Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa calls for Pascal Struijk clarity but FA report falls short

Hours after Marcelo Bielsa called for an explanation of Pascal Struijk’s sending- off, the FA published the written reasons behind the decision to reject Leeds United’s appeal.

By Graham Smyth
Friday, 17th September 2021, 4:45 am
CLARITY NEEDED - Marcelo Bielsa said a full explanation of the decision to send off Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk would be useful for players and fans. Pic: Getty
CLARITY NEEDED - Marcelo Bielsa said a full explanation of the decision to send off Leeds United defender Pascal Struijk would be useful for players and fans. Pic: Getty

However the five-page report is unlikely to give the Argentine what he believes would be helpful and instructive clarity, not only for him and his players, but for supporters.

The FA report revealed that a three-man panel, made up of former Blackburn Rovers winger Stuart Ripley, former Derby County striker Marvin Robinson and ex Portsmouth goalkeeper Alan Knight, were split two-one in favour of rejecting Leeds’ appeal.

Two believed Struijk lunged into the tackle on Liverpool midfielder Harvey Elliott and was out of control as he endangered the 18-year-old’s safety. Elliott later needed surgery on a dislocated ankle.

The third member of the panel felt, as Struijk, Elliott and Bielsa did, that it was an unfortunate accident from the kind of tackle seen frequently in games.

What the report did not disclose was any information on how referee Craig Pawson reached his decision, the officiating process that took place or what was said between Pawson and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp, whose ‘reactions and behaviour’ were highlighted by Leeds in their appeal.

Pawson did not blow for a free-kick at the time and only produced his red card after ushering Klopp from the field following a discussion.

Bielsa took time in his Newcastle United press conference to address the incident and recognise the generosity of Elliott, who absolved Struijk of guilt and disagreed not only with the red card but the rejection of the appeal.

“Pascal is a noble person, with good intentions and of course he regrets the injury, but the generosity that Elliot had to describe how things were, it helps to ease the effect on Pascal,” said Bielsa.

“The footballers always end up being the most pure thing in football, the players say what they think without speculating. I value a lot that Elliott made Pascal exempt.”

Bielsa called for clarity from the game’s authorities on how similar circumstances could be avoided. The subtext of what he said was clear - Struijk was punished for an accident.

“The majority of the plays that are similar to this one don’t generate the consequences that this one generated, that’s why the injured player admits that there was no bad intention,” said Bielsa.

“I understand that those who judge and decide have different arguments to the ones that I have spoken about and to the ones that the injured player has spoken about and their arguments are the ones that decide the outcome and it is good that it’s that way.

“What would be useful would be to receive information or an explanation of how to avoid these casual things from generating an injury.

There are footballers who say it and those who saw it from close say there was no bad intention and it was a casualty that just happened, so it would be very useful for all of us that it is explained how to avoid the casual consequences that are circumstantial with no intention, how to avoid them because clearly they are punished.”

Before the written reasons emerged to shed some light on why the panel did not find in Leeds’ favour, the only explanation available for the red card was that the ‘intensity’ of Struijk’s challenge endangered Elliott.

Bielsa disagreed

“The excessive use of strength in the decision taken by Pascal shouldn’t be considered to analyse this action as in this action it wasn’t an excessive use or imprudent use,” he said.

“That Pascal acted with exuberance belongs to the game and the consequences of what happened were linked more to it being a casual event rather than his intentions. It wasn’t possible to calculate that the attempt that Pascal made to recover the ball would generate the injury that happened.”

Gaining access to the thoughts of those who have made the decisions would be instructive, Bielsa feels.

Since his 2018 arrival in England he says he has not had dialogue around officiating with refereeing body the Professional Game Match Officials Board or the FA, and although he recognises a duty to support officials in what is a difficult job, he was all ears.

“To hope to receive an explanation perhaps is excessive but it would help to improve the decision making of the players,” he said.

“There is also a very simple exercise - to compare all the identical actions that don’t generate the consequences and the amount of similar actions that don’t have the same consequence, they are not even punished with a foul, like in this case.

“After a casual situation like this causes an injury and there’s a red card then I accept it but I would like to hear the explanation.

“I think the job of the referees is very, very difficult and I think I have to support that task by being understanding of the decisions that they make. Against any doubt that any team has, the organisers of the competition put at our availability, all the tools possible to interpret the faults.”

A full explanation of the decision-making process that resulted in a punishment for Struijk would help educate supporters who, as Bielsa points out, cheer successful efforts to win the ball back and scorn perceived timidity.

“The recovery of Pascal in that ball, despite the fact that we were losing 2-0, was very well praised by the public,” he said.

“The public praises the commitment and they punish those that are timid or lukewarm, so it is important for the public to understand when the rules limit a player making an extreme effort to recover the ball.

“It would be useful to reaffirm the challenges that happen by chance that generate an injury and therefore a sending off, or if there is any other explanation that has not been offered.

“I insist that there is a very accessible response, the imprudence or the excessive force of his strength and this is compared to the argument that I have, which is something happening by chance. I reaffirm myself in the position because it is the same thing that the player who received the foul said.

“But that’s not to say that those who judge don’t have solid arguments which is why I propose that they explain, not so much for myself, but for the public who in the end are the ones who judge us and the players.”

The FA panel’s arguments were explained in the written reasons, to some degree. Yet the fact that the three could not reach agreement will leave Bielsa, Struijk and fans none the wiser as to whether future tackles of that nature will result in punishment or if the severity of the injury is what makes a tackle a bad one.

What’s more, the absence of any transparency with regards to Pawson’s decision-making process leaves everyone outside of the matchday officials and the FA panel in the dark.