For many years now there have been calls to use technology in football in order to get better decisions. When most people talk about technology they automatically think of goal line technology, which has finally arrived in the Premier League after much debate and testing. It will also be used in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil but not of course in the Champions League or Europa Cup as Marcel Platini, President of UEFA is a fierce opponent of the use of technology. His view is that if it is once introduced there is no knowing where it will end. Instead he has championed the two additional assistant referees system, where they stand on the goal line at each end. The original reason we were given for their deployment was that because they didn’t move away from the goal line, unlike assistant referees, they could indicate if and when the ball crossed the line inside the goal. The Ukraine v England match in the European Championships proved that this was not a fail safe method, so it was then claimed the reason for their introduction was that they were there to assist the referee with decisions in the penalty area. This was mainly of course to combat all the holding and pushing that now goes on at corners and free kicks into the penalty area. It is said that they have been a great success in reducing, (but not eliminating as we see all too often), the amount of these unwanted practices. Assistant referees also have praised the system saying that they can now concentrate on offside decisions without having to worry about infringements in the penalty area.
People often ask me how these extra assistant referees communicate to the referee that they have spotted something untoward. Unlike the assistant referees they don’t have a flag to attract his attention. Well this is where technology actually takes over. You will notice that they hold in one hand what look like and what is, the bottom half of an assistants’ flagstick. This has a buzzer, which he can press to send a signal to the referee warning him that something needs his attention. But what? The answer is supplied by another piece of technology. All the officials are ‘mic’d up’ and he can simply say what it was he saw and who is the offending player.
But if we get away from the European game and look at the Premier League and the Championship we will find all the officials are also linked with a radio system and that includes the fourth official. This is an ‘open mic’ system where anyone on it can speak to everyone else at any time. It does need a little discipline as many assistant referees, tend to talk to themselves, something I’m guilty of when running the line. The last thing a referee wants is someone jabbering in his ear. An illustration of the mic’s at work can be seen in Andre Marriner’s review of his excellent handling of this year’s FA Cup Final at Wembley between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic. You may recall that he sent off Manchester’s Pablo Zabaleta for a reckless tackle on McManaman after a loose pass from Gareth Barry. He had a clear communication from his two assistants and the fourth official in his headset, ‘Zabaleta, second yellow card,’ they called, even as McManaman was tumbling through the air. ‘I knew it was a yellow card and a sending off,’ said Marriner but to have it confirmed by three other people, leaves you in no doubt who was guilty, who is going to pay and what the sanction is’.
Marcel Platini is afraid that technology will spoil the game but it is already successfully playing a part.