On Tuesday night, we were treated to another controversial topic in our “sacred sport,” Football. I deliberately use the word sacred because to some people, football is a religion to some people who rever it and guard it jealously.
As the saying goes for the English, “football is not just about life and death, it is more than it.” This is a strong indication that to the billions of people on the face of the planet, football is more than just a sport.
The game between France and Spain last night re-awakened an old controversy: the use of too much technology in the beautiful game of football. In that game, the compatibility of using a video referee to scrutinize critical decisions in a football game was put to the test.
This was a perfect platform to look at the strengths and weaknesses of that technology and its compatibility with the flow of the game. After the game and the many reactions that followed, here’s what I learnt.
The first goal scored by Antoine Griezmann for France was correctly ruled for offside. I must appreciate the fact that at least it was great to finally get justice when we watch football matches, something we have also seen with the use of the goal line technology thus far.
This was a laudable achievement going by the injustices that have been experienced overtime in the sport- there have been so many of them and these decisions have always kept tongues wagging at every incident. These decisions have divided fans amongst different lines.
However, on the other hand, did anyone take notice of how long it took for the referee to listen over his ear piece and pronounce the appropriate decisions? I think this should form the basis of this argument for or against the compatibility of the proposed technology.
As a fan and a proud one at that, I had to take a look at the video at least not from the Director’s box- as I am no bourgeoisie, and definitely not from the technical room, but from my television and device and I took notice of the time it took to get the decision on both occasions.
Griezmann’s disallowed goal was scored with 47:15 showing on the clock. Of course the linesman ruled it as a goal but the referee stood static and paid attention to his ear piece while the Spanish players surrounded him. On the near side of the pitch, the French players were already celebrating.
When the clock showed 47:59 and Griezmann was returning to his own side of the pitch, that was when we – Griezmann and I – discovered that there seemed to be a problem. Then the waiting continued until 48:09 when the referee gave the correct ruling with his hands raised to signify a free kick.
Simply put, it took 54 seconds to make that decision. Do not miss the part that the linesman actually gave the goal.
Then came the goal scored by Deulofeu, which was Spain’s second, assisted by Jordi Alba and scored with 76:23 on the clock. In this particular incident, the assistant referee (linesman) ruled offside while the referee waited – yet again – for signal from the video room.
Gerard Deulofeu had already accepted his fate and was returning to his position for the free kick to be taken having seen the flag for offside. It was until the 77:10 when the referee got the signal and gestured towards the halfway line that it was a goal.
That took 47 seconds.
The first thing that comes to mind is the time taken, in the course of discussions between the main referee and the video referee, to take these decisions even though some persons were trying to say that it took place while the players were celebrating the goal.
Okay then. What if the scorer does not celebrate and picks up the ball to run back to the half way line based on the fact that he is trailing the other team? Does that remove the window for discussions between both referees? We are talking about 54 seconds + 47 seconds= 1 minute, 41 seconds for just two incidents. That is enough time for a team to score two goals which we have seen many times in football.
Another fundamental issue is that the technology is actually a threat to the Assistant Referee’s position and if it is implemented, we might also not see that individual running down the lines with a yellow flag any more. This is because their decisions where actually clashing at both times the video technology came into play.
Furthermore, while video technology thrives with tennis, cricket and others, football is different because it has to do with a lot of psychological factors – like who is on the ascendancy in the game? Who is pressing? Who is likely to get a goal soonest? Who has got the momentum?
Someone might then ask, when does all these big big grammar happen in a game? Have you stopped to think of the reason why managers make substitutions at some critical parts of the game? Why players also feign injury because they want the scoreline to remain the way it is and to also kill the morale of their opponents?
These are critical questions that whoever is reviewing the technology should put into consideration.
Finally, football is about controversies, banter, trolling, etc. To take these parts of the game away is to demystify the game and make it ordinary and less appealing.
In the midst of all the controversies, football following has increased astronomically for the past two decades. A demystifying of the sport could bring about a decline. Wrong decisions or not, the biggest teams on the planet have always succeeded and this part of the game should not be reason enough to restructure the beautiful game.
The idea of this new technology does not remove the human factor because judgement calls will still be made at each incident, only slower and with adequate video evidence.
Therefore, it suffices to say that the video referee, after seeing the video, can still make a wrong call because of our different criteria for awarding a penalty, free kick or a red card. Why not? He’s human too!
Victor Ndulewe is a freelance football writer and a football analyst/pundit on radio (The Beat FM 97.9 Ibadan).You can engage him on Twitter @vicndulewe