Who would be a Referee?
Tuesday's controversial Champions League encounter between Manchester United and Real Madrid once again saw a referee become the centre of attention with a decision that changed the course of the game.
With United winning 1-0, Turkish Referee Cuneyt Cakir inexplicably decided that Nani's challenge on Alvaro Arbeloa was worthy enough of a red card. With the ball taking a high bounce and Nani's eyes on the ball, unaware that Arbeloa was behind him and caught him with a high boot just above his hip. Most people watching on deemed it a foul and at the maximum a booking perhaps. However, everybody at Old Trafford and those watching on Television were astonished when Cakir showed the Red Card to a bemused Nani.
It completely changed the course of the game. United were 2-1 ahead on aggregate and looked reasonably comfortable until the decision that changed the game. Afterwards, Madrid brought on Luka Modric and turned the screw with two goals in the space of four minutes. The final blow coming from former United hero Cristiano Ronaldo. United had their chances to get back into the game and could have been awarded a penalty when Sergio Ramos impeded Patrice Evra but in the end they couldn't overcome the odds and were out of the Competition.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, players and fans were visibly enraged at the final whistle. Players surrounding the Referee and fans voicing their displeasure as the under-fire Cakir left the field. Ferguson chose not to speak to reporters after the game, assistant Mike Phelan saying the Long serving Manager was 'Too Distraught' to speak with the press. Ferguson also banned his players from speaking about the incident, presumably for fear of suspension from the powers that be at UEFA.
However, that's where the problem lies. With FIFA and UEFA.
Football is the most popular and most viewed sport in the World. It is the richest in terms of financial revenue and it is growing all the time. It is mind boggling then, that it is the only sport that has completely shunned modern technology as a way of limiting mistakes from officials. FIFA President has refused requests from almost everybody for technology to be implemented into the game.
He has given in somewhat by introducing goal-line technology to the game from next season. This should eradicate the mistakes made by Assistant Referees as to whether the ball has crossed the line or not. This is a start, but not enough for some. There is so much at stake financially in Football these days that more must be done to ensure that everything is on a level playing field. Take last night, for example. Cakir's error in dismissing Nani is estimated to cost Manchester United in the region of £75 million ($113.7m) in revenue and potential prize money. An astonishing sum in the current economic climate. That's why more must be done.
The powers that be at FIFA should look no further than the National Football League.
The NFL has been at the forefront of Modern Technology in making their game mistake-free. It is one rule in particular that I feel could be extremely beneficial to the game of Football and should be considered a possible solution to the problem.
'The Challenge Rule'.
It's pretty simple but extremely effective. Each Coach gets two challenges throughout the game, to contest a decision that they think has gone against them. In the NFL this could be a catch, ball placement, foot out of bounds. The Coach throws a red flag and then the head official goes over to a TV monitor and runs the rule over the specified play and either confirm he was right, or alter his decision if the replay shows the official has made a mistake. If the coaches are right with both their challenges, they get an extra one but if they lose both then they are unable to challenge another decision for the rest of the game.
This ruling can easily transition over to Football. For example, Managers could have 2 challenges to use throughout a game on crucial decisions. These could be penalty decisions, diving, red and yellow cards, free kicks in compromising positions and off-the-ball incidents. As in the NFL, the Managers could throw a flag/contact the fourth official and request the referee to look over the incident again. If he gets it wrong then the decision on the pitch will be altered accordingly. If the Referee has made the right decision then a challenge will be taken on the team that made it.
No doubt Sepp Blatter would be averse to this idea as he has most Technological ideas that could benefit the game. The doubters would point to the time issue, concluding that it would affect the pace of the game and make it too stop/start. This is a foolish argument, it would be a maximum of 4 times a game and there would inevitably be quicker than the NFL's Challenges as there is far less to consider (ball placement, time on clock etc). So say one minute per challenge, 4 minutes a game, is that not a reasonable amount of time to sacrifice for the mistakes to be eradicated from the game.
Only time will tell, but people won't hold their breath to anymore changes whilst Blatter is still at the helm. He has proved stubborn and out of touch for a number of years now and many fear the game won't flourish while the ageing President is calling the shots.
The simple fact is, there is too much at stake in the game of football now for crucial decisions to go through one man. The financial repercussions are severe and could determine futures of football clubs in the current economic climate. If the technology is there and available then it's just simple common sense to utilise it. After all, how is the most popular sport in the World the most unwilling to move with the times.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn't see the harm in it, and the NFL is thriving now as a $9 Billion (£5.9 bn) a year Sport.
Will Blatter at least explore the possibility? If history has taught us anything, don't hold your breath.
After another debacle at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, something must be done.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_