Luis Suarez handball -- an official's take

Posted by Roger Bennett

Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty ImagesFormer referee Dermot Gallagher said the referee in question, Andre Marriner, got the Suarez call right.

Luis Suarez burnished his reputation this weekend as the English football player most akin to a silent movie villain. His controversial goal proved the difference in Liverpool's hard-fought 2-1 win over non-league charmers, Mansfield Town.

The Uruguayan bundled through the Mansfield defense, and though his initial shot was parried by Mansfield goalkeeper, Alan Marriot, the ball rebounded, first towards Suarez's right hand, and then his foot, with which it was dispatched into an open net.

Every debate has context. Because this was the controversy-soaked Suarez, and because the victims were tiny minnows, the reaction was damning. Many howled in derision, demanding to know why Suarez had not immediately confessed to the infraction like the classy Miroslav Klose or wondering if Liverpool have corrected the record by allowing their opponents to score unimpeded, right from the kickoff.

Yet few sets of football fans circle their wagons with the vigor of Liverpool supporters. In the wake of the final whistle, Twitter was deluged by Liverpudlian diehards standing together to defend their man. Their arguments were varied. Some viewed the issue clinically: Suarez only did what a professional striker is trained to do -- put the ball in the back of the net, any which way. Others threw the blame on to referee Andre Marriner, claiming the fault was surely his for missing the infraction.

A small minority actually went to the rule book and debated FIFA's handball ruling which is penalized by a free kick if a player “handles the ball deliberately.” To judge that in an instant, the referee must analyze not just the action but also the intent in the player's mind.

I spoke to retired referee Dermot Gallagher, who officiated in the Premier League from 1992-2007, to discover the process Marriner would have gone through to make his decision about intention in the instant.

"Referees have to analyze the proximity of the ball, its speed, and whether the player moved his hand towards the ball," he explained. "In this case, the ball traveled minimally and at speed, and I do not believe Suarez moved his hand to the ball until after he had been hit, so in law the referee is right."

Score one for Suarez and Liverpool fans then, but Gallagher concluded by adding a note which proved just how much discretion can shade the law, “I can understand the referee’s analysis that this ball hit his hand, but I think Suarez gained such a massive advantage that had the whistle been blown, that ethically, no one would have argued with the decision.”

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