Thursday 18 January 2018

Technology can't stop officials from getting it wrong

H aving watched his team concede two of the softest goals you're ever likely to see in the Champions' League, Arsene Wenger said the following last Wednesday: "What he does doesn't make common sense . . . Technically, he made at least five mistakes . . . His body position was wrong . . . where he stands is totally wrong . . . I believe he is not competent."

Amazingly (to anyone who saw the game), none of this was directed at Arsenal goalkeeper Lucasz Fabianski. Rather less amazing though, and following yet another self-inflicted defeat, Wenger chose to absolve himself and his players of any responsibility. This time, and not for the first time, the referee was to blame.

It was a bad week for officials. Actually, it's been a bad few months for them. As if it had never happened anywhere before, the failure of the same referee to spot a player handling the ball in a match in Paris in November has led to refereeing standards being scrutinised throughout Europe. While they don't do themselves any favours, as anyone who saw footage of Bayern Munich v Fiorentina will testify, it appears match officials can do no right these days. Calls for change seem to be coming from everywhere.

As was evident in Anfield on Thursday night, UEFA have introduced two additional officials on a trial basis for games in the Europa League. While I'm not convinced employing extra humans necessarily reduces human error, it is seen by UEFA president Michel Platini as the most practical solution, preferred ahead of any technological introductions for the time being.

With concerns that traditionalists are preventing football embracing the inevitable, the quest for justice to be consistently served on the field of play goes on. Managers everywhere (usually immediately after a defeat) appear to be leading the charge, though surely aware it has never been achieved anywhere before. There has never been a prolonged period of correct decision-making by referees in football. Having survived so long without it, why are people now demanding its introduction and predicting doom if it doesn't arrive?

While Sky Sports viewers would be forgiven for believing there had never been a game of any significance prior to the commencement of the Premier League, the money which is now in the game is used by most pundits to justify the argument that incorrect decisions are now intolerable. While doing their best to hype every game as if it was their last, it's as if there should be some link between players' earnings and refereeing standards.

Though there are many suggestions as to how best to bring it about, reducing the number of incorrect decisions by officials is obviously a worthy aspiration. Technology seems the popular option for many managers and fans, but with the exception of clarifying whether or not the ball has crossed the goal line, I have yet to hear one fully thought through proposal in which its use could be applied to a game of football in a positive way. Even if there was one out there, coming up with a cost-effective way of implementing it throughout the football world would be an even greater challenge.

Interestingly, one of the stated benefits of extra officials behind each goal in the Europa League is to assist the referee in deciding to award a penalty kick (ie spot a dive when they see one). Limiting the number of poor decisions would be achieved far quicker if managers took an active role in wiping out the diving and cheating by players in the penalty area which has somehow become an accepted skill in the modern game.

If an offending player is awarded a penalty, for example, only the referee gets hammered for getting it wrong. If managers were as keen to criticise and punish their players for carrying on in this way, I'm sure there would be fewer calls for technology, and no need at all for additional officials.

If that was the case today, and diving was a thing of the past, Arsene Wenger could have spent the last few days analysing his own team's display against Porto and making the necessary improvements. Instead, he chose to focus on the selection process and the ranking system which is used to decide which referees take charge of games. And who knows, maybe Tomas Rosicky would have been awarded the penalty he deserved in the game, as the referee would know only those who have been kicked go to ground. Not one for publicly reprimanding his players in any way, one day Wenger may see the link between the two.

The referee's decision has always been final, and this must remain the case. We just need to accept it won't always be accurate.

Sunday Independent

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