It's hard to defend Eden Hazard in the wake of the incredible scenes surrounding him and a ball boy at the Liberty Stadium Wednesday.
As the second leg of the Capital One Cup semifinal between Chelsea and Swansea City ticked to a close with Swansea firmly in command of the tie, an altercation between Hazard and a Swansea ball boy brought the match to a bizarre halt.
With the young man lying on the ball, the Belgian superstar looked to kick the lad.
Was Eden going for the ball? It looked like that was what he intended and, to be fair, he was successful in knocking it out and retrieving it.
However, even if that were the case, replays show (at least from most perspectives) that he also caught a piece of the boy.
Did the boy make a complete meal of any "injury" he may have sustained? Absolutely, but that in no way justifies Hazard's actions.
In the end, his red card was probably deserved. After all, had he done that to an opponent on the pitch, he would have been sent off as well.
Such a dangerous maneuver was, at the very least, rash on his part.
However, there is another plot in this that is somewhat lost in the hubbub surrounding Hazard's kick: Had the Belgian not kicked out toward the boy and instead backed away, this still would have been quite a bizarre and despicable scene.
At the time of the incident, Swansea were leading on aggregate from the advantage they had earned in the first leg of the matchup and needed only to last 10 more minutes to book a trip to Wembley for the cup final.
When the ball drifted out of play for a Swans goal kick, the ball boy grabbed the ball, as his job requires.
However, instead of distributing the ball to the Swansea keeper, the lad instead held it. When Hazard approached to attempt to help the process get along quick (as is a fairly normal practice), the boy fell to the ground, pinning the ball under him in an obvious attempt to waste time for the home side.
In case there were any doubt of the young man's intentions, his Twitter account soon affirmed the suspicions of many.
— Charlie Morgan™ (@CHARLIEM0RGAN) January 23, 2013
Now, there is no evidence whatsoever that Swansea instructed the ball boy to waste time. Hence, it should be assumed that the boy realized the situation and acted on his own.
With all that said, this is one of the strangest circumstances imaginable. (Just when would the boy have given up the ball, anyway?)
It's easy to dismiss the situation. After all, that's what stoppage time is for, right? The referee accounts for all of the time not spent playing and adds it on at the end.
If that were true, though, why would any keeper or player engage in stalling tactics?
The fact is, the way that time is kept throughout matches is not very scientific, opening the door for a team or player to waste considerable chunks of the match.
Now, it seems like a scary precedent has been set, with ball boys, fans and any other biased parties encouraged by this situation to disrupt play; after all, it worked quite nicely on Wednesday.
So what could be done to fix this?
It might be time for football to look into a new system that would make time-wasting obsolete.
There have been murmurs for quite some time around a possible switch to a new method of timing a match, called "real time," where the clock would be stopped every time the ball goes out of play or a foul is committed.
What would be the benefits of such a move?
Instead of a keeper taking his sweet time to get the ball to the line for a goal kick, he would have no incentive to do so.
Instead of a side shamelessly falling, rolling on the floor and getting stretchered off for every challenge, there will be more of a reason to stay on one's feet and hold the ball.
Instead of a referee trying to keep track of every small stoppage whilst trying to tend to the umpteen other responsibilities he is allotted, a timekeeper with two buttons can do it with much more accuracy.
The specifics of the system are flexible at this point, but it seems like a perfect remedy for the problem.
I mean, is there an argument against a new method of timing besides the illogical fallback, "but it's always been done this way"?
No more wasting time.
No more manager tirades.
No more fan paranoia in claiming referee collusion (well, on the issue of timing at least).
More straightforward, open and scientific decisions.
And, most importantly, more football.
Who doesn't want all of that?
Then again, that's probably why FIFA hasn't done it yet.
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