Some of the most dramatic replays from soccer games involve fouls, and high kick fouls are, in general, very high-risk fouls. These kicks frequently result in either red or yellow cards, and sometimes players on the receiving end of a high kick have to be taken off the field.
Of course, the rules are designed to ensure fair play and to, above all, keep the players safe. High kicks are clear violations of the mission to ensure the safety of all the players on the field, and it’s clear to see why.
What is a high kick? A high kick in soccer is when a player swings their foot high near or above the waist of an opposing player. The player is usually fully off the ground in these fouls, but not always.
Determining the Type of Foul
High kicks are considered fouls whether or not the player in question leads with the studs of their boots, and they can also be called whether or not the player in the question actually makes contact with another player if there is another player in the area who could have been injured by the high kick.
According to the rules of the game, fouls are broken up into two categories that explain how the game will restart after the foul once the referee has sorted everything out. The two categories are direct free kick offenses and indirect free kick offenses.
A direct free kick is more common, and they are usually called after two players have illegal contact with each other that is outside the normal bounds of play.
Even though soccer is not a contact sport in the same way that American football and rugby are, it is still expected that when players are going after the ball, there will be unavoidable touching between the players.
However, actions such as tripping, tackling, pushing, hitting or striking, or attempting to do any of these actions is considered excessive contact. If there is contact between players, there needs to be either play on the ball or attempt to play the ball, which can be a determining factor for the referee.
When those fouls are committed, the fouled player kicks the ball from the spot of the foul, and it is called a direct free kick because it isn’t necessary for another player to touch the ball. If that player can get the ball into the net without another player getting a touch on it, then that goal will be allowed.
Indirect free kicks are awarded when the referee deems that a player has played in a dangerous manner, among other things.
High kick fouls are classified as such, and so the referee awards the team that was fouled the indirect free kick, meaning that the player who was fouled cannot score from the play and must instead pass it to another player before play continues.
Although fouls that cause a direct free kick are seen as more severe, there’s no denying that high kick fouls can sometimes be incredibly severe, especially when the high kicker makes contact with another player’s head or face.
Once it has been determined that a foul was committed, it is also part of the referee’s responsibility to decide if they’re going to give the offending player a red or yellow card. It isn’t an automatic requirement that a player who has committed a high kick will receive a card, and it’s up to the referee’s discretion of the situation.
To Card or Not To Card?
Players can be individually penalized with a yellow or a red card depending on the severity and type of foul they’ve just committed. Yellow cards are less serious, but if a single player receives two yellow cards in one match, they subsequently receive a red card and are sent off.
If a foul is egregious enough, a player can receive a red card directly and immediately be sent off. Dismissals can be issued if the referee determines that the high boot is “serious foul play” or if the player intended to partake in “violent conduct.”
There are some fouls where this is an easy decision for the referee to make, and there are other times when the referee must carefully consider the circumstances.
Red carding a player and evicting them from the game can have huge implications on not only that current game but potentially games to come, as many leagues institute policies where players who receive red cards in one game are ineligible for subsequent games.
For example, in the Premier League in 2017, Liverpool player Sadio Mane was not only ejected from the game against Manchester City but was banned from the next three games. Mane was given a red card for a high kick foul that resulted in the goalkeeper, Ederson Santana de Moraes, being taken off the pitch on a stretcher.
It was quite a controversial call, and since the Liverpool strategy was heavily reliant on the Senegalese player, they filed and lost an appeal to have the ban overturned. The referee, Jon Moss, was highly criticized after his choice to red card Mane, especially after it was clear that (luckily) Ederson wasn’t seriously hurt despite the precautions taken with him on the field.
If the main criteria for an illegal high kick are that the player’s leg is above their own waist, this may cause a bit of confusion regarding a fan-favorite type of kick: the bicycle (or scissor) kick. Players from Pele to Ronaldo have made this highlight-reel-worthy, high-flying plays on the ball.
This legal move involves the players flinging their bodies around and kicking their legs up above their waist in order to make a play on the ball. The players launch themselves backwards towards the ground and kick the ball backwards over their head or body, and it is usually an attempt to make a play on a ball that is descending sharply towards them.
These kicks are not illegal because they have to take place in open space and not near to other players. When the player making the bicycle kick does make contact with another player, they are usually not penalized by receiving a card, even if a foul is called.
When it comes to bicycle or scissor kicks, some fans and players do think that bicycle or scissor kicks should be disallowed, as they do create dangerous play within the game, even if they’re not intended to be dangerous. For now, they remain legal in most leagues, although as the sports community, in general, takes more steps to protect players, that may change.
In general, even if a player is making an attempt at the ball, they can have a foul called against them if they lead with their leg or foot higher than their waist, as it endangers the other players on the field. Soccer players throughout the history of the game have been injured by essentially being kicked in the head, chest, or stomach.
Soccer is a physical game, and especially when the ball is arching towards the players, it can be tempting to make an aggressive play on the ball. But players have to be careful to protect themselves and others on the field by making sure that their kicks stay low.