Football FanCast columnist Mike Harvey feels that technology in football is not the answer.
Officiating in football is headline news these days. The past few weeks left a sour taste in the mouths of many fans. FIFA is at a crossroads and how they choose to handle this problem will affect the game for years.
The predominant feeling right now is that the officials should have access to the technology used to air the games on television. The fourth official would be able to watch a replay and be able to advise the referee. Technology alone is not the answer.
Video replay is only useful when the call is not subject to any interpretation by the referee, such as did the ball cross the goal line. Any call that is open to some interpretation by the official must be made as the play happens. A slow motion replay can be deceiving. We have all seen the slow motion replay when it looks like a clear yellow card or hand ball but when you see it at normal speed it turns out the defender was only a split second late and had every right to go for the ball, or the ball was struck so hard that there was no way the challenging player could have moved his arm out of the way.
While there have been a number of a missed goals, there are many more questionable calls in and around the penalty area. Official’s decisions in the final third often decide games. Yet the referee is expected to be in position to make a call in one penalty area and then keep up with world class athletes to make a call in the other area, often times chasing a striker who had a 30 yard head start. When Steven Gerrard has a shot blocked and the other team counters, Benitez does not expect Stevie to then cover the opposing striker on the counter attack. Yet we expect it from the referee.
The answer to this is not goal line technology. The answer is two more referee’s assistants, one stationed next to each goal. Their initial responsibility would be to determine if the ball crosses the goal line. However, much like side line assistants, they would also offer a different perspective on calls in the final third. An official already at the end line would not be running to catch the play and would be able to concentrate solely on the action in front of him. It is also very unlikely that both officials would be unsighted on the same play. The penalty given to Manchester United against Tottenham is a prime example of when a set up such of this would have been effective. A stationary official less than 18 yards away would have been able to say with relative certainty whether or not the Tottenham keeper got the ball first with his tackle.
The other advantage to this system is when the decision to give or not give a penalty is made the pressure is not squarely on the shoulders of one man. In the Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League semi-final the handball by Piquet was probably the least debatable of the penalty shouts. The referee may have considered giving the penalty but maybe there was a doubt in his mind. If there had been an assistant on the goal line with a raised flag saying that it was a penalty in his view as well, the referee may be more inclined to make the call.
A drawback to this set up is what happens when the assistant raises the flag but the referee disagrees and doesn’t make the foul call. The assistant’s flag in the air is a neon sign saying I think the referee is wrong. As always the referee has the final say but one way to limit those occurrences is, much like American football, the officials should be a team in themselves. The same six people should be together for the entire season. The assistants will know how the referee likes to call a game and the referee will be able to gain trust in his assistants and feel confident in them.
The idea of two more assistants is not perfect. Human beings will always make mistakes. No one wants the human element removed from officiating. The object is to limit the glaring mistakes that often affect the outcome of a game. Video technology can be a useful tool but the addition of another set of eyes in the final third would help alleviate more issues than just whether or not the ball crossed the goal line.
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