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Football – consistently inconsistent

Last updated: January 1, 2018 by Leon Marshal

There are often very few things in life that make your blood boil, but injustice is usually one of them. Whether it’s a dodgy penalty your team has conceded in the 90th minute or your centre back has been sent off for a phantom tackle and will miss the derby game on Saturday. We want fair play!

But do we?

Isn’t part of the beautiful game the times when you get away with one? When your defender handles on the line, your striker was clearly off-side and the fortunate penalty, surely, it’s swings and roundabouts?

Referee showing a yellow card

You didn’t need to be Nostradamus or Mystic Meg to be able to predict that the Football Association had opened a Pandora’s box of trouble for themselves when they charged and subsequently banned Everton striker Oumar Niasse for “successful deception of a match official”. In making this decision the FA had effectively overruled the referee and could be accused of performing trial by television.

Within days, almost carbon copy incidents happened at Premier League games up and down the country, but we didn’t see a tidal wave of new charges. So rather than universal acclaim for a crusade of fair play, the FA once again find themselves subjected to claims of bias and theories of prejudice against certain clubs and player.

Are the referees to blame?

Many people feel that referees should shoulder much of the blame, if referees spotted and dealt with incidents at the time, there would be no need for retrospective action. There can be little doubt that some referees stick to the letter of the law whilst some prefer a common-sense approach, but this undoubtedly leads to inconsistency.

Others feel that much of the problem lies with the fact that no independent body exists to assess a referees’ performance and claim the current system in which the referees are subject to performance reviews by their own organisation is partly to blame.

This comment comes in the same week that West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini has become the second player charged by the FA over simulation accusations. The Hammers player was involved in a counter attack in the game against Stoke City. As Stoke’s Erik Pieters came sliding in, the 24-year-old Argentine went down easily to win his side a penalty which was converted.

West Ham manager David Moyes said he was surprised the player had been charged. Moyes was quick to point out how subjective the area of simulation is and referenced the fact that the commentators on Match of the Day felt it wasn’t a penalty yet the three-man panel on Goals on Sunday all felt it was.

Lanzini has now picked up a two-match ban after the FA’s independent regulatory commission panel unanimously agreed he was guilty of the offense.

But this charge raises questions on consistency. During a fiery game between Crystal Palace and Bournemouth at Selhurst Park, Wilfried Zaha earned his side two penalties, the first one was very dubious, though Zaha didn’t face any sanctions, frustrating many supporters.

Referee showing a red card

Is technology the answer?

The buzzwords around football at the moment are Video referee technology (affectionally called VAR). This allows key moments to be re-played back to the referee to make help decisions, it is a technology that is used widely in other sports such as rugby league, cricket and American football.

The use of VAR is being trialled by some football leagues and competitions around the globe. The Confederations Cup used it as well as the MLS, Serie A and Bundesliga leagues and many see this technology as a way of minimising the “unfair” moments in the sport.

To see how effective this technology can be you only have to watch what happened in a recent Bundesliga game between Stuttgart and Bayern Munich.

With the score at 1-0 to Bayern Munich and 93 minutes on the clock, Stuttgart attacked. They claimed a penalty when Munich’s Süle attempts to clear the ball but catches his opponent. The referee blows his whistle, goes over to see a replay and correctly gives a penalty.

Rather than destroy the excitement, the use of VAR actually increased the anticipation and was a great example of technology helping reach a correct and fair conclusion. After all, an event in real-time can look differently when slowed down, so giving the referee a tool to assist them seems to be a no brainer.

Pro-VAR supporters will also point out to the effectiveness of the goal line technology we currently use at top-flight level games, it is doubtful many fans would want to go back to the age of “did it cross the line or not?”.

The earliest we could see VAR used in the Premier League is the 2018-2019 season but in a few weeks’ time the technology will be used in the third round of the FA Cup. Brighton’s FA Cup clash against Crystal Palace is due to be the first competitive club game using VAR and will be played in the first week of January.