Picture the scene at Wembley on Sunday. Harry Kane turns in the penalty area and tumbles under a challenge from John Terry. Chelsea players signal that he dived; Spurs’ surround referee Anthony Taylor. He points to the penalty spot. On the touchline Jose Mourinho goes berserk.
It is not hard to imagine. Now add this scenario. Before making the decision Taylor signals for a TV replay. In the car park retired referee Neale Barry studies a bank of screens. Back in the ground all eyes turn to the big screens. Inside and out the question is the same: penalty, or no penalty?
This is a compelling prospect. More accurate decisions, more drama, and fewer opportunities for managers to claim there is a conspiracy against their team. Until recently it was also fantasy football, but today the use of video technology should move a step closer with a trial in the Netherlands being sanctioned.
The Culloden Hotel in Craigavad, just outside Belfast, is the setting for the 129th annual meeting of Ifab, as the International Football Association Board is known. This organisation, older than Fifa, makes and adapts football’s 17 laws. It consists of just five people. Four represent the Football Associations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who founded Ifab in 1886 and get a vote apiece. The fifth person in the room is English football’s favourite baddie, Fifa president Sepp Blatter who, reminiscent of a classic Not The Nine O’Clock News sketch about union block votes, has four votes all to himself.
Didier Drogba's stunning record in cup finals
Didier Drogba's stunning record in cup finals
1/8 2005 Carling Cup Final - Liverpool 2 Chelsea 3 (aet)
Drogba put Chelsea ahead in extra-time as the Blues won their first trophy under Jose Mourinho.
2/8 2007 Carling Cup final - Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2
Drogba scored both goals, including the winner six minutes from time, as Chelsea came from behind to beat Arsenal.
3/8 2007 FA Cup final - Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0
Drogba scored the winner with just four minutes of extra-time remaining after playing a one-two with Frank Lampard.
4/8 2008 Carling Cup final - Chelsea 1 Tottenham 2
Drogba became the first player to score in three League Cup finals when he put Chelsea ahead with a free-kick.
5/8 2009 FA Cup final - Chelsea 2 Everton 1
Drogba's equaliser set Chelsea on the road to victory after Louis Saha had put Everton ahead with the quickest FA Cup final goal.
6/8 2010 FA Cup final - Chelsea 1 Portsmouth 0
Drogba's 59th-minute free-kick clinched Chelsea their first league and cup double.
7/8 2012 FA Cup final - Chelsea 2 Liverpool 1
Drogba became the first player to score in four FA Cup finals as Chelsea lifted the trophy for a fourth time in six years.
8/8 2012 Champions League final - Bayern Munich 1 Chelsea 1 (Chelsea won 4-3 on penalties)
Drogba's 88th-minute header took the final into extra-time and, fittingly, it was the Ivorian who struck the winning penalty in the shoot-out in the final appearance of his first spell.
Contrary to public expectations the meeting is expected to be convivial. Fifa and the FA may be forever at odds but Blatter can be charming in person and has a good relationship with FA chairman Greg Dyke.
A 75 per cent majority is required, so laws can only be changed with the assent of Fifa and two home nations. It is by design a conservative body, which in part explains why it was not until 2012 that goalline technology was approved, 20 years after cricket introduced the third umpire and well behind the use of video in a raft of sports ranging from hockey – ice and grass – to basketball, rodeo riding and Nascar.
The success of goalline technology has prompted consideration of its logical extension. The Dutch FA is proposing to trial video technology for key decisions (those affecting goals, penalties and red cards) in next season’s domestic cup competition. Dyke is in favour and Blatter likely to agree having had a Damascene conversion on video technology since Frank Lampard’s non-goal against Germany in Bloemfontein in 2010. Which means one more vote is needed from another home nation.
It is to be hoped, despite initial scepticism, one puts his hand up, for this is long overdue. Even referees are thought broadly in favour, as umpires are in cricket, as it saves them from being castigated for howlers. Jorge Larrionda’s international refereeing career was effectively over when his linesman failed to spot Lampard’s ‘goal’.
The Dutch have been testing the system and put on a presentation this week. Early plans to remotely adjudicate every contested decision have crystalised into just assessing those key decisions.
The definition is narrow. If a goal follows a wrongly awarded corner, too bad – the corner should have been defended better. If, once the corner is taken, a foul is committed and a goal scored, then technology can be applied.
The strongest argument against the use of technology is that it will interrupt a free-flowing sport, but the Dutch experience suggests a verdict can be reached in eight seconds on average, and rarely takes more than 15 seconds – less time than a referee will spend fending off aggrieved players.
The presentation highlighted the example of Thierry Henry’s infamous handball, the one which sent France to the 2010 World Cup at the expense of the Republic of Ireland. It took 90 seconds to re-start the game. A free-kick could have been given, Henry give a yellow card and the game resumed in far less time.
Also up for debate is a suggestion from US Soccer that football should follow other sports which stop the clock when the ball is out of play. Given the ball is only in play for around an hour in most games (Arsenal-Monaco was 59 minutes, five seconds) that would mean such a fundamental change there is unlikely to be much support.
Another proposal under consideration is to have further trials of sin-bins in youth football. Uefa President Michel Platini is in favour of a “white card” for offences such as dissent or feigning injury.
Why stop there? Widely used in other sports, a sin-bin would seem a good idea in the adult parks and professional game too. Think how often a referee seems to shy away from giving a second yellow card because of the consequences. However, it may be a few years before there is agreement within Ifab, or support from the two advisory panels set up last year to assist Ifab (one mainly of ex-players, one of former officials including Larrionda). The concern is that teams will simply defend for the period their player is in the sin-bin, as often happens in an ice hockey power-play. But what if they are losing?
While all these subjects are on the agenda for discussion, along with clarification of the rulebook and the law on handball, firm decisions will be taken on several issues, notably so-called “triple jeopardy” whereby a player who denies a clear goalscoring opportunity in the penalty area concedes a penalty, is red-carded and suspended, all for one offence. This happened to Wojciech Szczesny in the opening game of Euro 2012. Platini has described the law as “stupid” and Uefa are pushing for a red card only to be issued when the foul is clearly deliberate, rather than as a result of a mis-timed challenge like Szczesny’s.
While Ifab may settle for just sanctioning a trial on this issue, they are likely to approve the use of a fourth substitute in extra-time, and an extension of the use of rolling substitutes in grassroots football, which has been very successfully trialled in the UK.
The meeting illustrates that, outside the shameful award of the next two World Cups, Fifa can actually fulfil it’s slogan: “For the good of the game.” The same applies to its backing for women’s and youth football, and much else. It is just a pity that the organisation has been so tarnished by its disgraced executive.Reuse content