A defender slides towards an opponent running with the ball. The defender’s tackling foot pushes the ball away from the opponent but the force of the defender’s momentum causes him to collide heavily with the opponent below the knees. The opponent tumbles to the ground. I adjudge the defender to have used excessive force and to have been reckless with regard to injury, and to have tripped the opponent (or attempted a trip) because the opponent’s feet were impeded in such a way that he fell heavily. I award a direct free kick.

I have been told by many players, fans, and coaches that this could not be a foul because the defender didn’t trip the player – he “got the ball”. I have heard commentators on TV say that a referee is wrong in calling a foul when a player “gets the ball”. I have never seen it written down in the Laws of the Game that if a player “gets the ball” he cannot at the same time be guilty of tripping or using excessive force. Am I missing some directive about the interpretation of Law 12?

USSF answer (May 18, 2010):
Saying that a player “got the ball” is meaningless in a tackle. What the referee must be concerned about is what happens during and after the tackle.

• If the tackler uses excessive force, he or she is sent off immediately for serious foul play and the game is restarted with a direct free kick or a penalty kick, if the foul and misconduct were committed in the tackler’s penalty area).
• If the tackler is reckless, he or she is cautioned and the game is restarted as above.
• If the tackler is careless, the game is restarted as above.
• If the tackle is committed fairly and there is incidental contact, there is no foul.

If, after the tackle is fairly made, the tackler uses the foot or body in a careless or reckless way or with excessive force, see DURING.

Coaches will always protest an act that disadvantages their team, no matter that it was done legally. As for commentators on television, many of them actually know little or nothing of the game and how it should be played or refereed, no matter what their accent or “credentials.”

Only the referee on the game can make that decision, applying The Seven Magic Words, “If in the opinion of the referee, . . ..”

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