“Ensure that football is played 11 against 11”, why are there fewer red cards in Ligue 1?

By Adrian Bez

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Mathieu Vernice gives Alexandre Lacazette a red card during Lyon-Montpellier. Frédéric Chambert / PANORAMIC

DECRYPTION – Only five red cards in six days have been distributed this season in the French championship. The result of a desire by the referees to promote the spectacle.

Five red cards distributed in six days of Ligue 1, an average of less than one card per day. Figures to which French clubs were no longer accustomed. Last season, at the end of the 11th day, the championship was by far the one which expelled the most players in Europe (43 expulsions, or almost 4 per day).

Would the players have become less violent? More respectful? More fair play? It’s possible. But these results are also the fruit of the new philosophy put in place by the refereeing department since January 2023, under the aegis of Antony Gautier, its director. Before the start of the season, during a meeting at the FFF headquarters, the former international referee and his istant Stéphane Lannoy, in charge of the professional sector, presented the main orientations for “modernize French arbitration“.

Bringing out a second warning prematurely puts a team outnumbered, impacts the coach’s tactical choice, and therefore considerably modifies the spectacle.

Stéphane Lannoy, deputy technical director of refereeing, in charge of the professional sector

The two men had displayed their desire that the referees “be at the service of football” And “make the game as smooth as possible“. The big idea being to “make football more attractive and spectacular. But it still has to be played 11 against 11», explains Stéphane Lannoy.

To avoid too many expulsions, referees were asked to better manage the second yellow card, synonymous with red. They will have to exercise discernment and act according to the context. “Giving a second warning prematurely puts a team outnumbered, impacts the tactical choice of the coach, and therefore considerably modifies the spectacle», affirms Lannoy, for whom the referee is “notneither a policeman nor a censor“.

Fewer yellows on the hands in the surface

On the other hand, what the arbitrators call among themselves the “essential», namely these serious and obvious faults, remain sanctioned with a red card. “The primary role of the referee is to protect the physical integrity of the player and his health. Any unnatural gesture must be punished with a red card.», specifies Stéphane Lannoy. The former referee gives examples of situations “dangerous» which deserve vigilance: ball halfway between two players, ball bouncing, loss of possession by a player with an attempt to regain it.

Francois Letexier hands out a yellow card during PSG-Lens. Federico Pestellini / PANORAMIC

Reducing the number of red cards also means avoiding giving the first yellow cards too quickly. Players penalized with one hand in the area on a ball going towards the goal will no longer be systematically warned of a yellow. “We are not always sure that the ball is going directly towards the goal, and perhaps other players are likely to intercept», says Stéphane Lannoy. Two exceptions to this rule: when the gesture is deliberate, or when the hand deprives another attacker of recovering the leather.

Generally speaking, the “micro-faults» are no longer whistled, so as not to disrupt the game, and “respect the values ​​of football“. The results are tangible. At the end of last season, Ligue 1 was the championship with the most effective playing time (55 minutes). May the trend continue.

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