Sam Wallace comment on Kieran Gibbs red card: Is it now right to introduce video reviews?
If we unleash the beast of video reviews then English football will change for ever
If only the fourth official had access to replays and could advise the referee. If only he could watch it all in super slow-mo from six different angles while we awaited his decision. If only he had a Sky+ subscription and we would never again have to suffer the absurdity of the wrong man sent off. While you’re at it, get him the Sky Atlantic package too, and he can explain the plot intricacies of True Detective over the headset to the ref during lulls in play.
It starts again, those demands for “video technology”, English football’s cure-all solution to refereeing errors. Andre Marriner’s cock-up at Stamford Bridge on Saturday was so monumental that, from the moment he mistook Kieran Gibbs for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, it was inevitable that the something-must-be-done brigade would saddle up.
“The sending-off is big ammunition for people like me who think that one little screen in front of the fourth official is a big help against this kind of mistake,” Jose Mourinho said of video reviews. It is a wonderful notion, but who would dare unleash this beast upon English football?
The “goal decision system” that operates now in the Premier League is not comparable to the vague, fourth-official-with-a-screen premise Mourinho is proposing. GDS has a binary outcome based on a physical calculation done entirely by the technology. It does not require further human interpretation of the rules.
Were Fifa to permit the Football Association to extend video reviews beyond GDS, the potential for chaos would be boundless. What happened on Saturday was a mistake, and, yes, it was a bad one, but football goes on. The solution? Referee better. But add in-game video reviews to English football and the game changes for ever.
I listened to the match on Five Live, commentated on by Mike Ingham and Pat Nevin, two astute old hands. Their experience of Marriner’s mistake, a cut-and-dry event compared to many contentious decisions, was indicative of the problems of video review.
From the moment the red card was brandished by Marriner, to the point where Nevin resolved definitively that it was indeed Oxlade-Chamberlain who had handled the ball, two minutes and 34 seconds had elapsed. In that time Nevin first identified Oxlade-Chamberlain as the culprit, then Gibbs and finally Oxlade-Chamberlain again. By the time he was sure, Gibbs was in the dressing room and Eden Hazard had dispatched the penalty.
No slight on Nevin, but if this is an experienced ex-professional, with a talent for describing complex incidents quickly, who knows what further challenges might present themselves? One would hope that, on this incident, a video adjudicator would reach the right decision in the end. But how many times to be sure? And what effect on the game would these breaks impose?
Rugby union and cricket, which have embraced the video review system, already have the necessary natural breaks in play. Football’s flow is quicker and the balance of a game can change much more rapidly. How do you decide what to review? While the video review man waits for his replay, as I have done so many times in press boxes, the game goes on, the picture changes. Other stuff happens.
And what about that action which takes place in the interim? One of the key fears among referees about a review system is being forced to rule out a legitimate goal because an earlier goal by the opposing side, wrongly disallowed and in the same phase of play, has to be reinstated.
The caveat is that video review would only be required for the contentious decisions. Who defines that? Anyone who watches elite-level football knows that at least 50 per cent of decisions by the referee are contested by someone. Sam Allardyce thought that Wayne Rooney fouled James Tomkins before his first goal on Saturday. Allardyce also thought a Darren Fletcher challenge on Kevin Nolan should have been a penalty. How many reviews can we tolerate before everyone starts to worry about missing the last train home?
We can all agree that Marriner got Gibbs and Oxlade-Chamberlain in a dreadful muddle. That kind of consensus tends to be the exception. For example, Jose Mourinho still believes that Marriner was right to give Ramires a penalty against West Bromwich Albion in November. Few others do. Getting consensus on decisions would be one thing, but first – in this most disputatious of sports – one would require some consensus on what was reviewed.
As for giving managers a set number of appeals, it rather sounds like giving the lunatics the keys to the asylum. They would appeal remorselessly. One would not be surprised if they regularly exhausted their appeal count on lost causes and left themselves out of credit for the decisions that really merited a second look.
Saturday was a miserable day for Marriner, even to the extent that there was a debate over whether Hazard’s shot was going in, and the handball a red-card offence. The small mercy was that at least he did not affect the overall outcome of the game, with Arsenal already reaching for the white flag at that point.
He should not have made the error but, in terms of the reaction, he has my sympathy. To listen to some, it would not be enough to ban him from the Premier League, the Football League and the Fifa list. There are some who would not be satisfied if he were given six points on his driving licence, tagged by the courts and barred from his local Sainsbury’s.
Why did he not listen to Oxlade-Chamberlain? The Arsenal player is, to my mind, a decent young man and an honest soul. But the same cannot be said of the conduct of many of his fellow professionals. This season, more than ever, referees have had to guard against being duped or conned by diving, simulation and exaggeration. Sadly, in that crucial moment, Marriner did not feel he could believe the player.
In a sane world, Marriner would have taken Oxlade-Chamberlain’s word for it and rectified the mistake. But this is not a sane world and the players, and their managers, have done as much as any to make it that way.
What now for Marriner? He will find himself on the Mike Riley naughty-step for a bit and suffer the usual flurry of bumptious demands for him to apologise in person – as if that makes a bit of difference when he has obviously made a mistake.
The initial reaction is that it should be easy to rectify a basic mistake like the one Marriner made on Saturday, when the whole world knows the right answer, apart from the referee. But when one steps back and looks at the broader picture, it is much easier to accept that mistakes happen, and instead try to improve refereeing. One awaits with interest the results of a pilot for a video review system in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie.
The problem is that every manager believes that the vast majority of refereeing decisions that go against his team are basic mistakes. Every one of them endangers his players, his club, his livelihood. The modern instinct is to exploit every potential advantage, and video reviews would offer a thousand more at the expense of the game.
Don’t hold back, Van Persie
It would be a great pity if Robin van Persie’s injury were to deprive him of a World Cup finals appearance this summer. He was not fully fit in 2010 and did not play to anything like his potential. Should he come back in the projected six weeks, it would give him just enough time to regain some fitness before the tournament. At times it has felt like he has applied the handbrake this season with the summer in mind. Given football’s vicissitudes, there really is no point.
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