With cries for video technology growing louder and louder, it is time for football to take a long overdue step out of the dark ages.
As Antoine Griezmann wheeled away to celebrate putting France in control of their friendly against Spain, something was brewing in the back of a van outside the stadium that may change football forever. In the midst of the celebrations, the referee received confirmation from the individual stationed in this particular van that the goal should not stand. No foul, no match fixing, no controversy, just the identification of an offside by a man sitting in front of a screen that no linesman could ever hope to see with the naked eye. Video technology h ad just made an outstanding call, and the game resumed after a delay of just a few seconds, rubbishing the notion that additional technology would ‘kill the flow’ of matches. If ever an incident could perfectly sum up the usefulness of video technology in football, surely this was it.
With technology being used so effectively in this game, one can only look at some of the incidents over the course of this season in English football – a season in which the standard of refereeing has been even worse than usual – and see where technology would have solved some problematic situations. Gabbiadini’s disallowed goal in the League Cup final. Fer’s foul on Cahill. Walker’s push on Sterling. There are far too many other instances to name, but these three in particular stand out as moments of laughably sub-standard officiating, far more blatant than France’s correctly disallowed goal. Needless to say, these all could have been dealt with instantly through the use of such technology. Taking advantage of this opportunity would also quell the legitimacy that many referees have when they feel the need to steal the spotlight and create unnecessary controversy. Mike Dean is guilty of this almost every time he steps onto a football pitch.
With more and more technology being developed in the modern era, this is not the first time that football’s governing body FIFA has been held accountable by international demand; we have already seen this in the past five years with the introduction of goal line technology. Whilst FIFA initially repelled this demand, a few controversial and potentially game or even tournament changing moments forced them to reconsider. The flashpoint can of course be pinpointed to Frank Lampard’s disallowed ‘ghost goal’ against Germany in the 2010 World Cup. This image still haunts the nightmares of every England fan from Cumbria to Cornwall. Having been eased into top leagues around Europe in the following years, goal line technology continues to thrive to this day. It has not yet made a single error, and it made one of its finest decisions to date in identifying a late goal in the match between Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven, mere millimetres over the line. If its performance so far is anything to go by, (and it is), football technology is simply never wrong.
All this evidence and not a single legitimate mark against these technologies, and yet there are still people who stand against it for mind-boggling reasons. The main argument put forward is that human error in officiating is a good thing, as these errors cause conversation, debates, and arguments amongst fans during the week and in the aftermath of matches. Such incidents may well spice up the talk in the office, but I personally hate the feeling of bitterness and anger that arises at the knowledge that my team has been on the end of an awful refereeing performance, and I’m sure other football fans do too. If your team has thirty shots on goal and loses one-nil, that’s football. If your team is cheated out of a match by repeated human error, that’s just unnecessary. How far do the people who argue that human error is a good thing want this controversy to go? Bad refereeing determining a match is one thing, but it is only a matter of time until this very element is responsible for deciding a title or causing a relegation, if it hasn’t already. Would it still be worth sacrificing correct decision making for heated fan debates in these circumstances? I would have dared anyone to stroll into a pub after Lampard’s ghost goal to tell the infuriated fans that such a decision was actually a good thing ‘due to its ability to spark fan discussion’. The only good that came of that incident at all was the introduction of a game improving measure that was long overdue.
At the time of writing it is a couple of weeks on from the testing of video technology in a friendly match between France and Spain. Whilst it took one watershed moment for FIFA to change their stance on goal line technology, dozens of incidents each week that merit video replays fail to make the organisation even consider them. With more Premier League games around the corner, it is inevitable that yet more controversy will be stirred up in the near future. Hopefully the example set in this international friendly can serve as a foundation for football to finally move towards embracing the technology that the beautiful game deserves. There are still some concerns regarding the introduction of this component, such as how the play would reset following a video replay decision, but such formalities are minor and can be ironed out when necessary. As said before, technology has so far been faultless, and leaves us with a simple conclusion: can all controversy be removed from football through technology? Probably not, as removing all controversy from a sport is nearly impossible. Can unnecessary controversy and blundering human error be removed from football through this same technology? Yes it can, and the sooner it is, the better.