It seems impossible that there can be a football match played where an incident, foul called or not called does not divide public opinion. The latest high profile case being Raheem Sterling booked for simulation though others argue it was a stonewall penalty. Calls for video refereeing are growing ever stronger and it is a concept when the more I think about it, the more I find ridiculous.
In principle it sounds fantastic. Doesn’t it? I mean there is a tumble in the area, referee rather than making a rash decision sends it to a 3rd party equipped with screens from all angles to make sure the correct decision is made. At least that is what is supposed to happen. The real issue is; what is the correct decision?
One concern is not only will it slow the game down by means of having events reviewed mid-match, it will affect the game regardless. In a theoretical sense: a player goes down just outside the opponent’s area and play is called to a halt but video referee suggests it was a fair challenge. What happens then? Is it a dropball? Even if a freekick given to the defending team, enough time has elapsed for the opposition to get back in to shape and the defending team is robbed of the opportunity to counterattack after dispossessing an opponent. That’s still not is the main issue with the idea.
Moments after Sterling was booked I was in a debate via text with an associate, one whose football opinion I hold in the highest regard. Being both neutral viewers – neither of us was supporting Manchester City or Barcelona, rather just waking up at 5am to watch a good contest. After seeing multiple replays for all angles, we still could not come to an agreement. He felt it was a certain penalty, I felt the correct decision was made with a booking for simulation. The word “contact” was used. So? Contact doesn’t necessarily mean the player was impeded. Anyone who has played the game and seen the incident should agree that Sterling would barely have even felt this “contact” let alone be enough to send him tumbling. Minor contact can cause players to stumble but that typically occurs when the contact is made on a moving member of the body, ie; a running leg mid –stride. Sterling’s foot is planted on the floor; it’s balanced and is being used to propel himself while running. But nevertheless, we essentially had the video referee experience and opinion was still divided is my point. And I can guarantee despite watching the event after the match the referee would be adamant he made the correct decision.
I’ve come to realize that despite rules and regulations, football is a game of context. I mean that in the sense that there will never be a selection of officials that call the game in the exact same manner. Each will have their own view and their methodology of how to call the game. From a player and fan’s perspective, all that we can ask for is consistency. Consistency that on this day in the game, this referee would make calls that align with other decision made within these 90 minutes. If earlier in the match there had been marginal contact on Messi, not enough to necessarily make him fall but contact nonetheless and a foul was given, I would expect a penalty given to Manchester City for that challenge on Sterling. That’s about all we can ask; after that it is out of your hands as a player. But what can you control as a player.
For anyone who has seen Roy Keane discuss a match during the halftime production, you would know he is an incredible pundit – unlike David Basheer, Lucy Zelic, Fozzy or any other clown I’m forced to listen to on SBS2. He makes mention of a sentiment that he has always considered during his playing career, “if I give the referee an opportunity to make a call (that I didn’t agree with), I was at fault. It’s out of my hands.”
The truth is City have no right to feel aggrieved that a penalty wasn’t given, but at the same if one was called, Barcelona could have no complaints. Samuel Umtiti made a decision to stick out what was a tired and clumsy leg and gave the referee an opportunity to call a foul – he was just fortunate that he didn’t on this occasion. It’s no different to when Melbourne City were given a penalty after Fornaroli went down on a lazy Dino Djulbic attempted tackle.
Back to the issue at hand; ask yourself how often has a replay affected your initial judgment of an incident? I can safely say that they have never altered my initial thoughts whether I am watching on TV, live in the stands or on the pitch. Whether or not you would agree with my view that it should or shouldn’t be a foul is irrelevant. Reality is you’d have to be pretty dim-witted or not paying attention to not be aware of what is happening before your eyes, and not the sorts to be refereeing an important football fixture or holding a drivers licence for that matter.
Incidents that divide opinions occur frequently in our sport and refereeing decisions will always be scrutinized. Live reviews are not the solution, and if you need further proof, ask yourself: why is there still debate after it’s been viewed a second or third time?