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Football | Premier League

Marouane Fellaini and Ryan Shawcross © Action Images

Fellaini in the dock as 'wrestlers' go free

When FA officials view footage of Marouane Fellaini's triple assault on Ryan Shawcross in Saturday's Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City they could do the game a huge favour by freezing the action a second before each incident.

Fellaini faces an almost certain ban and fine for his two butts and a light cuff, all missed by the referee, as the FA now routinely uses video evidence to retrospectively punish players for violent conduct offences. Some hysterical media reaction even suggested the Belgian could be suspended for nine games - three for each "offence".

Shawcross, however, will escape any sort of sanction, despite the blatant holding of the Belgian forward that led to each flashpoint, as every one in the game continues to turn a blind eye to a growing problem that infuriates supporters.

Fellaini has apologised for his response, particularly the one butt that left Shawcross rolling on the floor holding his face, and his own manager David Moyes said he deserved the punishment coming his way.

But fans will be disappointed if they expect an announcement from England centre back Shawcross expressing any regret for his continual and completely illegal shackling of Fellaini at every Everton set-piece in the 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium.

TV pundits were falling over themselves at the weekend to condemn Fellaini for his "unacceptable thuggery" - but few chose to highlight the similarly unacceptable acts of "constriction" that led to them and that are now turning many penalty areas into scenes of farce.

Video evidence can be used to penalise a player for serious foul play, violent conduct, spitting at an opponent or using abusing language or gestures, but not for persistent and blatant holding while showing not the slightest interest in the whereabouts of the ball.

What Shawcross was doing can now be seen routinely at just about every free kick and corner taken in most major leagues around the world as defenders concentrate on totally obstructing the attacker. If the same offence took place in the centre circle referees would instantly blow for a foul and would be entitled to issue a yellow card.

When it takes place in the box, however, the officials suddenly lose interest. Quite often they will blow their whistle to delay a corner and issue a clear "I'm watching you" warning only to routinely ignore the identical behaviour seconds later as piles of bodies litter the turf.

Shawcross's actions are completely endemic in top-level soccer these days, and the failure of referees to punish them, or for any lead from the FA or Fifa on clamping down on them, leaves attacking players with little option but to fight fire with fire in an attempt to extricate themselves from the sometimes ludicrous bearhugs.

One of the few occasions this season when a referee has given a penalty in such a situation was, ironically, two weeks ago when Fellaini was penalised for hauling down Manchester City forward Edin Dzeko at a corner.

"It's wrestling, it was tough. It was difficult to run through, they just catch you all the time and grab you," said Everton defender Sylvain Distin after Saturday's game.

"I think the ref could have a better look at it. But that is football and it's going to happen when you come to a place like Stoke.

"Sometimes you get grabbed or blocked and it is not a penalty. Then you see what happened against City when the ref gave them a penalty, and you think 'there should be a penalty every week'.

"There is no consistency so it's a bit frustrating when it's not going your way."

That kind of holding has yet to permeate through to the pub leagues around the country, where even having a referee is often a luxury and where players are forced to police themselves to a certain extent.

Anyone wrapping their arms round an opponent Shawcross-style would be likely to receive a close-up view of his head - Fellaini-style - and with no video evidence to support only one side of the debate, many would argue that that would be an entirely reasonable way to settle the matter.


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