This is a farce.
90 seconds between the initial whistle-blow and the decision being made. The actual screen being carried to pitch-side for inspection. Bloody hell.
For the first ever use of video replay in the professional game, it’s not confidence inspiring. Worse than that, it appears like it was purpose-designed to demonstrate every proposed failing of the process. It is a jaw-clenchingly drawn out process, not helped by the two commentators who could do with a lesson in brevity.
But then again, let’s look at the positives. The referee initially called for a free-kick and no card. After the replay, he issues a red to the defender. The time lag is the referee’s seeming hesitancy to use the new technology, 55 of those 90 seconds after the whistle has blown are the ref considering what he has seen and whether that justifies use of the replay. There are just 35 seconds between him drawing the square and issuing the card.
That’s not long. Not long at all. Especially if you consider that a referee who has a ‘I didn’t get a clear view’ from their touch official will spend less time um-ing and ah-ing over it.
In fact, given that it’s a trial – you can easily see a slicker setup reducing that time by maybe another 10 – 15 seconds. The referee still makes the final choice, no NRL bunker fiasco or interfering TMO getting into their ear while play is going on.
I get the complaints, the thin end of the wedge arguments that see teams being given challenges like in tennis or cricket. If the game is a beautiful one, it’s because it’s a mess of chance, possibility and outright cheating at times. If you can call football art, it’s a Jackson Pollock. And it will remain one, even with the video ref.
But at the highest level, the game has increased in speed beyond the capabilities of the six (SIX!) officials to view it*. Giving the referee the option to make a call to have another look at an incident, incidents which every supporter in the ground and at home will watch again and again and again while cursing the referee, isn’t the end of the world.
Bringing technology into the game won’t bring it to an end. It changes how it is watched, but not how it is played – it’s not like swapping the old leather cannonballs for the barely existent modern air-spheres, nor heavy studded boots for today’s shin-slicingly delicate ultra-fabrics.
There’s some improvements to be made. Players cannot demand a video replay, and swarming the ref in an attempt to get one should get short shrift and a flurry of yellow cards. Time off for video replays. It’s not like a substitution or the ball going out for a throw in. Get the replay on a screen the referee can see without having to hop off the pitch like they’ve been caught short – but don’t let someone else make the call. That’s still the job of the referee.
After all, I don’t think you can meet a supporter from a sports code with video replays who don’t complain one way or the other about the decisions being made using them. But they also accept that decisions do even out, eventually. They’ll also note that referees, while possibly being illegitimate, can’t always keep up with the modern game.
So let’s give them a chance to get with the times. Video replays, reverse angles, slooooooow motion. It’s not going to affect the majority of the game, the blood and thunder on the parks of Auckland or Hackney Marshes. We accepted goal-line technology, albeit after a long struggle. The game will remain ninety minutes plus stoppages, eleven a side, most goals win.
At the heart of the argument, really, lies the referee. As long as the decision to call for and decide upon a video replay remains theirs, they and the game they officiate retains its integrity. Well, as much integrity as supporters, players and managers have ever been willing to give referees. Oh.
It might be apt to finish where we started. The game in which a video replay was first used, saw it used a second time. In the 79th minute of the game between New York Red Bulls II and Orlando B, the referee didn’t see a late challenge on a NYRB player who lay prone. He instantly referred it to the replay (but the officials didn’t get it done very quickly, again) took a look and issued a yellow card to an Orlando B player for the challenge (initially I had this as a red card, the same player picked up his second yellow two minutes later – JP). Neat and fair. Like it should be.
Author’s Note: I have previously argued against video replays, here.
* Referee, two touch officials, fourth official, two goal line gonks.