I, like many millions of viewers, watched the World Cup play-off second leg between France and Ireland, hoping for an exciting and entertaining game. That it certainly was, with the web providing a medium for football fans world wide to vent their anger about the way the French team qualified for the last 32.
In this game, I was fairly neutral but would be lying if I didn’t say that I clung to the romantic hope of Ireland making it to South Africa. It all looked against them from the first leg but they dug out a great result in Paris over 90 minutes to force the game into extra time.
I don’t want to discuss the handball itself as I think we need to accept that these occurrences will happen from time to time. I’m more concerned with how individuals, teams, and countries will be incentivised to reduce this happening. I’ve been an admirer of Thierry Henry for many years as he has possessed exceptional talent that has been a joy to watch, which sometimes permits me to forgive his sometimes arrogant demeanour. There have however, been occasions where I felt he has been close to crossing the line almost feigning fair play in retrospect. This is unfortunately nothing more than an inkling as opposed to something that I can specifically state instances of but as an avid follower of football over the years, you do come to appreciate a perception of some players personalities. Therefore, I have lost much respect for the man since Wednesday as his actions of running exuberantly to the goal scorer Gallas said a lot about the levels of true remorse. I’m afraid from my view, the public show of apology by sitting with Richard Dunne at the end of the game came across as nothing more than a public relations exercise as he retrospectively knew he had done wrong. To say “It was handball but I’m not the referee” is nothing more than a cop out.
So, its happened, these things have happened for years, what are FIFA going to do about it?
Well, although the Irish Football Association have requested a replay, it is unlikely to happen. If FIFA are to refuse such a replay in a situation where TV footage shows a wrong-doing, the player admits the infringement, and French fans openly are ashamed at the way in which their team has progressed, then I would like to know what positives the world leading body will take from this. Will they stick their heads in the sands again to the problem?
I am critical of bad referees who simply don’t man-manage players well but I do not class referees who make mistakes as bad referees. To me, these are referees who need better support. For instance, would the extra official on the goal line that is being trialled in the Europa league have been able to spot the offence? Most likely as they stand on that side of the goal only metres away from where Henry handled!
This also will raise questions about the use of video technology in the game, something that has been used very successfully in international rugby. I recall having the same conversation with my parents and friends of the family as a 9 year old in 1986 after the “Hand of God” incident so why then have we not progressed in 23 years? Why would FIFA not want to use this? Wasn’t it rumoured that it was through video technology that Zidane got sent off in the last world cup final?
It is all well and good stating that a replay will cause chaos but not using this high-profile game as a reason to introduce greater support for referees is ignorant and negligent to their responsibility as a governing body. They are scared that a precedent will be set but I will argue that one needs to be set to avoid a repeat of such unsporting behaviour. As mentioned before, rugby has introduced improvements to support referees, cricket has also for many years so why hasn’t football. We cannot simply go on placing more and more unfair responsibility on referees. I strongly believe that this inactivity will only promote the certain thick-skinned officials like Steve Bennett (see my earlier comment about poor man management as I believe Mr. Bennett is a first class example of this) and less of the communicative and bold referees we see in international rugby who gain belief and faith in their own judgement from the support they receive.
To finish off, what realistic options did the referee have on Wednesday? Yes, he could have spoken with his assistant but let’s assume he didn’t notice the handball either (as he may have been still thinking whether he failed to signal offside – a skill that sometimes requires chameleon eyes) and it did all happen rather quickly. What options remain for referees in the modern game? Listen to the players or make an educated blind guess? Referees that have taken players’ body language and reaction into account in the English Premier League in the past and have boldly changed decisions (correctly) have been punished so what could a referee on an international stage do?!
In dead ball situations i.e. like when it is resting in the back of the net, why oh why can we not use a video official to support referees?