Thursday, November 12, 2009

The eyes have it

Picture the scene...

It's November 2010. Liverpool have had a pretty guff start to the season again, not helped by the chronic injury niggles of their talismanic skipper, Steven Gerrard, whose groin muscles are now the consistency of cling film, or by the chronic injury niggles/summer sale of super-striker Fernando Torres. Rafa Benitez (still in the job as the kudos of Istanbul 2005 won't wear off to expose his tactical rigidity and lack of transfer nous for, say, at least another decade) watches glumly at Anfield as the Reds huff and puff against one of the newly promoted sides. With twenty minutes to go, Liverpool are dominating but lacking any sort of cutting edge when their reserve striker (playing because of whichever reason that you believe Torres won't be) skips along the bye-line, and an opposing player, perhaps a hard-working veteran defensive midfielder who is more bald than an alopecia sufferer who has just had his entire body waxed, slides in. Liverpool's centre-forward collapses to the deck.

The referee is twenty yards away. He has a good view, but not perfect. His instinct is "penalty". Is he influenced by 40,000 screaming, desperate scousers? Who wouldn't be? He glances fleetingly at his assistant, but he is on the far side of the pitch, and is of no help. The man in black is about to point to the spot when a hereto forgotten voice enters his earpiece; "Mate, I got a fantastic view of that. The defending player made no contact with the attacker, and the attacker is guilty of simulation. It's not a spot-kick, but if I were you I would book that cheating b*****d." The referee appears to nod to himself, and to the derision of the home fans, he books the forward and Liverpool are left trying to find an equalizer by legit means. As he runs towards the halfway line, he remembers to give a wave of thanks to the official behind the goalline. Thank god that Europa League experiment worked, he thought, otherwise I'd have been slaughtered on ESPN...

Okay, I admit that it is distinctly unlikely that N'Gog-gate from Monday night will repeat itself so blatantly, or that an official would dare refer to a player as a "cheating b*****d", but you get my point. Sooner or later, we are going to have a repeat case, and (unless of course it is a British player doing it, in which they won't get slagged at all - see Michael Owen against Argentina) unless there is an intervention made things will never change.

Diving didn't stay out of the headlines long, did it? It's worth noting that no-one is actually slagging off the ref for giving that awful penalty; instead the consensus is that Peter Walton is a great ref who got conned. It can't go on, it just can't. And if we can't (or won't) use TV evidence for these sorts of things, then perhaps the answer is the introduction of a goalline official at each end, as UEFA are trying out in the Europa League.

I have to admit that I don't have a lot of data to back up this hope; I do have just about enough of a social life that I can find something better to do than watch Everton v Benfica (or maybe I'm just kidding myself, but hey). But the little bits I have seen so far have produced some interesting observations. While I haven't seen any particular occasions when an extra pair of eyes has been involved in a penalty decision, there have been numerous corners/goal kicks given by the better placed official, and they have tended to be correct. So I wonder whether it might be deemed enough of a success that Michel Platini tries to thrust it on domestic football. And who knows, maybe at last the extra pairs of eyes will be a weapon that can shoot divers down; it would make a change from watching them go down like they've been shot.

Mind you, with Sir Alex Ferguson on the prowl, where on earth will they get the extra people to help the referees? I suppose it could be one way of reducing unemployment during the recession...


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