Technology is key to football facelift

Thursday 1st November 2012 17:02

Clattenburg: With Chelsea's Mata on Sunday

Clattenburg: With Chelsea's Mata on Sunday

Should fans be able to hear what players say to referees on the pitch? In his latest column, Frank Malley states how he feels this would help officials.

It is time football supported referees with every appropriate aid and technology.

Yes, it is an old chestnut. The technology debate has been trotted out more times than the retiring Kauto Star.

But it does not make it any less relevant in a week when football should be celebrating some of the most exciting action in recent memory, such as Arsenal's 7-5 victory against Reading and Chelsea's 5-4 win against Manchester United in the Capital One Cup, and yet is mired in another race row.

I do not know whether referee Mark Clattenburg is innocent or guilty of using the "inappropriate language" of which he is accused in Chelsea's league match against Manchester United last Sunday.

But I do know that we would all know the answer if football embraced the 'Ref Link' radio technology, which relays the running conversations during a match between officials and players and has been such a success in rugby.

Former England rugby union hooker Brian Moore pushed the case for 'Ref Link' this week, arguing that it was football's fear of what would be revealed which prevented its rulers from implementing the technology.

Moore said: "There's no technical reason or moral reason, it's just that they're afraid people will actually hear just how bad it is. If you want to change something, then you will do something. The solution is available."

Shouldn't people know how bad it is? Shouldn't the fans who pay their money know the truth? Wouldn't knowing every syllable they uttered was being recorded curb the behaviour of players who routinely abuse referees?

Effectively they would be naming and shaming themselves. Would Wayne Rooney have used the 'F' word 27 times in just a few minutes to former referee Graham Poll, as once he did, if he knew the world could hear? Perhaps, but the point is the world would have backed the referee to the hilt if he had sent him off.

It is football's unwillingness to embrace change which is at the heart of so many of its problems.

If video technology was in place, as it has been for years in rugby and cricket and tennis, then Javier Hernandez's winning goal on Sunday would have been correctly disallowed for offside instead of handing United three points which could be crucial in the title reckoning.

If Clattenburg had enjoyed the assistance of a fourth official viewing slow-motion replays, he might never have sent off Fernando Torres, who received a second yellow card for diving.

It was the Torres sending-off which provoked the running protests from Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, which in turn led to the accusations against Clattenburg.

That brings us to another way football at a stroke could restore much-needed respect for referees.

Abuse, intimidation and dissent should be instantly punished by yellow or red cards. Referees have to remember that they are the ultimate authority. That they do not have to justify their decisions to every player who fancies a rant.

Too often referees indulge offenders, excuse their abuse, try to manage their intimidation in some misguided belief that they are nursing along the spirit of the game.

Maybe some referees do so too out of familiarity or, in some cases, because they enjoy brushing shoulders with young men who are famous and phenomenally wealthy.

Whatever, it has nurtured a culture where too many players believe they have the right, routinely, to question decisions.

That is what lies at the heart of football's latest race row.

In an ideal world - and largely it exists in rugby - only the captain would be allowed to converse with the referee and contentious decisions would be verified where possible by technology.

On football's less-than-ideal planet, too often there is prevarication, a pandering to extreme views and tolerance of puerile behaviour.

It is time the super-rich Premier League dragged the game into the world of reasonable people.

Frank Malley, Chief Writer, Press Association Sport

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