Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reasonable Discussion: Replay in Soccer

Following the various horrible calls made by the World Cup officials (to list off a couple:  the goal(s) stolen from the United States, the Lampard Goal that was not counted; the Tevez goal that was, the Fabiano hand ball that set up one of Brazil's early goals, and going back aways--the Henry handball that eliminated the Republic of Ireland in qualifying), there have been increased calls for some kind of instant reply.  FIFA is standing firm against any sort of incursion into the digital era; fans and players alike are split on just what sort of technology should be used in soccer.  Oops--apparently, FIFA President Sepp Blatter is, as of this morning, not standing quite as firmly as he once was.

Occasional blogger and longtime soccer player and observer Barnyard (not his real name) and I have discussed these issues a number of times, but never accomplishing 2 things.  Reaching common ground, or letting the other complete a sentence.  So I figured a forum that allowed each other to finish thoughts (like a blog dialogue, or "Blialogue" (I know, I hate me for that too)) would be a fine solution.  Below, our conversation on replay in soccer.  It starts nice and normal; then slowly degenerates into batshit insanity and name-calling.  

Big Blue Monkey:  So, Barnyard, let's start with some areas in which I think we agree.  I believe that you have no problem with a review system for seeing if a ball breaks the plane of the goal mouth.  Perhaps some tennis technology could be used for that, as well.  I also think you find some of FIFA's reasons for not implementing any changes faintly to distinctly ridiculous.  Care to weigh in on those two basic points of agreement?

Barnyard:  Indeed.  Just like reviewing home runs in baseball, checking if a ball breaks the plane of the goal mouth is a simple, quick, objective task.  Also, in both cases an official in real time is asked to make an important call on a fast moving object from distance - the mistake may not be a misjudgment at all but simply an event that was too quick to catch.
The only justification I've heard from FIFA as to why review will not be considered is that they like the drama and discussion that the missed calls create.  Pretty dumb.  Most governing bodies try to distract from fuck-ups so focus will be on the quality of play, excitement of the game, etc.  I'm going to assume they just blurted out that justification without really thinking.  Or maybe it made sense in a different language but just doesn't translate well to English? 

Big Blue Monkey:  Sepp Blatter has agreed to look at review again, and he seems serious this time; but he was hardly the only member of the old guard that was against review prior to this Cup; so we will have to wait and see if they do anything at all.  But at the very least, a real-time, did the ball cross the plane review would be extremely easy to implement and cause almost zero disruption in 99% of the games.  I mean, I've been watching soccer for a long time, and I don't remember the last time I saw a ball as clearly over the line as Lampard's.  (oh, the quote that Barnyard was referencing is  from Sepp Blatter, and is "“Please do not insist on the technology,” Blatter said in December. “Referees shall remain human, and we will not have monitors to stop the game to see if we are right or wrong. There will be no more discussion [between fans] and then no more hope and then no more life.”

So we agree on the instant review of any ball scored to make sure it went over the line, and let's say, any ball that hits the crossbar and bounces near the goal line gets reviewed.  Referee just tells the keeper to hold the ball during the review; if no goal, play continues with the keeper's distribution.   

Next up in terms of reasonable, easy things to do for me is a system that reviews controversial goals like Theirry Henry's against Ireland in qualifying (in which he blatantly used his hand twice to control a ball before slotting an assist).  To my mind, there would be two ways of correcting that type of violation; give each coach one challenge per game (details don't matter yet, but you could have them keep their challenge if they win) or you could simply say, "Each goal will be reviewed for 2 minutes after it is scored to make sure no violations occured within the box." 

And from what I recall from you yelling at me like a crazy person yesterday, this is where we begin to part company.  So, whilst staying with the specific example for now, can you explain why you think hand ball created goals should remain part of the game?

Barnyard:  Alright, I know you want me to answer the handball question, but in order to do so I need to give you my general frame of reference...

Big Blue Monkey Interjects:  Oh, Here We Go.

Barnyard:  There are two concepts I like in soccer, which I believe to be longstanding traditions, that will be killed by the advent of replay, and two general rules I think replay in soccer will follow to soccer's overall detriment.

Concept Number One:  You should always try to get away with whatever you can get away with on the soccer pitch.  Sometimes this means intentionally stepping on someone's toes when breaking to a ball.  Other times it means testing the lineman's willingness/ability to call you for offsides nine times in one game.  Still other times it means craftily shielding the referee's view of the ball so you can use your hand.  I loved it when I was a player and I love it as a fan.  Is it a form of cheating?  Yup.  But if I'm good at it then I'm a better player than you, and every great player knows how and when to pull off a good cheat. 

Big Blue Monkey:  I agree wholeheartedly.  This has nothing to do with Henry's handball, though.

Concept Number Two:  A good referee will adjust what is/isn't a handball, foul, yellow card or red card based on previous occurences in the game.  At the 2002 World Cup there was an Italian referee named Pierluigi Collina who had fifteen minutes of fame thanks to his impeccable on-field judgment, and, to be fair, his freakish appearance.  Collina excelled because he knew there is a sense of equity a referee must bring to a game, and certain close calls must at times be made/not made to correct a previous injustice.

Big Blue Monkey:  I agree wholeheartedly.  This has nothing to do with Henry's handball, though.

General Rule of Destruction Number One:  Replay will not remove the typical level of injustice from any game, it will only change what is argued about (and the argument will typically be more technical).  The example I used (read: yelled) for the Big Blue Monkey last evening was the infamous 'Tuck Rule' from the Patriot-Raiders playoff game a few years back.  The creation of the tuck rule is purely a creation of instant replay technology, but is really only a more confusing argument about a hard to interpret rule because we can now watch something ad nauseum really slowly.  We still argue and teams still get fucked over.

General Rule of Destruction Number Two:  Replay will ultimately lead to less scoring in soccer.  Look, it is a fucking bitch to try and score a goal.  That's no secret.  Players, even the best players, need to apply Concept Number One at times in order to score.  Replay will primarily serve to uncover implementation of Concept Number One by players and result in more goals being called back.  Sure, there are situations like Dempsey's goal against Slovenia - but how do you apply replay to allow a goal that was scored after the whistle was blown?

Combining Concept Number Two with General Rule of Destruction Number One is the track that baseball is headed down - and where I think soccer should head too.  I admit that Concept Number One and General Rule of Destruction Number Two are tougher to defend, but I like my soccer a little dirty.

For the handball question I'll apply both Concept Number One, General Rule of Destruction Number One and General Rule of Destruction Number Two.  Concept Number One and General Rule of Destruction Number Two are pretty self explanatory, but I'll use General Rule of Destruction Number One to pitch a question back at you:  how do you determine a "hand ball created goal?"  Clearly Henry's was a hand ball created goal, but what if there had been a hand ball that was clearly necessary to control a ball and maintain possession by one player, who then passed to another player who set up another player that scored a goal?

As dictated by General Rule of Destruction Number One we haven't removed injustice from the game, we are just arguing a different point i.e. when can one defensibly state that a hand ball created a goal?  I think I need a definition of a "hand ball created goal" before we can go on.  See how fun the results of General Rule of Destruction Number One can be?  Now we are playing the definition game.  Good thing I am doing this on work time.  Define?

Big Blue Monkey:  Good Lord in Heaven.  That it some serious theorizing for a handball in the box.  Now I know what it would be like if Glenn Beck were a soccer fan.  Does Freemasonry enter the officiating profession at all?

To take all your insane ramblings (and yes, I do imagine them scrawled on a chalkboard now) and address a specific example first--the Henry Double Hand ball in the box to assist the goal that kept Ireland out of the Finals.

Concept 1:  I'm all for the subtle dark arts, as they've been calling them lately.  Tug a shirt; leave an elbow out a little longer than normal; I'm all for that shit.  As a former defender, I do enjoy seeing some sneaky plays like that.  I get a little embarrassed for a defender though, when I see him almost remove the shorts of a striker going by him.  And Henry's Frog of God play was egregious.  It wasn't subtle; it was not tricky.  It was as egregious of a missed call as Lampard's non-goal.  No team should be advancing into the World Cup Finals based on that horseshit. 

Concept 2:  I'm all for referees adjusting on the fly based on game conditions.  However, there are mistakes that are always mistakes.  No is talking about, or even dreaming up (except you) a scenario in which normal fouls, plays, throw-ins and the like are being reviewed via video.  It will never, ever, ever happen.

I said all through the conversation we had, and I'll keep up yelling it--the NFL and  soccer  could not be more different.  The NFL has stops built into it to such an extent that an offense can screw up a defense simply by moving at a fast walk between plays.  It is a ridiculous comparison and deserves no response whatsoever.  There are insanely complex rules about simply setting up an offensive play--two people moving at once; tight end not covering the last offensive lineman; ineligible receivers; false starts!  The NFL game has grown overly Byzantine for years, and the tuck rule is an outgrowth of that; instant replay is not at fault.  That rule was on the books; it took replay to find that rule, but it did not invent it.  It is an insane comparison.  You are insane.  Crazy.  NFL football is designed to be stopped; soccer is not.  Soccer will not allow a system of replays interferes with the run of play.  Someone scores, check and make sure the play that directly set up that goal was legit, and move on.  

One of the things you fret about is that scoring will go down.  I have a solution to that--start calling the fouls that are happening in the box on every free kick.  Clean up some of the dark arts that are ruling in the box right now, and you'll see scoring rise quickly.  You can't be for cheating defense and increased offense; there is no way to improve one without hurting the other.

Barnyard ran out of time to respond, but we both agree that something that could help increase scoring is after-the-fact fines, like the NFL has.  Let's say, I don't know, Ronaldo, Took a big dive that the referee ran by and said, "Get up"?  Maybe he gets a call and says, "That cost you $10,000.  Don't do it again."  Dives and various other professional fouls that get punished after the fact could open up the game a great deal.  I don't see it happening, but it could be a useful addition, if we're changing rules all over the place.


Muumuuman said...

Why replay? Couldn't they add and official to each side to just watch the goal, and naughty hand ball play in the box? That's right, "watch for naughty hand ball play in the box." Do you find something funny about the word "Tromboner"?

Back to the point, the NFL has 7 officials that don't always get it right, how can you expect 3 guys to catch everything on the pitch?

Big Blue Monkey 2: The Quickening said...

Back to your point--the NFL has 7 guys, and they need replay.

Add officials, sure. But they are still going to blow calls, and it will just make those blown calls the more shocking. Real time moves too fast. VIVA LE REPLAY!

Andrew Wice said...

But soccer's greatest asset is that it doesn't stop. There are no commercials, no timeouts, no delays for replay. It would be a shame to fuck that up.

Big Blue Monkey 2: The Quickening said...

I sense sarcasm for you, Andrew, but the fact is if you did replays only after goals, you wouldn't slow up the game. The players are busy celebrating over by the corner flag anyhow.

Muumuuman said...

Do you really wanna give the likes of Diego Maradona a challenge flag? And when the coach throws the flag, does he have to throw it with both hands directly over his head?

Andrew Wice said...

I was being sincere. You tit.

Big Blue Monkey 2: The Quickening said...

Andrew, I apologize. Muumuuman, give me one good reason not to give crazy old Maradona a challenge flag.

It would be fun!

Big Blue Monkey 2: The Quickening said...

Though no challenge on earth would have stopped the Germans from walking Deigo's dogs.

Trot Nixon's Hat said...

Screw being equitable with where the referees come from. If the best in the world all ref in CONEMBOL, take only those refs.

I have never seen an official in a major sporting event look as out of his depth as the Malian official in the US-Slovenia game. He clearly had little business being involved in an elite level match.

Your country has a history of match fixing? No refs from there. (Sorry half of Europe and Brazil). Get a major decision wrong in a high level domestic/continental competition? Nope! (Sorry Mali - African Cup only, not WC10, England)

I hate to say it, but refs should probably be coming from CONCACAF, much of CONEMBOL, and perhaps Oceania. Few refs in the other regions have been untouched by either scandal or a lack of high-level experience. This WC showed that.