Were Leeds right to allow Aston Villa to score?

LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Aston Villa's Anwar El Ghazi (right) can't believe he's been shown a red card during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Aston Villa at Elland Road on April 28, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images)
LEEDS, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Aston Villa's Anwar El Ghazi (right) can't believe he's been shown a red card during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Aston Villa at Elland Road on April 28, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport via Getty Images) /

The unwritten laws of football

The idea of deliberately conceding a goal goes against all our natural instincts. The objective of the game is to score more goals than the other team. So, on the face of it, it makes no sense to allow an opponent to score on purpose. However, with an endless amount of so-called unsportsmanlike conduct appearing during matches, it has forced the conversation of whether players should only look out for the interest of there own side.

We have seen many individual moments where a player has clearly considered the physical health of an opponent to be more important than the opportunity to build an attack. A famous example of this is when Paolo Di Canio caught the ball to stop play instead of scoring, at Goodison Park, because the Everton goalkeeper was laying injured.

Since then, teams are being asked to stop play far more frequently so that opposition players can seek medical attention or simply get back to their feet. With there being little said about these incidents in the rulebook, it is normally left to the unwritten rule of…do the moral thing. But this gentlemen’s agreement has left some players questioning what the moral thing to do is, in some cases.

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We do not all share the same morals, so we cannot all be expected to do the same thing. This can leave players and managers angry because an opposition’s player has not acted on something that they themselves would consider morally right. It is a tough task to figure out an answer for all moral debates in the game of football. One debate that has been sparked because of recent incidents is the debate of whether it is ever morally right to let the opposing team score on purpose.

This debate has been circulating around the media because of a bizarre moment that occurred when Leeds hosted Aston Villa in the EFL Championship. The game, that was level at the time, saw almost every Aston Villa player stop playing because Jonathan Kodjia stayed down with an apparent injury. With the referee signalling to play on, Leeds went up the park and opened the scoring.

Of course, bedlam ensued as the Villa players and the Villa bench could not believe that the Leeds players did not kick the ball out of play. With everyone in the Leeds side in agreement, except Pontus Jansson, to follow Marcelo Bielsa’s orders and let Aston Villa score, they went ahead and left the goal wide open for their opposition. Everybody…except for Jansson. The central defender felt there was no need to concede a goal on purpose as they had not broken any rules. Despite his efforts, Adomah was able to place the ball into the gaping net.

This raised a lot of questions about Villa, Leeds and Jansson. Was Aston Villa simply foolish for stopping in the middle of play? The injury didn’t seem as if it could be that serious considering it may have not even been a foul. One of the first lessons you get taught when first starting to play football is to play to the whistle. Obviously, the Villa players didn’t learn that lesson well enough. Injured or not, you should always wait for the ref’s instructions. The Villa players will likely think first before stopping in their tracks again.

Then after everything happened, Bielsa decided that his side should let Villa score. Were Leeds right to concede the goal on purpose? Put it this way, if they let Villa score then they won’t get any bother after the match about not showing sportsmanship. That is probably all that was in the minds of the players…not the consideration that they had actually done anything wrong.

They knew that the Kodjia was likely faking an injury. They knew that if they were in Villa’s shoes, they would have not stopped playing. They knew that there is nothing in the rulebook that requires them to kick the ball out of play. Marcelo Bielsa also knew all these realities. With the unpredictable personality that Bielsa has, it is not surprising to find him involved in such a situation. Instead of believing his players actually committed some wrongdoing, there is a chance that the Leeds boss was just craving the headlines again.

The only person that wasn’t accepting that his side had done any wrongdoing was Jansson. He was furious after Leeds had given in to the pressure from the Villa bench. Was Jansson right to be angry? A defender will never want to concede a goal, that’s a given. But that probably wasn’t the only thing that made Jansson decide to go against his manager’s orders. He was likely of the opinion that Leeds outsmarted Villa when they capitalised on their opponent’s foolishness.

After the match, the Sky Sports panel of Lee Hendrie and Paul Robinson had their say on the major talking point. “Morally the right thing was done but it’s not in the rulebook that you have to do it,” said Paul Robinson. Clearly, nobody is arguing whether you have to concede a goal according to the rules of the game. Everybody knows that no such thing is in the rulebook. But again, it is the question of whether it is morally right to let the opposition score.

Paul Robinson is of the opinion that Leeds done the morally right thing, whereas, one of the pundits at ESPN FC had a very polarising point of view. “You don’t kick it out! You stick it in the back of the net unless the referee tells you to do otherwise,” claimed Steve Nicol. The former Liverpool man made a very valid point when he said that these situations never occurred in his day because you simply would never kick it out.

With such an increase in confusion, it is necessary that it is understood where it is all coming from. The legitimate laws of the game must be completely understood as they are the only ones that must be followed. What are the laws concerning stopping play for an injured player? The answer…only the referee can officially stop the game from continuing if he feels that a player may legitimately need medical attention. So even if a player kicks it out, the referee can still tell them to continue playing.

What are the common un-written rules that are accepted by the majority of teams and players? There are so many unwritten rules in football now that it is starting to get hard to keep up. The ones that are present in this conversation is the widely accepted view that you should kick the ball out if a player is down injured. Of course, if you put a little more thought into it, it is easy to understand why this is not in the rulebook. Players would be hitting the deck even more than they currently are. Why wouldn’t you lay down and hold your leg if it was guaranteed to stop play?

It is obvious that there would be serious consequences if these un-written laws became legitimate laws in football. Currently, not following these gentlemen’s agreements will face you with no consequences, which raises another question. If there are no consequences, why should you ever kick it out?

Just like in life, treat people the way you want to be treated. The reason players kick the ball out for their opposition is because they would wish the opposition would do the same in return. You may ask, why does a team want the opposition to kick the ball out for them? A couple of reasons. The referee may have not realised that the injury is actually much worse than he first thought, meaning that the injured player may suffer greater because the medical attention was not received soon enough. However, the main reason is that nobody wants to be a man down and only have 10 useful men on the park. A selfish reason but very true.

Giving a goal to your opposition on purpose is such an extreme thing to do that there should be legitimate laws put in place deciding when it must be done, or, laws put in place to avoid the situation completely. Should a team ever concede a goal on purpose?

Some would argue that there are many incidents that they feel their side should be awarded a goal depending on the way the opposition carries themselves throughout the 90 minutes. Whether they hadn’t kicked a ball out, if they were caught diving or scored a goal that incorporated some form of cheating. Then there are others like Steve Nicol who think it is unnatural and simply wrong to ever let the opposition score. Some people would like to see it happen every now and then, just to enjoy the drama of it all.

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A team may come across unsportsmanlike and may at first glance seem like cheaters…but at the end of the day they simply outsmarted the opposition. That is deserving of criticism of their character, but they cannot be punished by requiring them to give up a goal.