Video Replay Use in Soccer

As most European Leagues are coming to a close, there has been a recent cry for expanded technology use to help officials make correct in-game decisions. Just last weekend for example, we saw West Ham score a controversial equalizer in a high-profile match versus Liverpool. At first look, it was difficult to see whether a foul should have been given, as there were a number of players fighting to get to the floated corner. Liverpool’s keeper Simon Mignolet rose highest to claim before losing the ball from his grasp. The rebound was guided home by West Ham’s Guy Demel. The assistant immediately raised his flag for a foul, while head referee Anthony Taylor initially allowed the goal to stand. After briefly conversing, the lineman was overruled and the goal was still allowed.

After a second look, it’s pretty clear than Andy Carroll fouls Mignolet on the play (he catches him with a solid punch to the jaw, in fact). Liverpool players were pleading with Taylor to look at the (absolutely massive) video screen that was literally right in front of him as he conversed with his assistant regarding the goal, yet he pointedly ignored the replays that showed the foul. In the end, a Steven Gerrard penalty gave Liverpool the deserved win anyway, but it was a close game in an especially tight title race.

Incidents like this are becoming more and more common in the modern game. Players are becoming faster and stronger and the margins of error are becoming smaller and smaller. There have been a number of offside decisions in the past few years that have been incorrectly given and that have definitely changed the outcome of games (and sometimes seasons). This is one of the most difficult decisions for a referee, as the defensive lines move so quickly and the variation of offensive runs often lead players to cross the line exactly as the ball is played. On another note, the Premier League finally got on the goal-line technology bandwagon this season. Unfortunately they are one of very few leagues that use the technology (see Stefan Kiessling’s phantom goal against Hoffenheim for a strong case for goal-line tech in the Bundesliga or Frank Lampard’s no-goal against Germany in the last World Cup).

The last and arguably most important (and polarizing) topic is the use of video replay to determine if a foul was legitimate or if it was a dive. There have been plenty of articles written on the subject of diving and how or why it’s ruining “The Beautiful Game,” but few that supply a working answer to the epidemic. If video replay was added and divers were caught in the act more consistently, it may even help take the annoying practice out of the game for good. Recently, players who have a known tendency to go down easily (hint hint Luis Suarez) have had actual fouls on them not called as well. It could provide an interesting solution to a growing problem.

A sticking point on this subject is how to implement video replay that would affect the game as little as possible and keep the match flowing. Expanded replay in basketball (there were a few major decisions in the NCAA Tournament this year aided by replay) and in baseball have much less of an impact as there are already many stoppages in these games. Soccer is different. Here are four (fun) ways to implement some type of video replay:

1. Challenge Flags

Which manager wouldn’t love stuffing a red flag in his sock that he/she could throw at the unsuspecting fourth official? Actually, since most of them probably can’t throw very well, they can use little red soccer balls and kick them at whomever they want.

2. Tracking devices in players’ shoes

This one is for offside decisions. A computer keeps track of the last defender back and if the attacker’s tracker is beyond that point, he/she is offside. Just like FIFA14 (in all its frustrating glory).

3. Tablets.

Give the fourth official a tablet that is tuned into the footage from the game. If the main referee has a controversial decision, he/she runs over to the halfway line and looks at the replay while getting berated by both managers on either side.

4. Actually looking at the massive big screen televisions located in most top-level stadiums that replay every controversial play 100 times. (This one’s for you, Anthony Taylor.)

For the most part, the referees at the top-level do a solid job. In fact, many times it’s incredible that the referees can make the correct decisions with the speed of the game. That said, there is room for improvement and soccer seems to be way behind the curve when it comes to using video technology to assist officials. The game is only going to get faster in the coming years and it seems inevitable that some type of system will eventually be put in place, so why not look into viable options now? The sooner the issue is addressed, the sooner a working system can be found.

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