FOX Soccer Exclusive
Video review's time has (finally) come
Maybe, just maybe, this weekend will prove to be soccer's tipping point. The Premier League saw four controversial calls on Saturday and Sunday across two games that taken as a whole have the potential to decide who wins this year's title.
Three of them looked flat-out wrong. Two of them may prove to gift Chelsea the title. One of them may cost Tottenham a place in Europe.
In the wake of these games, Spurs manager Harry Redknapp became just the latest in a ever-growing line of managers to bemoan the game's intransigence. Speaking to the BBC, Redknapp noted that virtually every other major sport - and some that are pretty minor - have some form of technological assistance for the referees.
Said Redknapp: "Every football person who has played the game or watched the game would say [technology's] got to be introduced but a small handful of people in Zurich decide, because it's not their idea, that they're not going to use it."
Video replay and goal-line technology are, of course, vigorously opposed by the mandarins who run the sport. Despite the fact that their reasoning is hollow, FIFA continues to block, obfuscate and outright deny that their sport is in crisis. But it is. In an era when billions around the world can see replays in an instant, the men in charge cannot. As a result, soccer's referees are being put into impossible situations on a near daily basis. As a result, the game is losing credibility.
Don't believe me? Tell that to Tottenham, who fell out of a European place for the weekend, at a potential cost of millions of dollars. Tell that to Arsenal, who were fortunate to earn full points, helping preserve their guaranteed European place. Tell that to Sir Alex Ferguson, who saw Chelsea gain ground that they arguably did not deserve.
Moreover, tell this to fans of the game around the world. They are sick and tired of blown calls and wretched officiating that taints the game. Just ask them.
The arguments against video replay are simple - and just as simple to destroy. Some fans still believe that replays would break up the flow of what is a continuous game. In fact, given the time that teams take after scoring a goal to celebrate and then return to kickoff, fans have already seen whether the goal was actually good, and from multiple angles.
Saturday, fans knew that while Heurelho Gomes made an embarrassing gaffe on Frank Lampard's hopeful shot, he did in fact recover it, preventing the ball from crossing the line. The whole world saw it, but not the assistant, who not only was in the wrong place to make the call, but probably was also influenced - unconsciously - by Gomes's history. (This is called confirmation bias, and it's very real.)
How could video replay have solved this? The fourth official could have (and should be) monitoring replays. All he would have needed to do is alert the referee that the goal was questionable, and that it needed review. The replays appeared 10 seconds after the incident. Play didn't restart for 45 seconds. That's plenty of time to get the call right.
Missed calls are a part of the game, but they don't have to be. In these cases, these weren't judgment calls but errors in enforcing the laws of the game. Fixing these with video replay is also fairly simple: Give each coach one challenge per half - but don't stop play.
For example, in the case of Vidic, Arsene Wenger could have delivered his challenge to the fourth official, or to a replay official. They review the facts while the game continues, and if the challenge is upheld, the next stoppage in play would result in ref Chris Foy picking the ball up, pointing to the spot, and showing Vidic the red. Fans and players alike could be alerted a challenge is underway by use of a red light on top of the goalposts. If the replay official upholds the ruling on the field, nothing happens, and there's no delay in the game.
Some would argue that video replay should extend to judgment calls as well. I think not. Wolfgang Stark's ejection of Real Madrid's Pepe in the midweek Champions League match might have been harsh, but that's an area where officials should not be second-guessed. After all, no replay and no technology can tell us in the cheap seats if Stark had previously warned Pepe, or what the ground rules Stark laid out pre-game were. That's where we rely on referee's expertise, and we should continue to do so.
Then there's goal-line technology, which FIFA frankly seems terrified of. They have made their criteria for selecting a system absurdly difficult, demanding 100 per cent accuracy and information inside of a second. This is nothing more than a way for FIFA to keep it out of the game entirely. No technology is 100 per cent effective, because we imperfect humans both make the technology and run it. Most fans would settle for 98 per cent effectiveness because at present we have a system that seems at best to be 50/50 on questionable calls.
Making a replay official the final arbiter might also stop some of the ugly scenes we saw last week in Spain, where players continually surrounded the referee. If players and coaches knew that rules decisions could be reviewed, some of that stuff would stop tomorrow.
One could argue that if Manchester United fails to win the title because of the decisions, it would be the best thing for the sport in the long term. It's long been felt that change will only come when a major team is cheated out of a prize. I hope it doesn't come down to that this year. I also hope that someone - anyone - in the FA, the Premier League or FIFA, comes to grips with what must be done. It's time to restore fairness, and it's time to help out the refs.
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.