Before Saturday, I remained undecided on whether or not FIFA should add two more officials to the mix. But since England won the surreal penalty against Slovenia, I find myself tipping in the direction of adding the extra officials.
In one of the more eye-popping Did-That-Really-Just-Happen moments I’ve seen in a while, Wayne Rooney managed to win a penalty after tugging on his Slovenian marker’s shirt, losing his balance and falling to the ground. When the whistle blew, I was certain the ref must be pointing the other way: giving Slovenia the kick for Rooney’s tug. But the announcers were telling me England won a penalty out it. Was the Slovenian being punished for having a shirt made of such resiliant material it was able to pull Wayne Rooney to the ground?
As a neutral watching a friendly I found the incident disgusting and amusing at the same time.
If it had been a match that mattered I might have been more outraged, if only for the principle of the thing. But since the match outcome doesn’t get anybody into or knock anybody out of the World Cup, I allowed myself to be whistfully baffled.
Despite the inconsequential aspects of the penalty (which England converted), it still begs us to raise our eyebrows and ask if we need the extra officials.
If it can happen in a friendly, it can happen in a match that counts. It might be chalked up to incompetence in this case. If I was under the impression that Rooney had tugged the shirt before the replay even occured while watching the match on a 19-inch screen in my apartment in Boston, it seems the linesman or the ref should have been able to spot this infringement from his spot on the pitch. If not, I say it’s time to add those extra sets of eyes.
The whole idea is to have another official at each end of the pitch to keep watch over the area around the goal. There’s so much potential for that game-changing moment in and around the box. I’m not just talking about goals themselves (did the ball cross the goal-line, did it not, was that a penalty or a fair tackle, etc) but the moments like adjudging whether or not the ball went off a defender or an attacker turn into the difference between a corner and a goal kick, between a defensive or offensive throw in. Taken right these can be as dangerous goal-scoring chances as a free-kick just outside the box. Another pair of eyes at each end can help with these distinctions and help insure that matches are determined by tactics and play rather than by incidence and missed calls.
Football just might be the world’s tensest game. Low-scoring matches can hinge on that extra chance on goal. In the attacking thirds, the tension mounts. The attackers push the defenders back like a giant spring pushed against a wall. Will things snap with a goal? Will the spring explode outward with a clearance? With everyone wound up in these moments tackles often get rash. Play gets dicy. Traffic builds. The linesman and the ref cannot always keep up with everything.
The two extra officials could be the insurance policy the game needs. They can feed additional information to the head referee. The look from another angle. That extra take on things. If the linesman didn’t get back to the right position in time… if the head official didn’t have the right vantage… there’s another official with a chance to get a clear look at the play.
It won’t solve everything, but adding the officials can cut down on those Did-That-Really-Just-Happen moments. I look forward to seeing what the test-run of extra eyes in the Europa cup yields.
Sidenote: remind me never to play poker against Wayne Rooney. He had the blankest face after he went down. Inside he must have been screaming: How did I just get away with that!!