Platini's endless pairs of eyes can see no evil
Published 11/04/2011 | 05:00
The most frequently asked question of people who work in sports departments is: "Do you get to go to all the matches?" In the case of those who work on the editorial side, the answer is "No", they get to worry about the late US golf finishes like last night and waiting for the last dog to cross the line at Harold's Cross.
For those who answer "Yes", the caveat is that they usually have to put several hundred words together in a coherent fashion within a couple of minutes of the final whistle.
That's not to pretend it's the most difficult occupation in the world, just that, like most 'perfect jobs', the perception doesn't quite live up to the reality. Several hundreds or possibly thousands of people might notice if you make a mistake but it's not exactly a matter of life and dith.
Given the contempt which many athletes treat journalists, sports reporting is probably not the best industry to be in if you want to be involved with footballers while not having the talent to actually be one. Yet there is a job out there which lets people get within touching distance of their heroes, get paid, and all that's required is an ability to see.
And, it seems, you don't even have to do the last bit very well.
While they probably have to be familiar with all the rules, how to apply them and be fit enough for 90 minutes of action, the real criteria to be an extra official in a European game seems to revolve around spotting whether or not a ball has crossed a line from a distance of around seven yards, depending on how well you have positioned yourself.
The decision might have to be made within a split second but, given that 20/20 vision requires tiny letters to be read from a distance of 20 feet, spotting whether you've seen a bit of green grass between the white of the ball and the white of the goal-line shouldn't be especially difficult. Other than that, you can just watch the match.
Refereeing is a difficult job with players lying to your face and calling you various parts of the male and female reproductive regions if you disagree with them. Those behind the goal, however, seem to be on easy street.
GAA umpires often get a hard time for a 'see no evil, speak no evil' approach whereby a full-forward and full-back can be thumping the heads off each other and, after the referee has consulted with them, all the umpire has seen is something worthy of a stern warning.
Yet, by comparison to their UEFA counterparts, the GAA umpires are among the world's great snitches.
Last Wednesday, Patrice Evra blatantly fouled Ramires in full view of the extra official behind the goal who opted to take the Johnny Tightlips approach of omerta. Perhaps there would have been a complaint from the referees' union had the extra official performed a task outside of his job description, although maybe if UEFA allowed the extra official to have a proper flag, they might feel empowered enough to use it.
Instead, they stand behind the goal with a little stick that looks like a thermometer used to test whether barbecue meat has reached the required temperature while, when the situation merits it, leaning forward to get a closer view and prove they aren't asleep.
In the wake of the non-decision against Evra, those calling for video technology felt their argument had been strengthened yet with most of the most contentious decisions of the last few years -- Roy Carroll's fumble over the line, Henry's handball, Lampard's non-goal in the World Cup -- the decisions were so obvious that a video referee would have been embarrassed even to give it a second glance.
The officials would certainly have a safety net were there to be technological assistance but with Alex Ferguson in his current mood, games involving Manchester United could last around three hours if there was an opportunity to "go upstairs" with every contentious decision.
Michel Platini's statement last month that he is "500pc satisfied" with the way the fifth official experiment is working in the Champions League means there will be no changing of the process so long as the Frenchman remains at the UEFA helm.
But then, why is Platini stopping at five? Why not seven where another referee could stand on the other side of each goal? Or eight, with one official in each half in case a foul takes place when the ball is cleared up the field. Maybe we could squeeze another two linesmen running along the sidelines which would bring the tally to 10 -- four linesmen, four end-linesmen and a referee in each half.
The pre-match handshake ritual between a team of 10 officials and two teams of 11 players might mean that the Champions League theme tune needs several encores but if Platini thinks five pairs of eyes are better than three, surely 10 pairs would be perfect.
It might even help with the global economic crisis if UEFA suddenly decided the number of officials needed doubling, allowing thousands to earn extra cash and all they'd have to do is watch a match and make the odd judgement call with nine of their friends to help them.
The only thing that would create more of a demand would be if they finally introduced an 11th official whose job it was to watch the game on a TV monitor. They might not get as close to the players at the game -- but at least they'd have a comfy chair in which to watch it.