Monday, 9 November 2015

Why Technology in Football is More Vital than Ever

by Oliver Clark

Referee, Simon Hooper (wikia)
The Premier League season is now in full swing, and although it looks like it could be one of the most entertaining seasons in recent memory, mainly due to the increased quality of signings across all 20 teams in the league, problems have already reared their ugly head, potentially jeopardising the credibility of football as a whole, not just the league.

In the first week of the season, we saw a shock win for West Ham at Arsenal, a poor display from Chelsea (a sight that we have become increasingly accustomed to) and a dominant one from Manchester City. Unfortunately, the initial excitement of the season was marred by some poor refereeing in the game between Crystal Palace and newly promoted Norwich. Palace having made some impressive signings this summer, most notably Yohan Cabaye from French Champions PSG, and so are potentially looking for a top 8 finish this year. Norwich on the other hand, came through the Championship play-offs last season are just aiming for survival, a feat that is increasingly difficult mainly due to the excessive spending of Premier League clubs.

The score is 2-1 to Palace in a relatively even game with 15 minutes to go, when Norwich's Cameron Jerome acrobatically turned in an excellent cross, seemingly drawing his team level. However, referee Simon Hooper (officiating his first ever Premier League game) disallowed the goal to the disgust of the home crowd, believing Jerome's foot to be high, deeming it as dangerous play. Commentators were audibly shocked by the decision, with Jerome apparently scoring a wonderful bicycle kick only for it to be ruled out because an opponent had dipped his head towards the ball at the same time? Was Jerome simply meant to leave the ball as it soared invitingly towards him? Was the Norwich defender in any danger? If Sir Alex Ferguson was Palace manager at the time, would we have had another, 'He coulda killed him!' moment? The answer to all 3 of these questions is no. Just one look at a replay would have told the referee that it was a fair goal and that Norwich should go into the final 15 minutes of the game level with their opponents. As things turned out, Yohan Cabaye would mark his debut for the club with a 3rd Palace goal, sealing the fate of the Canaries.

One week later on Monday Night Football, last year's Championship winners Bournemouth made the trip to Anfield in their first Premier League away fixture. It was evident that the away fans were enjoying themselves greatly, and they believed that they had taken the lead within a matter of minutes, defender Tommy Elphick rose above Dejan Lovren and knocked the ball down into the ground with it bouncing past a stranded Simon Mignolet in the Liverpool goal. A sharp whistle rang out, not for a goal, but for an alleged foul on Lovren. Unless Elphick was meant to hold his arms behind his back while going up for the header, I cannot see how he can not have avoided contact with Lovren when attempting the header. Once again I ask the question, is he simply meant to leave the ball? Replays showed that he definitely jumped before Lovren, got to the ball, and simply had his arms in front of him on the way down. Remarkably, this was not the most controversial talking point of the game.

26 minutes into the game, Jordan Henderson whipped in a cross from the edge of the box across the 6 yard line. Phillips Coutinho, running back from an offside position, leapt towards the ball without making any contact. Luckily enough, £32 million signing Christian Benteke was on hand to nod the ball into the far corner. Under the offside rules of last year, this goal should have stood, as Benteke himself was in an onside position when the ball was played in. Under new regulations however, due to Coutinho's attempt to interfere with play, the whistle should have blown before Benteke even made contact with the ball. These two decisions ultimately culminated in a 1-0 loss for Bournemouth, a scoreline that was much rued by manager Eddie Howe, evidently upset by the key decisions in a match where his team were arguably the better of the two. The Benteke goal in particular was met by widespread criticism of the match officials, MNF's Gary Neville stating that, 'they [the match officials] c**k about with the offside rule every year and don't make it any better. The Premier League eventually issued a statement confirming that the referee and his assistants had made a mistake and once again clarifying the rule.

Although referees can admit mistakes, pundits can slate officials and the Premier League can refresh us all of their ever more confusing rules, none of these are any consolation to Norwich or Bournemouth. What still baffles me about football, is that the governing bodies decide to keep the game in the archaic age without video replays to help officials make key decisions. From rugby to snooker, from cricket to basketball, nearly every sport gives referees or umpires the chance to look at replays and ensure that the decision that they make is the correct one. Yes football has introduced goal-line technology, but has this stopped fair goals being disallowed and unfair ones being given? Evidently not. Some believe that the addition of video replays would make referees lazy, ruin the flow of the game and break the tradition of football. Note how much criticism the TMO system received at the Rugby World Cup, with 80 minute games lasting in excess of 100 minutes. However, video replays would mean that teams in situations such as Bournemouth and Norwich would not be wrongly penalised and have points taken away from them that may prove crucial by the end of the season.

In the last two seasons, where we have had two infamous cases of 'mistaken identity', where referees have sent off the wrong player and refused to be swayed on their glaringly incorrect decision. Surely this highlights that although referees have a lot of pressure on their shoulders, and are bound to make occasional incorrect decisions, there is a desperate need for some sort of review system to help them. With all 20 teams in the Premier League being in the richest 30 club in the world thanks to the new TV sponsorship contracts, the amount of quality in each team is far higher than previous years, meaning that every single goal, red card or missed penalty shout is more crucial than ever. Those who question the need of technology, I offer you this question. Would you rather referees continue to make glaring errors that may benefit or hinder your favourite teams, or would you rather the correct team wins each game due to correct decisions being made, meaning that decisions that cost teams badly, at both the top and bottom of the table are a thing of the past?

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