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Was It A Pen For Salah, Or Not? That Question Misses The Point

The Egyptian King once again found himself in the middle of an unwanted penalty debate, and English refs only have themselves to blame.


Jurgen Klopp was not on the touchline yesterday after the FA won an appeal to impose a harsher penalty on Klopp after an outburst at a linesman in the closing minutes of the 1-0 win over Manchester City.

His absence was probably for the best, considering his red card worthy outburst against City was after the referees, under the guise of “letting the game flow” allowed yet another cynical and dangerous tackle on Mohamed Salah.

Yesterday, another clumsy challenge against Mo inside the penalty area went ignored, both by the referee and by VAR. Were Klopp present, he would’ve been understandably upset, if not well on his way to another sending off.

Of course, post match the hot takes were flying. It was either a stonewall pen, or absolutely not, depending on the tint of your glasses. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle (closer to a certain pen, in this author’s opinion), although that completely misses the point.

Even if Salah was awarded the penalty—which again, he was not!—it would not have made up for the countless examples of being bear-hugged, held, tripped, kicked, beaten and bruised in and out of the box, all while the referee waved “play on.”

And for those of us keeping track of that sort of thing, Salah did not win a penalty yesterday after being kicked, held, and eventually pulled down from behind.

Salah is, without a doubt, one of the most dangerous attacking players in Europe, and yet, he wins a suspiciously low number of free kicks and penalties in the Premier League (I’m not going through the stats, but you can read a full break down in the Tompkins Times here).

It is all particularly galling when we have directly dropped points this season from multiple penalties given against us, all much softer than Mo’s “not-a-foul” yesterday. In any given weekend, Liverpool fans do not have to look hard to spot soft penalties given, particularly to white and/or English attackers.

Kevin De Bruyne’s match-winning penalty last week was a perfect encapsulation of the frustration Liverpool supporters, and the team themselves, must feel watching Salah getting hacked down without consequence week after week.

When it’s De Bruyne or Kane, falling down with minimal contact is “clever.” When it’s Salah (or Mane, while he was here), I’m not sure what he has to do to win a penalty.

It’s important to have this conversation now, after a win. This is not “sour grapes,” after a bad result, but a genuine frustration that Liverpool seem to be playing under a different set of rules than everyone else.

These on field decisions, and the refusal of VAR to intervene, has consequences. This season alone would see the Reds at least a few points, and possibly even a few places higher, just from a handful of calls either for or against us. And there are more than a few glaring examples in both 2018/19 and last season that ended up costing Liverpool the title by the narrowest of margins.

Above all else, there is the little matter of player safety. We are lucky that Salah is a pretty robust player (violent interactions with Segio Ramos notwithstanding), because there seems to be no upper limit for what English referees will routinely allow against Salah.

Klopp was not “right” to get physical with an assistant referee. It was right to send him off, and the touchline ban was appropriate. But—and I can’t believe I’m doing this—to quote David Fucking Moyes, “He wasn’t wrong, was he?”

Indeed, Klopp is right to be furious at Salah being routinely threatened by Premier League defenders, and the league doing nothing to protect one of its best, most exciting, and most valuable (from a global marketing perspective) talents.

Enough is enough. The Premier League and its racist, xenophobic refereeing needs to be held to account.

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