Most Refs Are No Good But Who is Really At Fault?

July 13, 2010

Well, the World Cup was supposed to be the pinnacle of international football, wasn’t it? We were supposed to see the best players in the world as well as the best officials. As far as the football goes we had some good games and some horrible ones. I guess that’s expected and understandable. But when it comes to officiating I doubt if there were any games that can be classified as excellent.

Some of the earlier games in the group phase were good from a refereeing point of view. I’m of the opinion that teams were cautious and played safe. As a result there were fewer contentious moments, less diving and play acting, and hardly any malicious tackles.

Once things heated up, high profile blunders started increasing. The errors were not limited to officials from a particular region or teams. Even the tournament winners had a lot to complain about and I’m sure all the other teams have similar issues.

It’s a real shame that FIFA cannot find 30 good referees for the most popular sport in the world. Surely, when there are billions of passionate fans, there must be a few thousand who have the potential to be top notch referees! So why can’t this world produce a handful of brilliant officials?

The way I see it, it’s a very complex issue and one that demands fundamental changes. Before I proceed further I’d like to mention that technology can certainly make the game better. I’ve covered that in this article and will not be discussing the issue of technology in this piece.

Let’s take the case of Howard Webb. To be charitable to him, I’d say he was quite poor in the Final. But I also have to say that I completely understand his situation and he was in a no-win position once the Dutch decided to the play the way they did.

There were at least 25 bookable offences in the game and there could easily have been 5-6 sending offs if the official had gone by the letter of the law. Imagine the furore if a couple of players had been sent off in the first half itself. Almost everyone in the media would have jumped on the ref and said that he spoiled the game. Managers would have used that excuse and the whole situation would have been farcical.

If we acknowledge the facts; one side was playing rugby, the other was giving a lesson in theatrics, and the ref couldn’t punish each and every offence simply because there were too many! He was forced to use common sense in such a rough game and it was never going to be easy for him to keep everyone in check. Webb was constantly under pressure and his performance degraded as time went on. As I said earlier, I can completely understand the problems he was facing.

In theory it’s easy for us to say that he should punish the offenders and go by the rules. But in practice it never works that way; it’s a sad but undeniable reality.

This brings me to the real issues we are facing in the game today, problems that make good officiating humanly impossible.

Rough, Uncontrolled, Physical Football

These days, players know that in big games refs will be scared of sending them off, especially early on. There is just too much pressure on the ref and players take advantage of this.

Many have mastered the art of repeated fouling, often involving some horror challenges. What can a ref do when the players know they will get way with 5-6 fouls and some bone crunching tackles that are nowhere near the ball? Case in point, Van Bommel 5 fouls one booking, Busquets 5 fouls no booking and the De Jong Karate Kick.

Theatrics

Just like the physical players know they can get away with fouls, the technical ones know that they will have to suffer unless the ref is forced into taking action. It results in exaggerated displays of pain, unnecessary rolling on the ground, and so on.

We also see players diving with minimal to no contact as they know the ref is rarely going to book someone twice for diving in a big game.

Initimidation

Imagine a big player (someone like Xavi or Sneijder) picking up a yellow card for demanding that an opponent be booked. If that player eventually gets sent off will the ref get any support from the media or the past stars with an opinion on everything?

We saw Webb being surrounded by three or more players so often. Technically he could have booked them all. That is the only power he has and unfortunately he can’t really wield it!

Media

There is too much hypocrisy in the media. Those who appreciate the thugs in the Premiership can’t stand the thugs in the World Cup. Those who criticize the ref fail to see the issues with the players. In most cases personal biases are imposed upon us in the guise of insight and analysis.

The saddest aspect of this is that the referee is an easy target. No one is passionate about the referee. If there are some in the media who find faults with Holland because of their personal issues, there will be others who will find flaws with Spain. It’s ugly but there is some balance to it. Eventually, those who want to discover will find that all aspects are covered.

The same cannot be said for the ref. Almost everyone looks to expose his flaws and very few try to understand the impossible nature of the job.

FIFA/ UEFA/ Other Federations

I really don’t know how the top officials are trained and how much money is spent on them. European football is financially much stronger than the rest of the world but are European referees any better? If not, then why not? Shouldn’t a part of the billions being earned go into training the refs?

I also feel that FIFA and other bodies need to improve the profile of the referees. There must be some glamour associated with the role and there should be at least a few hundred professionals around the world who can do a good job at the big tournaments and can work on constantly improving others at various levels.

Right now the refs are under fire and what intelligent person would want to take up such a thankless, demanding job that doesn’t really pay in financial or social status terms.

Solutions

Obviously, there can be no quick fix solution to such an intricate issue. Technology will help but we also need to work on the fundamentals.

Many of these issues are interconnected. For instance, if the media and ex-players show more respect to the ref, they will have the courage to take strong decisions. They might get a few wrong but it will certainly have an impact on the behaviour of the players on the pitch.

Once the player behaviour improves the game will get easier for the refs and in turn their decision making will be better as pressure is reduced. In effect, the current negative cycle will turn into a positive one.

I also think we need retrospective punishments for players who intimidate or surround the referee, dive or pretend to be hurt, and those who get away with dangerous fouls. It won’t have a big impact on the games that have already ended but once this system is in place the players will have to control their behaviour on the pitch. Once again this is a fundamental change that can lead to a positive cycle over a period of time.

Lastly, there has to be a transparent system for developing and training good referees. In the present state hardly any fan or football supporter knows what really goes on in the world of refs. This must change and the profile of the refs has to get better. The refs don’t have to be the most important person on the pitch but they shouldn’t be scapegoats either.

No matter what technology we use bulk of the decisions will always be made by the refs, and unless there is a radical improvement we will always end up with shambolic and farcical events on the biggest of stages.


Van Persie’s Performance In The Final Was Pure Class!

July 12, 2010

I understand many people might not have noticed Robin in the Final. He rarely got the ball, hardly got a chance to shoot, and wasn’t directly involved with most of threatening moments. Combined with his previous outings some might write this off as a bad tournament for our star striker.

In previous articles I wrote that Sneijder and Robben weren’t really creating much for Van Persie and his performances have been affected by the individualistic nature of the duo. Sneijder has scored five goals and Robben has had a couple of good moments so they are being regarded as the best Dutch players in the tournament, so much so that they were nominated for the Golden Ball. The facts tell a different story and one that will mostly go unnoticed.

Let’s look at the passing stats. Van Persie made 6 passes to Sneijder and he received 3 from the midfielder. He also made 4 passes to Robben and received 2. These numbers don’t include the completed passes so it’s quite likely that the number of times he received the ball from these two must be less than 5. And this is over 120 minutes of football! To put this in perspective, Villa received 10 passes from Xavi alone in 106 minutes and Xavi obviously completed most of his passes.

Interestingly, Sneijder had five shots on goal with only one on target while Robben had four with two on target. And the stats don’t have a column that says “missed sitters”. Van Persie had a Single shot that wasn’t on target. Clearly, his teammates were more interested in their own glory than finding a teammate in a better position.

From what I’ve said so far it’s probably sounding more like criticism of the two stars from the Champions League final. You might be wondering how does that make Van Persie’s performance a class act.

I say Robin was pure class because at the end of the day he ran close to 14 Km. More than anyone else in the Dutch side and  bettered only by Xavi and Iniesta. Some might scoff at that and feel that running on a football pitch doesn’t amount to a brilliant performance. But I feel if you observe the details of the game it really makes a big difference.

Firstly, most strikers would end up sulking and remonstrating on the pitch if they don’t get service. Van Persie didn’t do that.

Secondly, strikers aren’t renowned for their work rate. Normally it’s the central midfielders who do most of the running as we saw with Xavi and Iniesta. So the fact that Van Persie worked his socks off must be acknowledged and respected.

Finally, there is the importance of movement. As I’ve noted in earlier articles, the Dutch team retains possession at the back. Their keeper completed the most passes in the Final!! Robin received as many passes from Stekelenburg and Heitinga as he did from Sneijder! These are staggering facts.

Van Persie’s movement at the top allowed them to play the long balls that moved their play forward because their midfielders were focussed on kicking the opponents rather than the ball. Moreover Robben got through on goal a couple of times when he was playing down the middle. It was due to the movement by Van Persie and for the second chance it was also a direct result of a header won by the Arsenal striker.

I know these are minor details from a very big game. In itself hardly any of them would be considered significant. But when you put it all together the picture is clear. Van Persie was isolated by his glory hunting teammates but he maintained his focus and selflessly worked harder than the others to achieve a dream.

All facts being same, if Robben had converted one chance and if the Dutch had won, it is obvious that Sneijder and Robben would have been considered their star players despite their weaknesses and mistakes. Few would have noted that Sneijder’s goals had a generous dose of freak and Robben missed and messed up a lot more than he scored. Van Persie would have been considered a disappointment. Many probably think that even now.

I’m sure Van Persie knew this will be the case. Unless he scored the winning goal he wasn’t going to get much credit for his performances in this tournament. And since he wasn’t getting the ball in and around the box it was never going to happen for him. Even then he continued to run, played for his team,dropped deep, moved to the flanks, and gave his all till the last moment. I will always remember this game as the one where Van Persie played as well a striker can play football without the ball!


Fabregas Makes The Difference As Iniesta Stamps His Class

July 11, 2010

I’m delighted Spain won the World Cup. As I’ve often said in the past, along with Argentina, they are the team I most like to watch. And for once there can be no arguments the best team won the championship.

I can understand that people find the behaviour of Barcelona players and management to be despicable. Even I’ve no respect for some of the Spanish players but I try not to let that affect my judgement of their football. After all, Spain (along with Barcelona) are probably the only team that is actually winning big trophies with positive, entertaining football.

In a world where the Sith Lord of Anti-Football is seen by many as the best manager it’s always good to see real football surviving and succeeding.

With that out of the way let’s focus on the Final. I thought Spain were much better than the Dutch and deserved the victory on the balance of play. It might have been different if Robben had taken his chances but it could just as easily have been different if the ref had sent De Jong off for a Kung-Fu kick.

Leaving the ifs and buts out, it’s not difficult to see that Holland went into the game with a similar game plan that had worked for them in the tournament so far. Their hope for scoring came from set-pieces, a freak Sneijder strike or a Robben run. They never came close from the first two but Robben had a couple of glorious opportunities. The Dutchman continued his sitter-missing form and the Oranje eventually paid the price for their tactics.

Spain have been positive in the tournament but they’ve also played with caution. Starting with Alonso and Busquets has been a tactical choice that ensured they had better defensive balance. The flip side was that they found it difficult to break the well organised Dutch defence. Apart from a few half chances from set-pieces they didn’t really create much till Fabregas came on the pitch.

It was a clear decision to shift the focus from balance to attack as Alonso’s creative contribution was negligible. I’ve a feeling Del Bosque didn’t back his team to win on penalties. Spain looked a far more threatening side after Fabregas came on.

Cesc had the opportunity to put his name down in history but was thwarted by Stekelenburg when through on goal. A pass might have been a better option. He also came close with a driving run through the middle. Finally he picked up an assist with a neat little ball that set up Iniesta, who was probably the best player in the tournament.

To me it’s obvious why Guardiola wants him at Barca. It’s not to have him on the bench as a backup but as the final piece in creating an attacking juggernaut that can crush the likes of Mourinho. Among the present midfielders at Barca only Iniesta has something extra-special in the attacking third and Fabregas will clearly add to that.

Van Persie was the other Arsenal player on show and I was happy with his performance. He covered the most distance for the Dutch and put in an unselfish, hardworking display that some of his teammates must learn from. In the end RvP completed more passes than Kuyt and Robben and that shows how poor and individualistic the Dutch were in the attacking areas. You really would expect the wingers to complete more passes. I can hardly remember Van Persie getting any service in or around the box.

Further proof of their defensive tactics can be seen from the fact that once again the Keeper completed the most number of passes and he was followed by a central defender and two full backs. Sneijder is a fantastic player but his talents in the middle are quite limited compared to his Spanish counterparts. Once Robben failed to emulate Milito, Sneijder didn’t look all that good.

Mourinho was lucky in the Champions League and that made him a tactical genius. Wonder if the same will be said about Van Marwijk who used similar tactics to get to the final. From what I’ve heard so far the Dutch have been criticized for the way they’ve played. Well, the mediamen only support the winners so Holland are sure to receive some flak. They’ve would have been brilliant if they’ve won with the same tactics but losers don’t get any respect in this world. It’s a real shame that right or wrong and good or bad is based on the final result and not on the actual display on the pitch.

Finally, it’s great to see two of our best players reach the highest level at the international stage. It’s even better that almost all our players are coming back from the World Cup without serious injury worries. I guess we won’t see Fabregas or Van Persie during the early weeks of the preseason but that is an acceptable loss. Hopefully Van Persie will come back hungrier than ever and the Cesc saga will be resolved amicable and in favour of Arsenal. It’ll be good to have a World Cup winner as Captain.


Van Persie Superb, Cesc Unused As Best Teams Reach The Final

July 7, 2010

As a neutral football fan I’m quite happy that Netherlands and Spain have made it to the finals. Considering the way the tournament has shaped up I believe these are indeed the two best teams in the tournament.

I wouldn’t say either has been scintillating but both have been well balanced and effective. They’ve the players who’ve come up with the goods when the situation asked for a moment of individual class.

It’s not a surprise that one finalist is by and large the same as the amazing Barcelona team while the other has the best player from both the Champions League finalists and the best striker in the Premier League.

Speaking of Van Persie, it was good to see him finally hit some form in the Semi-Final. The first half of that game was a slow, cautious affair but the Dutch team raised their game in the second half. Van Persie was involved with most of their threatening moments as his movement, touch, vision, and intelligent passing led to some good chances. I was also impressed by his work rate and concentration even in the dying moments as he came up with an important defensive block.

From a statistical point of view RvP just got an assist in that somewhat controversial second goal by Sneijder but I’m sure his team mates, manager, and fans must’ve seen how good he was in the second half. If Robben or Van der Vaart had finished better or if Kuyt had better delivery Van Persie would have had a much bigger contribution even in a statistical sense. Hopefully, he will get some of Sneijder’s luck in the Final.

I’m going to enjoy watching Van Persie against Spain who got past a hard working German side that finally paid the price for its inexperience.

For most parts this match looked like a Barcelona V Inter Milan kind of game with Germany sitting deep and Spain struggling to break them down.

In the end, the Germans didn’t have the quality Striker or Full Back that Inter had and that meant Spain were rarely under threat. Klose has a lot of goals at the World Cup finals but is nowhere near the class of some of the other players on that list. To be honest, I’m hoping Klose doesn’t end up as the top scorer or joint top scorer at the World Cup finals. That will be a real shame.

In defence, the Germans went to sleep on a corner – something Inter would never do – and that allowed the Spaniards to sneak a goal.

Another aspect worth noting was that Ozil struggled to make any sort of an impact on the game. As I’ve said before he is a very talented player but nowhere close to being a finished article. I can’t see him coming to the Premier League and making  a difference in the big games or against tight defences, at least not this year.

Del Bosque finally accepted the fact that he had to keep Torres out of the starting eleven and I thought Pedro was a good choice as he provided them some quality on the right. I’m not sure whether Cesc missed out due to a tactical issue or injury. I’m just hoping his injury doesn’t worsen. If he doesn’t play for Spain it’s not a problem, at least for Arsenal fans.

Our best players are both in the Final of the World Cup. It could be seen as something that can give them a massive confidence boost before the next season, it could be seen as something that will leave them tired and overworked, or in many other ways – positive or negative – depending on how you feel about it. I like to think that as long as neither of them picks up an injury it will have a positive effect on our performances next season.

Before all of that though, there is this small matter of the World Cup Final. I think Spain will win it and Germany will finish third.


Ruthless Germany Expose Maradona’s Weaknesses; Paraguay Brilliant, Spain Just Better!

July 3, 2010

Watching Argentina against Germany was almost like watching Arsenal against Chelsea or United. One team kept going forward without really threatening, the other just finished the game ruthlessly and clinically. I say almost because I didn’t feel the sadness that goes with such Arsenal games and that’s why watching these games as a neutral is much better for the heart and mind.

The Germans amplified their talents with the right tactics while Maradona killed the talent he had with his managerial naivety. Argentina did well in the earlier games as they didn’t encounter such an organized, technical, and merciless side. To think that the same could continue against the Germans was just madness.

It was always going to be difficult after conceding a stupid goal from a set piece in the third minute. In a way that played right into German hands. And the rout could have started early in the first half if Klose had converted a sitter. It was a lucky break for the South American side but they just couldn’t capitalize.

There were too many individual players in that team who held on to the ball again and again allowing the Germans the chance to crowd out the man on the ball. Di Maria was hopeless, Messi was marked out, Tevez ran into dead ends, and Higuain rarely got any service.

In the end I think Maradona played a system that might have worked in his time but will never work in modern football. It is a real shame to see a talent like Messi stifled by poor tactics. Messi and his team mates deserve a special mention for going this far in spite of Maradona being the manager.

I can’t take anything away from the Germans though. They thoroughly deserved the win and will be super confident for the Semi-Final. They must’ve been surprised how easy this game turned out in the end. Ozil and Podolski didn’t have to do much; Schweinsteiger, Khedira, and Mueller (probably the three best players in that team) did enough damage while Klose took his World Cup tally to 14!

It’s a shame that Mueller was booked for a nothing hand-ball, especially as Di Maria got away with a blatant one a few minutes earlier. He will be missed as the game against Spain will definitely be tougher.

The Spaniards qualified with a hard fought 1-0 win over Paraguay. I was really surprised by the quality shown by the South American side. Earlier, I’d mentioned their pressing against Slovakia and it came to the fore once again as they denied the Spanish players any time or space on the ball. It’s not often that you don’t see Spain camped in the opposition half!

This game had as much drama, if not more, as the Ghana-Uruguay fixture.

Paraguay had a goal disallowed for off-side, which could have gone either way (I think off-side was the correct call); they had a penalty saved that should have been retaken as a couple of Spain players were encroaching in the penalty area; Spain scored from a penalty but were forced to retake (a very tight call); and the retaken penalty was saved but Fabregas should have had another one in the follow up.

From a drama point of view this game was a thriller and unlike some of the other games in the tournament, even the quality of football was quite high. The Paraguay players were highly skilled, tackled well, moved the ball well, and played to a plan. Their manager, Gerardo Martino, deserves credit for the way his team have played in the tournament. Fat Sam and his kind can learn a lot from him.

Spain have by far the best collection of players but as I’ve said before I’m not convinced about the tactics of the manager. Torres is clearly out of form. Persisting with him up front and Villa on the left severely limits their options. Playing Busquets and Alonso in tandem doesn’t make any sense either as it slows the tempo of their game and lowers their creativity.

Cesc made an impact after he came on but more than that I thought Spain improved because Villa moved to the middle and Iniesta to the left in a free role. After bringing Pedro on the right for Alonso in the middle they found a better balance.

The goal was created by a dazzling run by Iniesta and even when Pedro couldn’t finish it, Villa was there to complete the formality.

David Villa’s amazing form, including a couple of wonder goals, has so far covered the weaknesses of this Spanish side. Of course, they benefit from the tremendous depth available on the bench but Del Bosque will have to do better against Germany.

I can see what he is trying. If Torres comes good he can take the game to a different level. There is no denying the quality he has but it’s not working for him. The manager needs to decide whether he can risk it against Germany or not. That will certainly be a massive test for his magnificent squad.

I’d definitely start Cesc ahead of Alonso or Busquets and play Pedro or Navas on the right with Torres on the bench. As long as Spain are winning there can always be a counter argument to defend the manager’s choices. We’ll just have to see how they do in the next two games.

The way things are poised we could have a Cesc  Vs Van Persie Final. That will be something!


Dutch Delight For Brazil! Sensational Suarez Sacrifice Saves Sky-Blues

July 2, 2010

This day will probably go down as one of the most sensational in World Cup history. In any other domain apart from sport heaping such agony and heartbreak on a country/continent would probably be considered a criminal or terrorist act.

Netherlands beating Brazil was an upset of sorts but it can’t be called a shocker. Even the two hours of football that followed didn’t raise any eyebrows. It all changed in the final minute of extra-time as Ghana’s history making moment hit the bar and flew away.

Before I get into the analysis of the game I want to acknowledge a Luis Suarez moment that was perhaps the antithesis of the Hand of God!

Ghana hadn’t been a threat on set pieces at all during the two hours and I didn’t expect the final free kick to cause much trouble. Somehow, Uruguay managed to lose their discipline and the penalty box turned into a pin-ball machine. As the ball was headed towards the goal with what would most probably have been the last and winning touch, up came a Uruguayan fist and punched the ball away. And it wasn’t the goalkeeper who punched it!

Normally, Suarez would have been criticized for such an act as he was sent off and his team conceded a penalty. In this particular case though, that was the moment that changed the course of history. If ever there was a case of making your own luck, this was it. Had that ball gone in, there was no way Uruguay would have come back as the ref was on the verge of blowing for full time.

Gyan was under pressure as he took the spot kick and I’ve a feeling his attitude spoilt it for him. He went for a glorious looking blast down the middle instead of his regular style of going for the corners. As we’ve seen from his other three spot kicks in the tournament, he isn’t a bad penalty taker. It was just the pressure of the moment combined with a wrong choice.

After that it was up to Muslera to see la celeste through. Mensah’s spot kick attempt was ridiculous and the keeper saved well from the youngster Adiyiah’s kick.

Overall, I think the deserving team qualified. Ghana scored first from a freak shot from distance that the keeper misread, but they didn’t create much in normal or extra time.

Uruguay equalized from a sweetly struck, swerving free kick. They also had some other efforts on target that were saved well by the Ghana keeper Kingson.

The Black Stars have a young team and if they have the right manager they can do well in 2014.

Uruguay will take on Holland in the semi-finals. Wonder how many people predicted that before the World Cup started!?

The Dutch came back from an early setback to stun the top ranked nation. Robinho put Brazil ahead in the tenth minute when he ran onto a lovely through ball from Melo straight through the heart of the Dutch defence. Little did the Juventus man know how his luck was going to change in the course of the game.

The first half in that game was scrappy as both teams were happy to concede fouls to break up play. Brazil continued their defensive approach and looked content on sitting on their one goal lead. They did manage to create another chance when Kaka shot from distance but Stekelenburg was up to it. Holland didn’t create a single noteworthy chance in the first half.

I’d certainly like to know what Van Marwijk said to his team at half time. Holland moved the ball around faster and their movement was much better in the second half. It wasn’t a big change but at least they managed to create some pressure.

Even then Brazil looked comfortable until a moment of madness from the overrated Julio Cesar and Melo. Cesar is a very good goalkeeper but playing for Inter his aerial skills are rarely tested as the whole team defends right in front of him in the big games. In this game he flapped twice and the second one was fatal as Melo headed the ball into his own net.

After that you could see that Brazil were rattled and the Dutch were growing in confidence. The second goal came from a well executed set piece and was very similar to Van Persie’s goal against Blackburn. Only this time it was Kuyt who got the flick on and Sneijder who scored a collector’s item.

By this time Brazil had lost all composure and were quite clueless. Their misery was compounded when Melo was sent off for a petulant kick on Robben. There must be something called the Curse of the Arsenal Linked Player!

Dunga had no real choices on the bench and his ultra-defensive approach was woefully exposed. He must be wondering whether the end might have been a better fight if he had taken at least one or two flair players. Holland absorbed pressure rather well and Brazil never looked like they deserved an equalizer. If anything, the Dutch messed up a couple of great chances on the counter.

The Oranje will take on the Sky-Blues in the Semis and I’d say the Dutch are firm favourites to go through. They will miss De Jong and Van der Weil after they both picked up a second caution but Uruguay will also be without key players Fucile and Suarez. Uruguay fans can certainly hope for an upset if their team can keep Robben in check.

Tomorrow, Argentina take on Germany is a game that is sure to be a thrilling contest. I’ve a feeling the Germans will try to play on the counter attack as they did in the second half against England. The team that is clinical on the day is likely to go through. I’m supporting Argentina in that one and hopefully Messi will have another big game.

Spain should get past Paraguay without many difficulties. The South American side have done well so far but I don’t think their defence is good enough to keep the Spaniards out.

If the day is even half as dramatic as today was, it will be worth watching.


Can Technology Really Make The Game Better?

June 30, 2010

The debate about the use of technology in football has been around for a while now. Obviously, the big blunders we saw in the England-Germany and Argentina-Mexico games have brought the issue to the fore once again.

There was an interesting discussion on the topic on the World Have Your Say program aired on BBC radio a couple of days ago. You can check out the podcast on this link. It is the 28th June program titled, “Should all sports at the top level embrace technology?” There were many speakers from different countries talking about various sports. I had the opportunity to present my two cents and, if interested, you can my thoughts just after the half hour mark. I’ll cover whatever I said and build on the details in this article.

I must say I’ve thought about the use of technology quite often. As Arsenal fans, we’ve suffered a lot at the hands of refs, and often that leaves me wondering if technology would have helped us.

The way I see it, there are two extremes; the present situation with virtually no role of technology is on one end and unlimited referrals for all kinds of decisions is at the other. I don’t think either is an acceptable state.

We’ve all seen the problems with the present state so I won’t dwell on that. If we end up using technology for each and every decision it will certainly kill the flow of the game. It’s not hard to imagine a 90 minute game lasting three or four hours if we start referring all doubtful decisions.

Clearly, the ideal solution lies somewhere in between. Goal line technology has been mentioned as an option. I’m not convinced about it because given the cost involved, the benefits aren’t that good. If I’d to make a guess, I’d say less than one percent of games have controversial goal line decisions. There were 380 games in the Premiership last season; can you remember four controversial decisions that would have benefitted from goal line technology?

Then there are other complications with using goal line technology as the only tech help. Against Germany, Lampard’s strike was from open play. But it could easily have been a free-kick. Imagine a situation where a free kick goes in and out and the goal is awarded using technology. At the same time replays show that the free-kick was incorrectly awarded and should have been given the other way. In such a situation we would have technology giving a goal to one team, while the other suffers as we only use it for goal line decisions.

I believe any technology based solution should satisfy three main considerations,

  • Make a tangible improvement to the fairness of the game
  • Must not introduce too many delays
  • Should not be very expensive

The referral system used in Tennis seems to be the best solution. If the Manager of each team has just one unsuccessful challenge available to him per game it would make a world of difference. This should be limited to big decisions like Goals, Penalties, Red Cards, and Second Yellow Cards. I think more than one game changing decision going wrong in a game is extremely rare so we don’t really need to refer all minor decisions or worry about too many referrals.

Implementing the referral system would be tricky. For instance, a manager might feel an opponent was off-side. In such a case, when should he refer? I’d say referrals should be allowed when the game stops for a goal, penalty or a card. If the player was indeed marginally off-side but it didn’t lead to a goal or other major event (happens quite often) then what’s the point in stopping the flow of the game.

Then there is a question of controversial decisions that don’t lead to a pause in the game. For instance, a team might have a legit penalty claim but the ref waves play on. I think at this point the manager must have a right to bring the game to a stop and ask for a referral.

Since there is only one incorrect challenge available to a manger they are not likely to waste it on frivolous claims. We can be relatively confident that the referred decision merits another look. The referral could also be invoked if the manager thinks an opponent deserved a Red Card.

I think Arsenal could really benefit from this. We probably lost 8-10 goals last season because we didn’t get some stone-walled penalties. I also feel this could be useful in incidents like the one against Bolton where the thug put his knee on Fabregas’ face and pulled his hair. At least knowing that a referral system exists will definitely serve as some sort of a deterrent to the thug teams.

The referred decisions should be seen by the fourth ref or another ref on a TV screen and there should be a 30-60 second limit on the time he can take. If the replays are not conclusive then we just move on and the original decision stands.

Since this would be limited to big calls only, chances of managers using the referrals as a time wasting tactic are low. Even if they do use it I think it’s an acceptable downside for a much fairer game. After all there are plenty of time wasting tricks that make us cringe when we see them. If we have a problem with gamesmanship those are the tricks we need to eliminate, not a solution that improves the fairness of the game.

To my mind this seems the simplest solution. The matches that don’t have TV cameras won’t be able to afford any other technology based solution anyway, so we can’t really think about them at this point. All other games that are covered by TV will have fairer games.

Like any other system, this isn’t perfect. I don’t pretend that this is the only or the best solution. Nor am I deluded enough to think that all the problems will go away and no new ones will be created. But considering all factors I think this system deserves a trial. It should be implemented in a couple of lower leagues or junior level competitions and the results should be measured. We can then have a clear idea of the kind of delays that are introduced into the game, the improvements can be measured, any new issues that might arise can be noted, and an objective analysis can be done regarding the way forward.

I also believe technology should be used for some retrospective decisions. For instance, diving must be punished if proven by replays. It doesn’t matter what the ref saw on the pitch or what he felt, if the replays clearly show a playing taking a plunge without contact he should get a 3-5 game ban that increases for repeat offences.

Similar punishments need to be handed for playacting and such other problems. We can’t have players clutching their face and then peeking at the ref before continuing their theatrics. It’s abominable.

Once the players know that the authorities are serious about taking action, diving/gamesmanship is likely to go down on its own. I think most players do it because they see others getting away with it. It’s a negative spiral that’s sucking more and more players in. Once a strict system is introduced we are likely to see a positive spiral and more and more players will be cautious about their acts on the pitch.

Having said all that, I still don’t feel positive about the use of technology. It’s not that I don’t believe it can help, as this article demonstrates I’m sure technology can help football. The reason I’m sceptical is that more than the actions of players and refs, football suffers from the archaic nature of administration. I just can’t see them doing the right thing.

Arsene said, “I just feel we are historical monuments that can’t move forward.” I can hear you say, “my sentiments exactly!”


Pathetic Portugal Punished; Best Teams In Quarterfinals?

June 29, 2010

Seven of the eight group winners have qualified to the quarterfinals. Ghana are the only second placed team that beat group winners USA. In hindsight, the England group was generally quite poor and I’ve a feeling teams like Serbia, Ivory Coast, and some others will be ruing their luck that they didn’t get such a group.

One could say that the best teams have qualified as the group winners are through and Ghana certainly did enough to merit their place. The counter argument would be that the draw made a big difference and teams like Portugal would certainly have qualified if they had played the likes of Slovakia, Japan, South Korea, USA or such others.

I have no sympathy for Portugal. They are a pathetic team clearly built in the Mourinho mould. It was shameful the way they’ve played in this tournament. Surely, a team ranked as high as 3rd has to do more for the sport. Over the course of the tournament I’ve supported the tactics of teams like Switzerland, New Zealand, and the other smaller nations (smaller in footballing terms). But nothing can make me respect Portugal (nothing against the people or fans of Portugal, they deserve better).

When such teams score a fluke or win a couple of big games the winner worshipers laud the manager as a genius. When it doesn’t come off it just turns into an intolerable display that ruins the reputation of the sport and saddens fans worldwide, especially the neutrals.

Anyway, I’m very happy Ronaldo is out. He is the kind of player who encourages such tactics because of his highly individual style of play. Another reason I’m glad Portugal are out is because most of their players use dirty and cheap tricks all the time. From a neutral point of view watching Portugal is like watching a disease spread. Good riddance.

Spain, for their part, didn’t get their tactics right in the first half. Both Villa and Iniesta were playing on the left and it was too easy for Portugal to defend in just one quarter of the pitch. While discussing the loss against Switzerland I had mentioned that Del Bosque should use Llorente in such games because of his presence in the box. Thankfully, the Spanish manager did replace the ineffective Torres in the second half and immediately Spain looked more dangerous.

I’m not sure whether the goal was off-side or not. Hopefully it was; that will only add to the misery of Queiroz and his tedious bunch.

Portugal couldn’t create anything of note in the last half hour or so. What could they have done when the manager had packed the side with defensive minded journeymen, and their talisman is a guy who can’t really succeed when teamwork is required?!

In contrast, David Villa has shown he can play in different positions and has a lot of variety to his game. Our strikers and wing players would do well to develop shooting skills similar to the latest Barcelona recruit.

In the other game Paraguay went through on penalties as both teams failed to score in two hours of football. I didn’t watch that one as it was highly predictable.

In other news, after a long time there is some movement on the Arsenal front. It seems the “secret” signing of Koscielny is on the verge of completion and hopefully we will have a few more incomings. I think irrespective of whether Campbell stays or leaves we need at least another defender capable of playing midfield. I’ll discuss the transfer thoughts in details once we run out of football.


Van Persie Struggles, Argentina – Mexico Best Game So Far, Brazil Imperious

June 28, 2010

I’d great expectations from Van Persie. I thought he could be a big player at this World Cup. So far, except for the dead rubber against Cameroon, he has been rather disappointing. The Dutchman had a very poor outing against Slovakia, although in fairness, one could say that the whole Dutch team looked out of sorts. It was as if they were already thinking about Brazil and took the field only to get a formality out of the way.

They got an early goal via a Robben special and fell asleep after that. Van Persie had a few half chances but he didn’t make the most of any. Most of the Oranje possession was in defensive areas as can be seen from their passing stats. Even the Keeper Stekelenburg completed more passes than Sneijder, Kuyt, Robben or Van Persie!

Slovakia just didn’t have enough to cause an upset. Their striker Vittek had a couple of good moments but couldn’t beat the keeper until the last minute penalty. More than anything, the Italians must be wondering how they managed to lose to this Slovakian side.

The Dutch haven’t been on top form and will really struggle against Brazil if they continue in this manner. The Selecao were dismissive of the Chilean challenge. While not quite their entertaining best, Dunga’s team have managed to score a number of goals while playing some pragmatic football. They look like one of the most balanced teams in the competition and are clear favourites to reach the Final from their half of the draw. If they get past Holland they will face either Uruguay or Ghana in the Semis.

There is something about Brazil. Even when they are not playing well or aren’t dominating possession it always looks like they own the pitch. Even their defending has some class to it and the transition from defence to attack has been breathtaking at times.

I’m really hoping the Dutch get their act together; their quarter-final could turn into one of the most memorable games of all time. At times like these though, I try to keep my expectations in check. With the likes of Robben and Robinho on the pitch, it could also turn into a boring encounter if both teams are afraid of coming out. We’ve already seen that in the Brazil-Portugal game.

Talking about entertaining matches, I think the best one of the tournament so far was yesterday’s game between Argentina and Mexico. The Mexicans started brightly and were putting up a stiff challenge against their much fancied opponents. The key was their high pressing and quick ball movement.

Unfortunately for the El-Tri, they couldn’t find the finishing touch on one end and the linesman screwed them on the other. I still can’t believe how the Assistant Ref missed that off-side. If it had been a matter of inches it would have been acceptable, that kind of bad luck is part of the game. Once it’s a two yard decision the thoughts move from luck to incompetence to cheating and bribes.

To compound the Assistant’s error, those controlling the large screen showed the replays. It led to a great deal of argument and chaos on the pitch. The Mexicans lost their concentration and Osario made a fatal mistake as he lost the ball to Higuain right in front of his penalty area. It was always going to be tough to come back from a two goal deficit.

Tevez scored the third with a wonder strike and the new United recruit, Chicarito, got a consolation for the Mexicans. It was a wonderful turn and strike by the youngster and I’m looking forward to seeing him in the Premiership.

I was impressed by the way Argentina held back and defended their lead. They will need these skills and the discipline against the bigger teams as they have a tough road to the final.

I’m also enjoying the spirit of the Argentineans. They look like they are really enjoying their game and cherish being on the field, playing some attractive football. Their spirit reminds me of the Arsenal team at the start of the 07-08 Season. Let’s hope they end the tournament better than the way we ended that Season.

Maradona might have his weaknesses but he is certainly getting the best out of a talented bunch of players. Thankfully, he has also managed their egos quite well so far. The same cannot be said for some of his counterparts who’ve failed miserably.

In tomorrow’s games, Paraguay take on Japan and there is a classic in the offing as Spain clash with Portugal.

I think Japan will defend better than Paraguay and can nick it on set-pieces. There won’t be much to see or talk about in that game.

Spain’s battle with Portugal will be exciting from a tactical point of view. We can be quite sure that Carlos Queiroz will send his team out to defend and play on the counter. It’s also a given that Del Bosque will persist with the attractive style that makes Spain such a joy to watch.

Will Spain have enough to break down a resolute Portuguese defence or will Ronaldo score one on the counter? I think the key to unlock Portugal is with Fabregas. He might not start but I’m convinced he will have to play a crucial part late on if Spain are to progress. Can’t wait for that one.


England Need Arsene As “Minister Of Football”

June 27, 2010

Germany have clinically decimated, dismantled and despatched a hapless English side that was hyped up as potential champions by many clueless pundits.

I can’t tell you how happy I am. Words fail me. Over the years England, in my mind, have come to represent everything anti-Arsenal. I know this is not fair to thousands of true gooners from England and trust me I don’t count them when I write this. They are the exceptions that prove the rule.

The reason I feel this way is that almost the entire English set-up is completely contradictory to the Arsenal way. We all know how the pundits hate us, how the media (except a few balanced writers) is largely anti-Arsenal, how most managers promote a style that doesn’t leave us a leg to stand on, and how some so called Arsenal fans criticize their own team for failing to be English! And I’m not even getting into the refs or the FA and other authorities.

This goes on season after season. Arsenal do things the right way; manage finances, develop young players, play brilliant football, compete at the highest level, and act responsibly in all activities be it transfers, or community development, or any other.

There is only one stick to beat Arsenal with really – No Trophies. In order to use this stick one has to lose all sense of perspective (move to the stadium, financial constraints, artificially inflated transfer fees, insane wages, etc). Not only that, one would also need a supporting cast of specious arguments like – No English spine, Can’t handle the physical game, and so on.

Essentially, all the genuine, practical, and relevant details have to be ignored and vague, hollow, and baseless arguments (that might sound intelligent to some who don’t want to see what’s really going on) need to emphasized. Isn’t that the real problem with English football?

I like to think of myself as a student of the game because I genuinely believe that is the only way to develop one’s understanding. In contrast, I find there are too many experts in the English game. People who pretend to be know-it-alls, who change their tune based on the results and not on the details of what actually happened.

For instance, this is what Alan Hansen said after this game,

On the whole (David) James was England’s best player, for the keeper to be the best player in a performance like that is unusual. It was shambolic.

Seriously, what is he talking about!? James’ technique for the second goal was very poor (Watch some Almunia one-on-one saves to see how it’s done). And what was he doing for the third goal? Look at his arms, it was as if he was trying to protect his body instead of making himself big. He could have done much better for the first goal as well.

If such comments were one-off I wouldn’t say anything. But the truth is that most pundits and football writers in England talk exactly the same way. Worse still, most of the comments are affected by results. If Germany had not been clinical with their two counter attacks and the game had finished at 2-1, these pundits would be talking about how England were robbed by the linesman and how FIFA is impotent and archaic. The problems with the team would have been forgotten and they would have been hailed as heroes for fighting a corrupt system.

It may be that the media is the same everywhere but I don’t understand Italian, German, Spanish or any other language so I can’t comment on that. If you have a perspective on this please do share.

I don’t really care about English football but since it affects Arsenal continually and we are an integral part I end up thinking about it anyway.

The way I see it, England needs Arsene (or someone like him) to control every football related aspect.

It’s not that the English players are bad. Some of them are world class. But the grass roots level of coaching is certainly not very good in England. I haven’t been there but it’s really obvious from the way the mid-table and bottom half clubs play.

Watch the way Germany brought the ball out for their two counter attacks. See how composed each and every player was even though some of them are really young. Can you imagine this from players like Barry, Milner, et al?

I like to think of these players (Lennon, Barry, Milner, James, etc) as the Redknapp level footballers. They are good players. If you put them in a team of fighters they will keep battling and will get some results, might even nick a trophy if luck goes their way. But these players will never produce consistent, top quality football and will never beat the best teams (Check Redknapp’s record against United, Arsenal, Chelsea).

Just see how Barry was exposed when Ozil skipped past him before setting up the third goal. It reminds me of Denilson against Sidibe. How can anyone say Barry is any better than Denilson?

Of course, there is an immediate counter argument that if the Arsenal player isn’t much better than how can I say everything that I’ve said. The answer is that it’s a complex world and the financial constraints on Arsene have really forced his hand. If he makes the choice of spending a quarter of the money on Denilson than he would have to on someone like Barry, we have to except it’s a brilliant piece of business. This is where perspective is so important; we need to see all the variables that affect a decision. The inflated value of Barry clearly illustrates the actions of the hype machine.

Just like the players, all the football writers and commentators need some fundamental training. Many of them are gifted writers as far as language is concerned but few actually understand the nuances of the game. These people are important because they shape public opinion. They also have a big impact on the way players play. If Shawcross is a hero, what do you think youngsters will learn? How do you think managers will approach a game? Can you imagine a young English manager having the guts to develop a technical team? He would be massacred the moments a few results go awry.

Even the administrators need to learn from Arsene. What’s the point of the Carling Cup? Wouldn’t it be much more beneficial to everyone if it was a youth competition, or maybe along the lines of the Olympics with three senior players allowed? Isn’t that much more likely to improve the quality of the youth? This is just one example, I’m sure Arsene can give ten or more radical ideas that will improve the quality of youth football.

Wenger has taken Arsenal to a whole new level with the Stadium, training facilities, countless innovations, and amazing football resulting in financial progress and memorable results like the invincibles. I feel England need a visionary like him to redefine all aspects of football if they want to emulate the other giants of world football.

Question is, can they get out of the intricate, self-deceiving web of unjustified hype and misplaced glory?


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