June 27, 2022
tactical foul in football games black card

Modern football fans are currently witnessing some of the most entertaining, intense, and competitive matches that have ever taken place within the sport. The importance of counterattacks is ever-present, particularly for teams playing against opposition that like to control possession and sides that like exploit opponents for being out of their defensive structures at pace. However, the plague of football today is cynical or ‘tactical’ fouling.

A ‘tactical’ foul can be easily witnessed during a match; a ‘tactical’ foul is a foul that is likely not to lead to endangering one’s opponent with injury but simply to stop the flow and pace of the attack high up in the opposition half of the pitch. This tactic allows for teams to get back into defensive shape helping to ensure that their team is not exposed through lack of numbers or poor defensive setup leading to the conceding of a goal.

tactical foul foul play football black card football game fernandinho
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 26: Kelechi Iheanacho of Leicester City battles for possession with Fernandinho of Manchester City during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Leicester City at Etihad Stadium on December 26, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

A tug of the shirt, dragging an opponent to the ground or the trip of a player is the usual form this type of foul takes. To ensure that a player is not booked for a cumulation of fouls it will be different players each time, particularly within the attacking players of the side due to their lack of perceived importance in traditional defending. This systematic fouling has been incredibly successful, especially for teams managed by Pep Guardiola, and, whilst many fans are frustrated at the use of this tactic against their sides while counter-attacking, the main frustration arises from the fact that these fouls go largely unpunished by officials.

The detailed and meticulous planning of every game within modern football has led to an increase in this fouling system as it has been identified as a key element to a club achieving success by limiting the chance for an opposition to expose a team’s moment of fragility. However, put simply, this tactic is cheating. The players are purposely fouling to stop a goal from being conceded with the knowledge they are unlikely to face much punishment from the officials of the game. How can the sport correct this and bring about a fairer game for all involved within the laws of football?

The Black Card

The black card solution would be similar to the black card system employed within Gaelic football. A player is given a black card for a deliberate foul or for abuse towards match officials (another dark stain within football that needs correcting) during the game leading to this player going to the sin bin for ten minutes with no replacement leaving a team a player short until this period is served. Gaelic football went through a similar dark period of systematic fouling by teams, particularly Ulster teams including Donegal and Tyrone, with the introduction of the black card bringing about a definitive decline in these types of fouls with the adaption of the teams’ defending styles within the sport to try and limit counter attacks within the laws.

This solution for football would be implemented the exact same way as it is in Gaelic football. A player that commits a deliberate foul against their opponent or abuses match officials will be shown a black card. This will lead to the decline in the systematic fouling by teams as they will be rightly punished for this and there is a possibility that a number of players could be in the sin bin at once if teams continue to implement this ‘tactical’ fouling. Similar to Gaelic football you will see a change in how teams defend counterattacks due to this punishment and it will lead to an adjustment period for teams like Manchester City, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 13: Newcastle player Joelinton (l) fouls Emiliano Buendia of Villa during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Aston Villa at St. James Park on February 13, 2022 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

This evolution of the game would be positive as tactics would be reshaped and the black card would allow for more entertaining games with a faster tempo and more chances for teams. The punishment a side could endure if they attempt to foul high up the pitch to help their team to set up defensively and protect their goal but be brandished a black card leading to a decrease in players for ten minutes could be detrimental.

The added benefit of the black card would be the use it would have to lower the abuse that match officials get from players and management. The abuse witnessed recently that referees had to deal with in the Manchester City game against Tottenham Hotspurs when Ruben Dias berated Anthony Taylor to send Christian Romero off when the team had been awarded a penalty and the surrounding of the referee by the Manchester United players demanding that Lewis Dunk be sent off has been nothing short of disgraceful and the sin-binning of players for this would help counter this behaviour.

Accumulation of Fouls Punishment

This solution looks at taking elements from the NBA regarding certain fouls and implementing these within football. This will focus on the team fouls element of the NBA. Team fouls allow a team five fouls per quarter. Once a team surpasses this, the team will go “into the bonus”, which means that the officials will award the opposing team a free throw for every additional foul that a player commits in that quarter. This system works well and keeps teams from making blatant fouls to disrupt the flow of play and help their defensive set up with just punishment for if a team goes over their limit of fouls.

Currently, the lowest number of fouls committed per game on average by a team in the Premier League is 8.46 and the highest is 12.96.  With these statistics, you can look at anything over ten fouls that will result in a player being sin-binned. The NBA system could be implemented in football with elements of the black card system in which each side is given a set number of fouls during the whole game. Any fouls exceeding this amount would result in the player that commits the exceeding foul being sent to the sin bin.

An alternative with this NBA system would be that once the number of team fouls allowed has been exceeded then the team would concede a penalty. This is an extreme option and many football fans may not like this option but it would deter players from making ‘tactical’ fouls for their team as it would result in the likelihood that their team would concede a goal. The issue with this system would be that the punishment may not fit the crime as the eleventh foul could take place in the opposition half nowhere near the penalty area but result in a penalty; all fouls could take place nowhere near the box with the result being a penalty but the team would be aware of the punishment for the accumulation of fouls in this system.


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No system would be a perfect fix but they would help in battling the frustrating ‘tactical’ fouls within the game of football. The least suitable solution would be the awarding of a penalty against a team after it has exceeded a certain number of fouls given the aforementioned issue. The NBA and black card joint system would allow certain leeway for players to foul before facing the punishment of a player going to the sin bin and with every other player that commits a foul to then go to the sin bin could potentially help lessen the amount of cynical fouling that occurs in the sport. For both systems incorporating the NBA system, there would be the brandishing of yellow and red cards within the number of fouls depending on the foul that has occurred with this being part of the foul count. Fans may get confused or dislike the number of elements that are being incorporated into the punishments of fouls with this system.

However, the black card system would be the best of the three options. The black card would be brandished for a deliberate foul so the punishment is fitting for the foul in question with yellow and red cards still being used as before for fouls, not because of an accumulation of fouls that have occurred during the game. The importance that the black card could have in helping deal with abuse towards officials of the sport could be monumental, helping lead to better and more consistent officiating. The black card would be a vital component of the game if introduced, helping punish deliberate fouls and the abuse towards referees with little change to the sport fitting seamlessly into the modern game as it has done in Gaelic football.


Written by Brendan McGilligan | Feature Image by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images


El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original features, Player profiles, Manager Profiles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.comIf you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on Twitter to stay updated with all the latest content.


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