27 November 2011

God save the Refs

By Dr3

With the recent attempted suicide by a Bundesliga referee, a lot of my google reader updates have been centered on:
  1. The insanity of the refereeing job and the pressures that exist considering the pittance that they are paid, in some cases as part time employees (as is the case in Germany).
  2. Not pressuring the referees, since they unlike us are not given the benefit of pseudo real-time hindsight.
  3. How do we save these men and women
Whittall wrote a decent piece answering the third question by turning back to the debate of ‘technology’ in football. In his piece though, I was marginalized as a purist as I am very much against any technology that is not goal-line related. As such, I have literally said “it will slow the game down too much”.  The idea of technology being some sort of panacea for all football ills is something that has always been interesting to me, but not interesting enough to write about. In addressing referees and their wellbeing though, one simpler, less radical (maybe even more) possible change is being overlooked.

Firstly, the non-purists (as defined by Whittall, this would be the pro-technology folks) envisage a limit to the amount of times a team can appeal a decision, as well as a restriction on the types of decisions that can be appealed to begin with. Assuming that the decisions that can be questioned are all ‘spatial’ (with the exception of offside??), this would be fairly straightforward to implement. Was that foul really inside the penalty area? Did that ball cross the line? 


Well there is that spatial issue. If we go into the realm of a handball, or a foul, the reality is (as can be seen with the Pepe/Dani Alves debacle) that even websites can look at the same video tape, frame by frame, and still have a different verdict. As such the onus is not removed from the referee and into the hands of almighty ‘technology’, making it pointless. Fouls are subjective. Period. The pretense that dictates that unlike the time taken in discourse to make the ‘correct’ decision, technology-related ones would be swifter is laughable (again, refer to Dani Alves/Pepe). We need not imagine, as it already exists in American football. The replay is viewed, and then the referees confer; as they do now. Offside decisions would also be problematic as a play that was interrupted by an incorrect call, would then be restarted without any of the ‘imbalance’ that is part of this beautiful game.

 This is something that as a purist I struggle to look past. Unlike American football, there aren’t any set shotgun plays, and defensive set ups for each ‘play’. There are no specific routes that strikers run for a particular play. Play doesn’t stop after a tackle is made automatically. American football is built upon intense, but stop-start segments combined, making a game. Special teams are substituted in, and literally 70% of the game is in transition (Changing formations, Time outs, first downs, special teams, etc.).

In stark contrast, Football is very much about momentum. Suddenly a team with naught percent possession can’t seem to be dispossessed. Suddenly their attacks are unrelenting. Suddenly an indomitable-defense/toothless-attack relationship has a role reversal, echoed through the stadium. So much so that time wasting, and feigning injury when under siege is an actual tactic that is part of every teams DNA. What this suggests is that teams may use the appealing option as a tactic in this line, something that can supposedly be corrected by limiting the amount of appeals a team can have. Which in itself is problematic because how do we legislate that in 90 minutes of a game, only ‘x’ calls are genuinely questionable and can be appealed.

My Radical Solution (non-purist)
  1. Goals can be fitted with a sensor that is the diameter of a football beyond the goal line with LED(s),  with everything else remaining the same (no change in rules).
  2. Allow one replay per game per team for appealing. (Can you say Mourinho?)
  3. Make referee robots
  4. Only certain decisions can be appealed (again though leaving the decision maker untouchable from everything except fans, and media…Mourinho??)
My (maybe) Not-So-Radical Solution; Change the Rules!
  1. Make players more accountable by changing the rules of the game to penalize feigning just as harshly as rashness. If red cards were the punishment for being a sick faker, Sergio Busquets wouldn’t bring goggles to the dressing room, much less to the pitch. If the same sort of review process is also added, whereby after a match, videotape evidence can be used to lengthen bans, and add fines to players guilty of faking, we can possibly rid the game of what is quite honestly, very-facking-embarrassing (see below). In so doing, the referee has less acting critiquing to do, and less UNICEF tirades to face.          
  2.  Rewrite the rules of the game, such that it doesn’t read like the Bible. When someone looks at the rules, they are not supposed to get FIFA’s message for them and them only. In so doing again, culpability is removed from the individual referee, and placed at the doormat of our favorite scapegoat. How can an applause be greeted with a red card for Sneijder and not so for Rooney? The answer is that dissent is criteria for both yellow and red cards. Being less vague can only decrease grey areas.
  3. Referee’s should be full-time professionals, and they should be assessed and part of a rating system that is more transparent. Some criticism has been levied towards newspapers in Germany that run a rating of the worst referee. I agree, but disagree. Players are exposed to the same scrutiny. Such that if referees are full-time professionals in the sport, this is the job. Referees have to be culpable. There has to be an incentive to be as impartial as possible and threatening people’s incomes usually has that effect. By being more transparent, the public would feel more security in the rules being applied to all, and have fewer avenues for Atkinson-hates-us debates. In seeing poor refereeing performances result in the demotion of said-referees, I believe chatter would become more: “you’re a wanker”, as opposed to the current: “I’m gonna kill you, you thief”. 
  4. The extra referees can work, but they cannot be as timid as Samir Nasri. 

Not really a 'side-note'. RIP to Gary Speed

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