Opinion: Man vs. Machine.

Referees are notorious for being afflicted with a sudden bout of blindness or brain-freeze when it comes to making crunch decisions. Games and championships have been won and lost, managers and fans left tearing their hair out and players left either breathing a sigh of relief or seeing red (literally).

There have been repeated calls for technology to be brought in to settle disputes and prevent these errors. At the top of that list are goal-line technology and video replay technology. While the obvious advantages are plain to see, if you scratch the surface and look at the idea dispassionately, you might notice that bringing in these technologies would change the very face of the game we love. And not for the better, in my opinion.
Granted, video technology could go a long way in settling title-defining disputes in games where the referee and his assistants get it wrong (both games between United and Chelski last season being prime examples). But I’d still rather have my ninety minutes of football sans the technological intervention. Here’s why:

  • It will slow the pace of the game down dramatically. Even if teams are given a limited number of video-references per game, they could become a tactic to break the momentum of an opponent.  Picture this: Team A has the ball in Team B’s half, attacking dangerously. A player from Team B wins the ball back with a firm sliding tackle and the team is counter-attacking dangerously, when Team A calls for play to stop because they want a video review of the challenge. How does it work then? Does the ref stop play and go to the video panel, or does he wave play on, maybe see Team B score a goal and then go to the video panel to find that he indeed should have given a free kick earlier and the goal should be disallowed?
  • It will take the human element out of the game. Yes, despite my initial chagrin directed at the men in black, I’d rather have the decisions made by humans without the assistance of video cameras. As ludicrous as it seems to most people (myself included, initially) – I think the additional line referees behind the goal could actually be of some use. It’s a new system and will take a while to actually begin functioning optimally. There’s no argument here about money spent here, because I’m pretty certain a lot more money will be spent installing the necessary video equipment around the pitch than hiring two assistant refs.
  • To answer AJ – when I say it will make referees dependent on the technology, I mean that knowing they have something to turn to in case they have made a questionable call makes them less liable for their decisions. Not only does it take away from his responsibility, it also undermines his authority, making a farce of the entire ‘Respect’ campaign. Is there no alternative?
  • There is an alternative. Following a series of bitter verbal attacks, one of the League’s senior referees, Mark Clattenburg, took a month-long break last month. So furious was the refereeing community that such a senior official was actually pushed to the brink of taking time off from the game, they proposed a five-point plan to make their jobs easier. Of the five points, only one involves technology becoming a part of the game during match time – Goal line technology. This is one technology I’m actually not opposed to seeing implemented, because the frequency of its use will be far less than that of video replay technology. Moreover, it will help eliminate situations bordering on the hilarious:
Personally I feel the solution, if in fact we need one, is retrospective action. Granted, it will result in yellow and maybe even red cards being awarded well after the final whistle has blown, and players/managers can (and likely will) still find reason to complain. But I believe that there will be a certain discipline infused into the minds of players, knowing that even if the referee misses something during the game, they could still be pulled up for it retrospectively.

That said, I reiterate my point that I’d rather have my football with a few human errors than have artificial eyes calling the shots (literally!). There’s always room for debate on this, even though there’s no doubt at all that technology will surely take over the beautiful game one day, just as it has done with tennis and cricket. No doubt at all.
I’m just not sure I want to see a 90 minute game with 5 minutes of injury time and 15 minutes of technology time.