Video technology: The argument against

Much hand-wringing in football following Thierry Henry’s handball in the Fifa World Cup play-off match against Ireland.

The Football Association of Ireland and Irish fans around the world protest;  Fifa, Uefa and the French Football Federation get their heads down and hope it will all go away.  Neutral’s are aghast and Henry’s reputation takes a severe dent.

Once things are cleared up and any (faint) chance of a replay is dismissed as impossible – only then does Henry concede a replay would be “fair” – not a million miles away from Andre Agassi only admitting his drug taking past only when he new it was too late to punish him.  Hardly brave.

Once again football fans, journalists and pundits around the world are baying for video technology to be introduced.  “There can be no argument against it!” they say.  Well, they’re wrong, because here it is.

The beauty of football, why I love it and I suspect you love it too is it’s universality.  Those heart-warming pictures you see of kids in ghettos playing with a ball made of plastic bags, with twigs rammed into the dirt as goal-posts (usually as part of one country or another’s World Cup bid) – they have a deeper meaning too.

Football can be played by anyone, anywhere.  Much as we all dreamt (or still dream depending on your age/grip on reality) of being Crufy/Pelé/Maradonna/Best/Cantona/Dalglish et al and knew it could never be so – we could still dream.  Football is achievable for everyone.  If you have a couple of mates and something anything that can serve as a ball you’ve got a game.  Heck, you don’t even need a few mates, a wall or something to bounce the ball back from will do.  Add imagination and you’re in the Bernabeu, the San Siro or scoring the World Cup winning goal at Wembley.

Same game

The team you play for at school, on a Sunday or in the Pub League – you’re playing the same game as those kids with twigs in the ghetto and the exact same game as Liverpool, AC Milan, Real Madrid, Corinthians etc. are all playing too.

Sure, they’re playing it better (mostly) but it’s the same.  The same equipment, the same pitch size maybe even the same ball if you put the latest adidas on your Christmas list last year.

As Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini tinker with the rules they’re still within reach.  Ok, your Sunday league may not have linesmen (sorry assistant refs) and your playground game may not even have a ref – but that’s not a rule that’s just down to availability.

Even if Platini’s experiment with AARs (Additional Assitant Referees) becomes law you could, in theory, still have those in place in the park on Sunday.

Add in technology: video replays; goal-line technology whatever – and that achievable link is gone.  Forever.

Most small local teams struggle to find the money for kit and bus hire to get to games.  Video technology is a million miles away from their budget.  Even many professional teams couldn’t afford it.  As more and more Football League clubs in England flirt with financial disaster the idea of adding to their costs is ridiculous.

Therefore a line would have to be drawn.  Videos would only come in a Premier League level or perhaps in the Championship too.   Is football really more important in those divisions?  Several tens of thousands of fans of teams in League’s One and Two would say otherwise.

And then what about Cup competitions.  If a tie is at a ground with the technology, should it be used?  And if the replay’s at the ‘smaller’ team’s ground, without the technology?  It would just be a murky mess of a disaster, waiting to happen.

Referees aren’t perfect.  Mistakes are made – as the match in the Stade de France showed.  But mistakes are as much a part of football as the glorious moments when everything goes right.

The most glorious thing of all is that football should be like justice – for all, not just those that can afford it.

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Fifa seeding ‘fix’ another blow for fairness

This blog risks becoming an an anti-Fifa rant – but the football governing body’s latest decision heaps more ridicule on their independence and role as protector of all things football.

In late September they announced that the play-offs for the European section of the World Cup qualifiers would be seeded.  They tried to hush it up as much as possible, hiding amongst debate about the current hot topic of the time – Olympic sports.  Farce-fiddler in chief, Sepp Blatter, wibbling on about ‘soccer’s’ place as an Olympic sport – as talk moved on to rugby sevens and golf as the latest Olympic money-wagons.

The timing was also critical as well.  Left any later the cries of ‘fix’ would have been deafening.  With two fixtures left in most of the World Cup groups they tried to sneak it under the radar.  At the time the list of teams that may have ended up in the play-offs included: France, Germany, Russia, Portugal, Sweden and the Czech Republic – amongst others.

A tournament without the majority of those teams, with the likes of Slovakia and Serbia having the audacity to qualify ahead of the ‘big boys’.  Lille’s Robert Vitek just isn’t as ‘sexy’ as va-va-voom Thierry Henry – and won’t appeal to nearly so many sponsors – sorry, ‘Fifa family’ members.

Teams like the Republic of Ireland, having already battled through their seeded group – bravely overcoming Bulgaria and running World Champions Italy close – face another seeded draw.  It’s just plain unfair.

Put it this way.  How would you feel if one of those many plucky Brits at Wimbledon – someone who’s not Andy Murray – battles their way to the Grand Slam’s semi-finals.  They managed to beat the number three seed early on in the tournament and raced through heroically to the last four.  Then, with dreams of a thrilling final against a Federer or a Nadal in SW18 – the All England Club say: “Ah, hang on old chap – can’t have you wrecking our lovely, planned Rafa v Roger final… we’ll just re-draw things so you face the toughest possible opponent.”

The outcry would be huge – and fully justified.  Fifa are effectively doing the same to the likes of Ireland, Bosnia and England-conquerers Ukraine.

If the groups end up, as expected the eight play-off teams will be: Portugal, Greece, Slovenia, Russia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Ukraine, France and the Republic of Ireland.

Fifa will now fix, sorry ‘seed’ the draw according to the Fifa rankings – oops, sorry, the Coca-Cola World Rankings (I kid you not, look).  So: Russia (ranked 6th); France (10th); Greece (12th); and Portugal (17th) cannot be drawn against one another.  Slovenia (54th), Bosnia (46th), Ukraine (25th) and Ireland (38th) will have to take their chances.

The fact that in order to finish second in their group Slovenia have already overcome four teams ranked in Fifa’s top 50 is neither here nor there.  Nor that Ireland battled through a group including two of the top 20 ranked teams.

This is motivated by money, power and greed – pure and simple.  Look at the size of the seeded nations and therefore the size of the wallets of those country’s TV stations.  Look at the heavily sponsored stars in each of those teams.  Fifa run the unthinkable risk of a tournament without the likes of Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Frank Ribery, Andrei Arshavin etc.

Sean St. Ledger and his Ireland team-mates will just have to jump through another hoop to have any chance of qualifying.  And if they don’t?  They miss the tournament and their Fifa ranking is damaged again.  The vicious circle is spun once more and Fifa twiddle their fingers and get hearty slaps on the back from the power-brokers of the Football Associations of the big-hitters.

Football lives for the upsets, the battles of David v Goliath.  Think of the most exciting matches you’ve seen, of the most famous cases of a plucky underdog thrilling a horde of fans.  The sad truth is, David doesn’t pay as well as Goliath so the tournament ‘bouncers’ Fifa put up a “Sorry, no trainers” policy as they usher their ragged and tattered mates in through the side door.

Uefa choke = Uefa joke

In the most unsurprising story since Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid, Uefa have overturned their own ban on Arsenal striker Eduardo.

The Brazil born Croatia striker had been banned for allegedly diving to win a penalty in Arsenal’s one-sided Champions League qualifier against Celtic.

As predicted here on Thoughtsport Arsenal appealed and quelle suprise the ban was over-turned.  Uefa choked it.
Now I’m not saying Eduardo should have been banned – the evidence was borderline at best – but Uefa chose to draw their line in the sand and should have stuck by it.

Instead they look more lilly-livered than David Beckham pulling his sore toe out of a tackle and allowing Argentina to score in the 2002 World Cup.

The status quo is restored: the big clubs know that no matter how loud Uefa crow about tackling this and doing something about that, they can ride roughshod over any rules (or rulings) they don’t like and do as they’ve always done – namely whatever they want.

Uefa President Michel Platini’s latest crusade is against clubs “doped with debt” as some put it.  Don’t be surprised if, by the time this comes to being enforced, it’s heavily watered down and then completely ignored by the clubs who, as ever, will find ways around it.

Well done Uefa, what a brave stand that was.  It lasted less than two weeks.

Appealing but not surprising…

So Chelsea say they will “mount the strongest possible appeal” to the transfer ban imposed by Fifa.

Arsenal are appealing against Eduardo’s ban too.

Both bans will be reduced (you read it here first).  Don’t be surprised if the words “suspended” appear too – but sadly not of the banning variety, more of the ‘suspended sentence’ type.

Remember that scene in the Indiana Jones movie?  Indiana runs after the sword-wielding natives with his gun… until they realise he has no bullets, and chase the terrified Indy into the distance.

Remind you of anything?  Fifa and Uefa shout loudly but have no bullets…

Chelsea’s ban: It will never stick

So Chelsea have been banned from buying players for the best part of two years: story on BBC Sport website.

At first – and not purely because of an anti-money, anti-big club mentality – most football fans will think “Good” – non-Chelsea fans anyway.

But does anyone expect this to stick?  I certainly don’t.

If Chelsea did, as Fifa says, induce a player (Gael Kakuta) to break his contract then they deserve to be punished.

For too long football has been about the size of your bank balance and not the size of your talent.  Any time a smaller club has something good (a player, a manager even a physio) it’s only a matter of time before a bigger club comes knocking – or more often they don’t even knock, they just take.

It happens at all levels of football.  It’s not limited to Premier League clubs, bigger clubs further down the pyramid just pass the treatment on down the ladder – much like a playground bully is usually bullied themselves.

But it’s just the big clubs throwing their weight around.  Would Kakuta have been tempted to leave Lens by say Scunthorpe or Darlington?

Can you imagine how that conversation would go?  “Gael – want to come and play for us?  You’d have to take a pay-cut and… Gael?  Gael?  Hello?  He hung-up…”

Toothless tiger

Much as with Uefa’s ban of Eduardo a precedent has been set.  Fifa have set their stall out, backing up their own rules with action.  All good so far.

The ban on Chelsea, announced today, forbidding them from registering players for two transfer windows (effectively until January 2011)and fining them €780,000 is a strong and determined stance.

Chelsea have 21 days to appeal.  If they don’t I will be flabbergasted.

The thing with the big clubs is they have big lawyers.  An appeal will be lodged.  All it will take is a few mentions of the Court of Arbitration for Sport; “restriction of trade” and so on.

Again, the precedent has been set.  Roma were punished similarly over the signing of Phillippe Mexes.  Their appeal saw the ban halved and the fine substantially reduced.  Don’t be suprised if the same happens here.

If it does the ban is effectively useless and Fifa, once again, shown as toothless in their attempts to prevent the big clubs bullying everyone else.

If Chelsea’s ban is halved they’re banned from just one window (this coming January 2010).  The January windows are usually a course of last resort for struggling clubs and/or those that have changed manager and need a change of personnel.

Any decent players are usually so tightly bound into a contract and/or Cup-tied for important European matches that the big clubs rarely do business in January.

Fining Chelsea a few hundred thousand euros is the same as the FA fining multi-millionaire footballers a few thousand pounds for breaching their rules.  A mere drop in a vast ocean.

It’s almost as if Fifa dish out hefty punishments knowing they’ll be reduced on appeal.

As any sports coach will tell you, feeling beaten before you even begin is the first step to certain defeat.