture of Virgil van Dijk with his arm around Struijk, consoling him.

“That’s where the element of doubt comes in. Leeds could have got footage from I don’t know how many angles - there’s 22 cameras in that stadium. If you’re clever enough, you do a frame-by-frame storyboard.

“It’s back to the restricted time they’ve got to get that appeal in, get the broadcast footage and substantial evidence, focused on the law.

“Where can I demonstrate the error, in law? Can I say in my appeal that the referee is likely to have been influenced by Klopp coming onto the field of play? Why was he allowed in the field of play? It’s building up a picture for three people sitting around a table. I was not surprised Leeds appealed that scenario.”

The FA is yet to issue any statement on Leeds’ appeal but written reasons will likely follow in a matter of days.

Hackett believes clarity is vital, particularly in light of the debate around ‘light-touch’ refereeing and inconsistency, along with the risk that players like Struijk are left confused about what is and what isn’t a lawful challenge.

“The thing I would like to see is a transparency in the process,” he told The YEP.

“Are they coming out with a statement to clarify why Leeds have failed their appeal?

“I hope the clarification comes quickly. We’ve seen play go on after similar challenges of this type that haven’t resulted in injury, even since this incident.

“We’re into week four, we’ve already had two managers explain concerns about the challenges going in.

“Two things have to happen. Mike Riley has to have the managers in to have a discussion.

Referees need to be guided in order to gain consistency for what is acceptable and what is not and, within clubs, there needs to be an understanding of the difference in interpretation of Law 12 - the difference between a careless challenge, free-kick only, a reckless challenge, free-kick yellow card, and an excessive force challenge, red.

“They have to understand that when they launch off the ground, they are potentially endangering an opponent.

“That should result in a red card but there’s inconsistency, as we’ve seen this week. I would get a referee in, get the players around the table, have some film clips and ask the referee ‘is it a yellow? Is it a red? Is it acceptable?’”