independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Technology debate must press pause

IF ANYBODY is stuck on a question at a football quiz in the coming weeks, they could do worse than simply write down the word 'technology'. It now seems that, no matter what the situation, technology is the answer.

Nine days ago, Wigan were the victims of an awful refereeing decision when Morten Gamst Pedersen invoked the five-a-side rule on corners that you are allowed play the ball to yourself before crossing for Junior Hoilett to score.

Roberto Martinez's view that nobody really cared about the incident because it only happened to Wigan would have been reinforced on Saturday as injustice befell Manchester United at Old Trafford. As Rio Ferdinand's perfectly timed challenge was deemed to be a penalty, it was almost possible to feel the football world stop spinning for a moment.

Alex Ferguson recalled a goal from two years ago which was awarded to Chelsea against Manchester United that "cost us the league" which assumes, of course, that United weren't the beneficiaries of any borderline decisions in the other 37 games of that season.

Trialled

With goal-line technology likely to be trialled next season, there is an argument that it doesn't go far enough because, like Pedersen's goal or Thierry Henry's handball against Ireland, these incidents wouldn't have been picked up.

In the minutes after the final whistle at Old Trafford on Saturday, Michael Owen took to Twitter to argue: "Video technology just for goals or major decisions too? It took more time for the ref and linesman to come to that decision than it would for somebody to watch a replay and they still got it wrong."

All of which is true but, like arguing for world peace or that the health service needs to be improved, it always sounds good to say it but the reality of its implementation is more tricky.

Owen's point about "major decisions" is valid in the Ferdinand case but the problem in football, unlike every other sport where technology is used, is that one decision can have such an impact on the next that almost every one of them can be described as "major".

As Manchester United pushed for a winner, Jonas Gutierrez attempted to keep a ball in play on the wing and in the process chipped the ball into Nani's hands. The linesman judged that the ball had gone out of play and seconds later, after United were awarded the throw-in, Gutierrez clattered into Nani, received a second yellow card and, from the free-kick, Nemanja Vidic almost scored. It would seem ridiculous to stop a game to check if the ball had crossed the line for a throw-in but, if that decision hadn't been given, Newcastle would have had a pressure-relieving free-kick instead of trying to stop United scoring a winner with 10 men.

Minutes afterwards, Danny Simpson and Patrice Evra challenged each other and United were awarded a corner when replays suggested the decision could have gone the other way and, from that, Evra forced a save from Tim Krul. Then, Newcastle players appealed for a foul against Krul by Vidic which wasn't given and, from another corner, Simpson superbly cleared off the line from Javier Hernandez's header.

This is not being anti-Manchester United or suggesting that decisions even themselves up, but merely pointing out that three seemingly minor decisions all nearly resulted in a United goal within seconds of the disputed incident.

Those who argue for technology reckon that it works in other sports but, as goal-line technology would in football, it is only used for black-and-white incidents. Rugby Union refers to the video referee only in the act of scoring a try, meaning that if there is a forward pass in the build-up before the score, that's just tough luck on the team at the receiving end.

In American Football, a coach is allowed two challenges per game and, if both are successful, he is given a third. If a fourth bad decision goes against his team, no matter how important, he is powerless. In cricket, the Decision Review System that decides on lbws has worked reasonably well, but, in marginal decisions, even the technology hedges its bets and goes back to the "umpire's call", all of which takes about three or four minutes and not the "seconds" which are constantly referred to by those who demand the use of technology in football.

They might be right, but if anybody has a realistic proposition of how to implement it without adding half an hour on to how long it takes to play a match, then they should patent it and send a letter to FIFA.

It has taken 45 years from a World Cup final goal which may or may not have crossed the line to get to a point where technology is going to be used on a trial basis. Those waiting for it to arrive for major decisions might be a while holding the pause button.

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