The moment Victor Moses fell to the floor last Saturday afternoon, Wembley held its breath. What would Anthony Taylor do? Had he seen it clearly? He had, it seemed, as he strode to deliver the Nigerian’s second yellow of the game. Replays showed a dive of unbelievable proportions, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain not even attempting a tackle. What a catch by Taylor!
Not so fast everyone. These correct decisions are not the norm. The fast-paced, aggressive nature of the game allows little room to breathe and referees understandably struggle to keep up. In that very same FA Cup Final, Taylor failed to see Alexis Sanchez effectively handle the ball in the run up to Arsenal’s first goal. If video technology were in place, the goal may not have stood.
The storm surrounding in-game replays and Additional Assistant Referees (AAR) has been a brewing for a while. Critics argue that the flow of the game would be irreparably disrupted, and even its advocates concede that it could cause more controversy than it is worth.
Take that same Sanchez goal at Wembley. The assistant referee had in fact been overruled when he put his flag up for offside against Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman had definitely been in an offside position but did not touch the ball nor stand in the goalkeepers way. The fact that he was there at all is a point of contention, bringing into question the issue of ‘active’ or ‘inactive’ and the absurdity of no-one really knowing where the offside laws stand in that situation.
If AARs are to be used, they would need a set of carefully-defined rules surrounding their use as so much is subjective in the sport. Where one referee would give a straight red card for a violent lunge, another would simply wag a finger at the assailant. Pundits can’t even agree on the most basic of decisions, so how can we expect one fallible human being to get it right in a split-second?
It seems that lawmakers have tried to minimise the impact the technology would have on the game by limiting the instances in which AARs would be referred to, but even those are primed for controversy.
A good example of this is the straight red card. While some tackles can cause horrific injury and are clearly reckless, many require the referee to make a judgement call in terms of the intent and use of excessive force by the player tackling. If the referee were to ask the opinion of the AAR it wouldn’t be certain that a decision would be clearcut or obvious.
Walk into any pub around the country on a late afternoon, and you will be greeted with howls of disapproval mixed with roars of agreement. No two fans see incidents in the same way, so how can you please everyone? Match of the Day regularly features a stony-faced Danny Murphy insisting players should be tougher, flanked by a cheery Jermain Jenas assuring him that things have changed for the better.
It would be wrong to discount just how much fans thrive on football squabbles. It gives rise to playful, and mostly friendly, banter that the game would sorely miss if every decision were dissected and sanitised to please. AAR may not clear up everything but it could help eliminate the more egregious of offences.
While Moses’ walk of shame was a moment of triumph in the face of blatant gamesmanship, a little help could end up going a long way.
Follow Alex on Twitter @alexvryzakis