A guest post from Alex Goodchild
It has been one sporting feast of a weekend, filled with drama and excitement. Despite the Rugby World Cup having just kicked off in London, the Premier League refused to be overshadowed, offering such spectacles as the next instalment in Wenger’s rivalry with Mourinho and Manchester City’s home clash against a West Ham team that had already defeated both the Gunners and Liverpool on the road. Sadly, it was also a weekend marred by controversy, with much media focus on unpleasant scenes erupting from the 17th hole of the Solheim Cup and ugly Diego’s ugly behaviour spoiling Arsenal’s London derby. With the World Cup in full swing, it’s time football learned from rugby’s refereeing example.
In recent years, the sense of enmity between London’s leading clubs has been so vitriolic as to result in a regrettable number of unsavoury incidents, exceeding what can be deemed acceptable sporting conduct. Two seasons ago it was a disgraceful personal barb from Chelsea’s manager, last year it was a reckless tackle from Gary Cahill, which prompted in a touchline row between ‘Le Prof’ and the Portuguese One. This year, the flashpoint centred on Diego Costa. A game where both sides were short of confidence and both very even as half time approached was plunged into chaos after the violent conduct of Costa sparked the dismissal of Laurent Koscielny’s team mate Gabriel.It was an incident that drastically affected the course of the game and almost inevitably consigned Arsenal to defeat.
It should be clear that one can have no complaints with Gabriel’s sending off itself; though the manner in which he raced to defend his teammate, who was struck on the face a number of times before being head-butted, was admirable, the Brazilian’s subsequent behaviour was petulant and deserving of the red card. Yet where one suspects that Arsenal fans feel truly aggrieved is how Costa was allowed to stay on the pitch in the first place. His actions were those of a forward frustrated at being tamed by an imperious partnership and who clearly has a history of violent conduct. It is excruciatingly unjust that the Spaniard was not sent off in a match that was won ultimately by Chelsea’s superior numbers and surprising that not one official caught sight of such conspicuously violent behaviour. Perhaps this is where football needs to change, where it ought to take a leaf out of rugby’s book on reviewing play.
The concept of live video technology is almost as polarising in rugby as it is in football. Some herald it, whereas other more traditional commentators, such as former England internationals, Brian Moore and Stuart Barnes see issues with it. For those of the conviction that consulting a video referee in football to review play would slow the sport to the speed of cricket, there was good ammunition from Friday night’s opener between England and Fiji. Officials deliberated incessantly over replays that were already conclusive, pondering over every different angle, such as whether or not the Fijian scrum half had grounded the ball properly to score a try. In fact, by Telegraph Sport estimates, the game was delayed by as much as ten minutes as a result of such indecisiveness. Yet crucially no pundit would contest the need for video technology. Each decision taken by the referee, however long it took, was the correct one, whether it was sending a Fijian player to the stands for ten minutes for foul play or the decision to award England a vital bonus point-sealing try at the death. The best use of the referee’s most useful tool was by Wayne Barnes in the fixture between Argentina and New Zealand, where he was able to seamlessly integrate the video referee into the game’s proceedings, which allowed for the correct decisions to be made within a highly efficient timescale.
Contrary to Garth Crooks’ claim that Mike Dean seeks to be the centre of attention, he is in reality a rather proficient referee. Granted, he has made some real blunders when arbitrating Arsenal, but he has improved greatly and is nowhere near as confounding or contentious as Anthony Taylor. Dean was unable to spot Costa’s viciousness and acted only according to what he could see. Rather, it is exasperating that he was not afforded the technology to simply consult the footage and make the right call in a sport where even goal line technology exists. It is damning of the sport’s risibly archaic method of officiating when a fan watching a pixelated stream on his computer has the insight of a television replay when the game’s man in the middle, with the most power to influence, is left blind. If video technology were introduced to the game, there were be no hiding for so-called wind up merchants like Diego Costa and the foul play he embodies and no more frustrating ‘I didn’t see it’ protestations from referees.Arsène Wenger, one of the game’s great visionaries, recently commented that he was ‘convinced that video technology will soon come into football.’ Let us hope, in the interest of fairness in our beloved game, that he is right.