The Mindless Eye In A Game Of Opinions

posted 1 Mar 2014, 07:23 by Richard Brook   [ updated 1 Mar 2014, 07:24 ]
Originally posted here: http://bit.ly/1lI661R

There have always been controversial refereeing decisions in football and there always will be. No amount of technology will change this. Some decisions are, of course, more controversial and higher profile than others.  A number of decisions have occurred over the last couple of weeks and football’s conversation has focussed on the refereeing calls that had Yaya Toure, Craig Bellamy and Andy Carroll at their respective hearts.

All of them have one thing noticeably in common: The FA’s video review procedure. This procedure introduced this season, has only served to make the decision reached more controversial, when would assume the intended consequence was to get closer to the elimination of doubt. Instead the review itself has become the cause of the controversy. It was all a lot simpler when clubs, players, fans and the media respected the referee, trusted him to make an honest call and accepted that honest calls are sometimes made in error.

The system, brought in to coincide with the start of the current Premier League season, sees a permanent panel of three former Premier League referees convene on the next working day, after a match. Their mandate is to review incidents of which the referee states he had either no view at all, or only a partial view of, with the power to hand out retrospective punishments for incidents where the referee has misjudged the severity or missed the incident altogether. The three ex-officials must reach a unanimous decision to issue a charge and they have no power to issue a retrospective booking, focussing on instances that may have warranted a sending off.

In the dying moments of last Saturday’s fixture between Manchester City and Norwich City, Toure became embroiled with Ricky van Wolfswinkel. The pair challenged innocuously for a high ball on the halfway line and Toure won the header landing on his feet, whereas van Wolfswinkel fell to the ground. Toure then very much appeared to connect with a kick on the Norwich striker. Replays from various angles seem to confirm this conclusion.

In Bellamy’s case the Cardiff player seemed connect with a forearm aimed at Swansea’s Jonathan de Guzman, during the south Wales derby at the weekend. Still photography of the incident seems to show Bellamy’s blow landing on the Swansea player’s head.

Yet the three man FA disciplinary panel of former referees could not conclusively agree that Toure had deliberately kicked out at van Wolfswinkel, and the Manchester City player will escape punishment. It had been expected that Toure would face a three game ban for the incident that was missed by, referee, Jon Moss. Meanwhile Bellamy will miss three Cardiff games for striking out at de Guzman.

Earlier this month West Ham United striker Andy Carroll clashed with Swansea defender Chico Flores. The defender climbed on Carroll and rolled across his back challenging for an aerial ball. In the moments that followed Carroll’s arm made contact with Flores’ face. Referee, Howard Webb produced a red card and ordered Carroll from the field. Upon first sight, the red card seemed harsh, and no amount of replays has changed my opinion. Carroll did not look behind him to see exactly where Flores was now standing; his arm appeared to be shooting out to steady himself after the coming together and the arm did not appear to be swung hard enough to be an act of temper or aggression.

West Ham subsequently failed in an appeal, when the incident was reviewed and threatened High Court action before eventually settling for an independent arbitration tribunal.

Never one to sit on the fence, former Sheffield United, Leeds and QPR manager Neil Warnock spoke of the Carroll incident on talkSport:

“[The FA] have upheld it because [Webb] is our top referee and he’s going to the World Cup and they don’t want to embarrass him. Everybody in football knows [the Carroll incident] wasn’t intentional.”

Warnock’s comment has not been the only strongly worded objection to the above events. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho feels that the FA have granted the players a license to act as a law unto themselves off the ball. Mourinho’s interest is particularly keen, as the decision not to ban Toure means the Manchester City midfielder will be available to play against Chelsea in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Speaking ahead of the announcement of the verdict in the Toure review Mourinho said; “If he’s not suspended, the message is clear: the players can do what they want if the referee doesn’t see. If the FA defends football, he’d have to be suspended. It has to be the same for everyone. If they make the rule that action can be taken if a referee has missed something, they have to apply that rule.”

By contrast, former referee, Graham Poll – in a column for Mail Online – stated that neither Toure nor Bellamy’s actions needed further action from the FA stating; “Neither incident is a major one or particularly violent”.

So the old adage is true: Football is a game of opinions. This fact makes a mockery of the very idea of video review, in itself. The national debate over these incidents in the football, in the media and on the internet shows that reviewing video footage does not alter the fact that visual perception differs from person to person. All these incidents have been seen over and over again on television, online and in the review room, but you only need to talk to fans about these decisions to realise the scope for differing interpretations of these players’ actions.

There is no way of knowing what goes on when the panel of ex-officials decides upon such incidents, but what chance have they got of regularly reaching unanimous verdicts, when the fans on the terraces, current managers, and those paid by media companies for their opinion on the game cannot manage that same goal amongst themselves?

Video review is showing no signs of reducing the controversial incidents in football matches. It merely provides a new focus for the backlash. Those appointed to review can only watch the same footage that the wider football world has seen, and just like the incident in real time that the match referee may see or not, they can only give their opinion – albeit an expert and experienced opinion – on what they see.

Football as a sport is heading in the wrong direction. It needs to accept that referees are human and while they do not set out to make incorrect decisions, they will sometimes make them. As long as we believe referees are not subject to outside influence, they should be treated with trust and respect. The ever increasing trend of players surrounding officials to bemoan a decision is one indicator of the erosion of this respect. Another indicator is that football is increasingly taking decisions out of the referee’s hands.

The diminishing respect for officials appears to have been corollary to the exponentially increasing financial side of the game. The more money clubs spend the more pressure the managers and players are under. The greater the pressure the more exaggerated the inquest into each and every conceded goal and lost point.

Managers are not allowed to call refereeing decisions into question in post match interviews without fear of sanctions. There is an inherent hypocrisy that the FA hold referees above question on Saturday, but by Monday reserve the right to overrule them.

The sport needs to let referees get on with making their decisions and their mistakes and embrace them the way we always have, as the talking points of the game. It is the stuff the debate on the journey home from the stadium, and radio phone-ins, are made of. Football after all is a game of opinions and only the mindless eye of the camera is without one.

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