from: Andre Villas-Boas learns fast: blame the referee

Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea’s youthful new manager, has wasted no time in getting on the bandwagon by blaming the officials for his team’s defeat by Manchester United. Like Kenny Dalglish after Liverpool’s loss to Stoke, he went through the official channels by speaking to Mike Riley who has taken over as the manager of the Premier League referees. ‘I’m not trying to influence decisions,’ he is reported to have said, ‘but only calling attention to the fact this situation happened and it played an extremely important part in the result. We all felt very down when the referee had such an impact.’ No mention you note of the glaring missed opportunities to score by his players, which you might say, had they been taken, would have had an important impact on the game and the result. It seems however whilst players can (and do) make mistakes, referees and assistants must be absolutely faultless. In fact, his complaint was really about the assistant referees after television replays seemed to indicate that two of the Manchester United goals could have been ruled out for offside. Unlike Kenny Dalglish’s complaints which were frankly ludicrous, the replays showed that there may be some justification against one if not both decisions, although they were very marginal. There is only one place that you can be absolutely certain to judge offside and that is to be in line with the last but one defender. It’s amazing what a difference a yard or two either side can make to tight decisions. Television used to try and prove the correctness or otherwise of offside decisions by camera replays but seldom were the cameras in the right position. Now they freeze the action at the moment the ball is kicked and draw a line across the pitch in line with the second last defender. This is very much what assistant referees, especially in the higher realms of the game, are trained to do. When the ball is kicked, the assistant referee has to judge whether the attacker is nearer to the opponent’s goal line than the ball and second last defender. He makes a snap-shot in his mind’s eye of that moment the ball is kicked, in exactly the way the camera does. The difference is of course that the camera stops the play, whereas for the assistant referee the game is still going on and players are moving all the time. This snap-shot isn’t always easy, particularly if the play is on the wing that the assistant is running. His eyes will be checking that the ball doesn’t go out of play. If ball is kicked forward, in that fraction of a second it takes for him to turn his head to look along the line, the movement of players mans a gap can appear that may not have been there when the ball was kicked. How much of the attacker must be nearer the opponent’s goal line than the second last defender? What we are told is that if the attacker’s body is nearer, no matter how slight, he is offside. If his head or feet are nearer he is offside but not his hands or arms as ‘you don’t play football with the hands’. If the assistant referee is looking straight across the field of play his difficulties aren’t at an end because of players’ continual movement. Peter Kirkup, a Premier League assistant referee, brought to Reading last season a video of offside situations which we were asked to judge. Although I had seen them before I still got some wrong. What I would like to see is complainers like Andre Villa-Boas have a go at them. They might realise it’s easier to get offside decisions wrong than it is to miss open goals but also appreciate the fact that according to the television replays, nearly all are correct.

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