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.

Eduardo: Scapegoat or smokescreen?

We’ve all seen and read (endlessly) about Eduardo’s ‘dive’ against Celtic in what amounted to a Champions League qualifier.

Much wringing of hands all-round.  “Diving.  Terrible thing.  We must stamp it out.” etc.  Uefa (under pressure from the media and Scottish FA) have made an example of the Arsenal striker – with a two match ban.

Gunners manager, Arsene Wenger, is understandably upset.  Much as we’d all like cast-iron honesty from all managers and players, did anyone expect him to do anything other than defend his player?

Precedent?

Uefa have, it would seem, set a precedent.  The next round of European matches will be extremely interesting.  Will all divers receive the same punishment?  Doubtful if not impossible.

The question I find myself wondering is why they have acted at all.  The pressure of the repeated media coverage has been cited but if that were the case every other refereeing decision would be treated in this manner.

The pressure applied by the SFA must have been key – big-wigs at Uefa being Scots cannot have hurt either.

Uefa President Michel Platini is an outspoken critic of video evidence.  Instead he advocates (and is trialling) a system of Additional Assistant Referees (AAPs) situated behind each goal.

What is this retrospective punishment of Eduardo if not trial by television?

The referee is hugely undermined and a precedent impossible to follow has been set.  It cannot be the answer.

Imagine if the incident had instead occured in the Champions League Final.  Eduardo dives (work with me  – assume Arsenal made it for argument’s sake); wins a penalty; scores and Arsenal win 1-0.

Under even more pressure, Uefa look at the video evidence and ban Eduardo.  Meanwhile, the Croatian is sat amongst his team-mates on a open-top bus tour of north London with the Champions League trophy.

Would you risk diving to win the sport’s biggest club competition?  Many (many) players would.  What’s a two-match ban to a place in history?

Additional referees are a far better answer.  Punishment would be instantaneous and results would stand, with authority.

If Platini supports this view, Eduardo’s ban is at best sending mixed messages – at worst it’s just a smokescreen – doing something for the sake of being seen to do something.