Archive for August, 2010

Goal line technology on the horizon

The move to introduce goal line technology is gathering momentum.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that the issue will now be on the agenda of the Annual Business Meeting of the International FA Board in Cardiff in October.

This is a U-turn since FIFA called a halt to all experiments with goal line technology at the AGM of the IFAB in March 2010. Since then, however, Frank Lampard’s high profile disallowed goal for England in the World Cup Round of 16 matches with Germany has brought the matter into the headlines again.

AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam has recently voiced his support for the use of technology and also given his backing to the use of an extra assistant on each goal line. UEFA President, Michel Platini, also supports goal line technology and has long been an advocate of the introduction of extra assistants which will be tested this season in all the major UEFA competitions.

I think goal line technology will be introduced sooner rather than later. Maybe more accurately I should say that goal line technology will be permitted if requested.

Why the distinction?

Very simply – expense.

The cost of installation and maintenance will put it out of reach of most leagues and national competitions. I believe it will be used in some major FIFA tournaments and in some confederation tournaments but not all.

The technology does seem to be near to meeting the requirements of the International FA Board in that it must send a signal directly to the referee whenever the ball crosses the goal line, either on the ground or in the air.

The extra assistant experiment also has the problem of being very expensive in certain tournaments. In Asia, for example the cost of bringing six match officials from Australia to Qatar for a match and other similar appointments would place a great strain on tournament budgets.

UEFA is the richest confederation and would be able to afford the additional costs involved but in Europe there are shorter distances involved.

It may be that both systems will eventually be allowed and for national competitions, the extra assistant will be a cheaper and therefore more attractive alternative since it avoids the cost of installing goal line technology and the cost of appointing two extra local officials will be less prohibitive.

High profile tournaments such as the World Cup may use both but cost may still be a determining factor.

Video replays also?

Never!

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Blatter wants refereeing changes

After a World Cup there are always a number of analyses of different aspects of the tournament, including refereeing.

There were some high profile mistakes during the competition and while many of the refereeing performances were very good, the general perception is very much influenced by the things which went wrong.

One of the topics for discussion by FIFA is the age of the World Cup referees. There were some young referees making their World Cup debut and they performed admirably.

Ravshan Irmatov from Uzbekistan, at 32 was the youngest referee in the tournament and FIFA made a clear statement by appointing him to referee the opening match, the second most prestigious appointment of the competition.

He was then appointed to another four matches including, unusually, a quarter final and a semi final, the match between Uruguay and Netherlands..

The other semi final between Germany and Spain was refereed by another young referee, 34 year old Viktor Kassai of Hungary. In some cases both Kassai and Irmatov would be younger than some of the players they were refereeing.

Howard Webb of England who refereed the Final was 38 and has come through the UEFA Talent Scheme for referees. He is now a professional referee having taken extended leave from his job as a policeman to officiate in the English Premier League.

In a recent interview, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said he believes top international referees should be younger. He also said that he was also for professional referees, even though he knew there was some opposition to the idea.

In England there are 19 full time referees, paid attractive salaries through Professional Game Match Official Limited (PGMOL). They gather together at Warwick University every two weeks with the PGMOL Head of Refereeing, Mike Riley and have superb supporting back-up from Simon Breveik, Head of Sports Science and his colleague Adam  Kerr who design training programmes, monitor the referees’ training data and fitness test the match officials on a regular basis.

Prozone, the market leader in Match Analysis Systems, provides each referee with a detailed analysis of his match, including movement patterns, heart rate, average distance from the ball etc, and they also have the benefit of feedback from assessors, all of whom are former referees.

Working with referees on a world scale is very different from working within a national league, however.

In the build up to South Africa 2010, FIFA worked with a select group of referees and officials in all the FIFA Tournaments and gathered the referees and on some occasions the assistants together for Fitness Tests and courses. Eventually 30 trios were selected.

Will FIFA now consider creating a small group of elite full time referees and assistants, who will officiate at all the major FIFA tournaments over the four year period leading up to the next World Cup in Brazil and also be available to member associations to control top national matches?

For all the preparation in the build up to South Africa and the investment of a reputed $40 million, one error by the match officials in the Germany v England match will always be remembered.

The best referees are the ones who make the fewest mistakes – and carry a bit of luck!

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Coaches are not always right

 In the past few days Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal has blasted FIFA for its hesitancy to use technology in aiding referees.

“FIFA boss Sepp Blatter said at the World Cup that the subject of technology in football would be on the table. Now it is gone,” Van Gaal said. “This is his strategy. Only it is not fair play.

“Sepp Blatter is old fashioned. This rule committee is a committee of old men,” fumed the Bayern coach. “It is not transparent. We do not know who the people are behind it.”

Van Gaal also stated he was disappointed that football legends such as Johann Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer did not agree with his support of using technology to decide controversial decisions.

By the very nature of the job they do, coaches are strong personalities. The top coaches demand top performances from their players – most of them millionaires in their own right – and get them.

They are not, however, experts on the Laws of the Game. Their expertise lies in coaching not in applying and understanding the Laws.

They see things through a limited perspective. They insist that the opposing defender who continually fouls his own forward must be punished by the referee – unless it is his own defender who has been instructed to do exactly the same.

We must listen to the opinions of coaches but we must not be seduced by their position and status.

You know, sometimes Sepp Blatter and his ‘committee of old men,’ know better than the coaches!

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Players need protection from themselves

The World Cup ended a month ago, but Kaká of Brazil and Arjen Robben of the Netherlands still bear the pain of their participation in South Africa.

According to a Belgian specialist who performed knee surgery on Kaká last week, the Brazilian jeopardised his career by playing in the tournament.

Kaka is a very rich young man but it is not money alone that drives already rich men to strive for the World Cup. It is the glory, the achievement and the fulfillment of a dream. Players need protecting from themselves.

Even Carlos Dunga, Brazil’s national team coach, insisted, “Kaká is an incredible player who knows how important he is to the team.”

Sometimes the precision of his passes or his intuitive awareness of where Luís Fabiano or Robinho would move, was sublime. But Kaká’s World Cup was marred by his evident pain, and irritable moods.

According to Bayern Munich’s club doctor, Robben’s thigh injury was so serious he should never have played in the World Cup at all.

This has happened before.

Zinedine Zidane played for France at the 2002 Finals, despite having a thigh so heavily bandaged he could barely walk and England’s David Beckham was obviously less than 100% fit when he played in the 2006 World Cup in Germany after sustaining a fracture of his foot before the tournament began.

This is a warning of the consequences of stretching star players to the breaking point between club and country and is a major problem in the game.

Dr. Michel D’Hooghe, the highly respected chairman of FIFA’s Medical Committee, called on doctors responsible for each of the 32 teams to respect their oath in terms of doping, injury prevention and care.

D’Hooghe also urged the referees to be vigilant against career-threatening fouls. He had compiled a horror video of such kicks and elbows, and the damage they caused.

The main point, however, is that the referees can only react to the conduct of the players. They cannot prevent the players using their elbows and feet for illegal challenges before they happen.

Players have that responsibility themselves.

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Over the years I have been privileged to take part in a number of courses, seminars and clinics in the United States.

A number were with the top US National and International Referees but I also enjoyed courses with the grassroots referees in AYSO.

The Americans I encountered were fanatical about their soccer and were wonderful hosts.

US Soccer Refereeing under the leadership of my good friend, recently retired Director of Referee Education, Alf Kleinaitis, produced teaching material for the 100,000 plus American referees, which was comparable in quality with the best produced by any federation in the world.

American soccer moms enthusiastically support their kids on the touchline, although most do not have a detailed knowledge of the game.

Soccer is the major participation sport for under 18’s in America, both male and female,  and don’t forget the performances of the US national teams at the 2010 FIFA World Cup when they won their group or the American Women’s team who are former FIFA Women’s World Cup Winners.

The American media, however can’t seem to get their head round some of the things which we in Europe take for granted.

A match which finishes 0 – 0 can be a great match to a European viewer because of its high technical or tactical content while a match which finishes 7 – 0 can be boring because it is too one-sided.

Many American media would have the exact opposite view. 

I have no knowledge of baseball but I once sat through a match at Wrigley Field in Chicago where two women sitting next to me were knitting, which seemed to me to be more exciting than the action on the ball park.

In my opinion, a  big problem soccer faces in America is that the media is controlled by the same people who own the main American sports teams – NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and National League Hockey. There is little incentive to them to introduce a new competitor on a major scale.

Many Americans also seem much more comfortable with their own home sports, although many outside America find it strange that the World Series in baseball has teams mostly from America with a few additional Canadian teams. How ‘World’ is that?

Soccer raised its profile in the USA during the World Cup and of course is closely supported by the various national communities in the country such as the Mexicans, the Italians, the British and  many with historical links to some of the European countries. Their love of football will never change.

 But will the surge in American interest last now that the tournament is over?

Over 200 countries played in the Qualification Rounds of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Football is the world’s most popular game but it will have to work hard to convince America to fall in love with it.

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The International FA Board, founded in 1986, was the first international football body to be set up and continues to fulfil its role as the guardian of the Laws of the Game.

Only the IFAB – not FIFA, a confederation or a federation – can make changes to the Laws.

Throughout its history it has been a conservative yet forward looking body, willing to make change when it was necessary but avoiding making massive changes which could affect the whole ethos and control of the game.  It very seldom gets things wrong.

This year, however, I believe it has made a mistake with the penalising of a player who feints with his foot while in the act of kicking a penalty kick. A player may feint in his run up but not when kicking the ball.

My understanding is that if a goal is scored from the penalty kick after the player has feinted in the act of kicking, the kick is retaken and the player is cautioned but if a goal is not scored an indirect free kick is awarded and the player is also cautioned.

This is wrong in basic Law since although the player is being punished for an offence which was committed when the ball is out of play, which is perfectly correct, the restart is being changed.

A restart cannot be changed because of an offence which was committed when the ball is not in play.

I do not have a problem with an indirect free kick being awarded against an attacking player who encroaches when a penalty is being taken since the offence occurs immediately the ball is kicked forward and therefore is in play.

I question however whether it is consistent to order a retake if the goal is scored but restart the match with an indirect free kick when no goal is scored.

To be consistent, any encroachment by the attacking team, no matter whether a goal is scored or not, should be penalised by an indirect free kick. This would also dramatically reduce the amount of encroachment at penalty kicks.

A retake would only be ordered if a player from each team encroached.

Finally if we are going to deal with problems at penalty kicks we must also punish the goalkeeper who moves forward off his line before the ball is kicked and caution him for unsporting behaviour – a return to a previous application of Law 14.

There is a danger we are becoming too complicated on this matter.

Let’s keep it simple!

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Forget the penalty goal

Controversy and debate have always been a part of football. Sometimes a single incident can result in call for major changes to the Laws of the Game.

This is unrealistic and dangerous.

In the FIFA World Cup quarter final between Ghana and Uruguay, the African team were denied victory in the last minute of the match when Uruguay striker Luis Suarez handled the ball on the goal line.

He was sent off and Ghana were awarded a penalty kick which they missed. They then lost the kicks from the penalty mark decider and were eliminated.

There was uproar at this sporting injustice and calls for the introduction of a penalty goal into the Laws of the Game.

While I have great sympathy for the Ghanaians we must not over-react. Had Asamoah Gyan scored with the penalty kick the penalty goal demand would not have been an issue.

Indeed had Ghana won the penalty shoot out it would also have been forgotten.

Think of the consequences of awarding a penalty goal.  A player illegally preventing a goal would be automatically sent off and a goal awarded. Does this mean that a player who prevents an obvious goal-scoring opportunity should also be penalised by a penalty goal?

In which case, do we need to keep the offence of denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity?

Will coaches argue that the punishment of losing a goal is enough and the player should not be sent off? Probably yes.

A single incident which was dealt with correctly by the Laws should not be a reason to make massive and unnecessary changes.

While the sense of injustice remains – so must the Law.

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1891 – A year of revolution

Revolutions are momentous events, for example the French Revolution of 1789 or the Russian Revolution of 1905.

1990 was a revolutionary year in football in a number of ways. The FIFA World Cup Italia ‘90 saw the introduction of a red card for deliberately preventing a goal or a goal scoring opportunity and was also the last time that FIFA Referees were appointed to act as linesmen in the tournament.

1990 also saw a major change to Law 11 Offside when the International FA Board decided that in order to favour attacking football, a player who was level with the second last defender would not now be considered offside.

If these changes in football in 1990 were revolutionary, they were nothing in comparison to the revolutionary changes which took place 99 years earlier in 1891. This was the year of real football revolution following the meeting of the International FA Board in Glasgow, Scotland on 2nd June.

 As football became a professional game and its ethos changed from the amateur ‘the game for the game’s sake’ to the professional ‘win at all costs’ attitude, referees found themselves without a suitable punishment for offences near goal. The penalty kick, ‘or kick of death’ was the answer, taken from any point on a line 12 yards from the goal.

At this time there was no penalty area – this was not introduced until 1902 – and in fact the field markings that we know today were not completed until 1932 when the arc of the circle, 9.15m from the penalty mark was added.

The first introduction of ‘goal line technology’ also took place in 1891 when the crossbar replaced the tape and nets were introduced.

The major feature of the 1891 football revolution, however, was the role of the referee. Until 1891 he was positioned at the side of the field. The match was controlled by two umpires, one appointed by each team, who referred to him if they disagreed – hence we have the name ‘referee.’

1n 1891 he became a field person and the umpires became linesmen.

Football’s match control system had been established.

The football revolutionaries of 1891 had a major affect on the game throughout the world – they are alongside those who took to the streets of Paris and Moscow in 1789 and 1905.

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