There is a fundamental disconnect between the way that the game of football is played and the way that the game of football is viewed. On the pitch, there’s one referee and two linesmen. Players like Diego Costa wait until they know the official isn’t looking and then they do things to the opposition players, like smack them in the face. Watch the entire foul Costa commits on Koscielny, he is watching Mike Dean, the official, to make sure Dean doesn’t see it and then he hits Koscielny in the face.
— 7amkickoff (@7amkickoff) September 19, 2015
This is what I mean by a fundamental disconnect. We, the viewers, get to see this behavior replayed a thousand times moments after it happens. People in the stands and most critically the officials, don’t get to see the replay until after the match is over.
Dean doesn’t see what actually happened but he is still forced to make a decision because a fracas breaks out. He didn’t see that Costa struck an opponent in the face, twice. He sees Gabriel step in to protect a teammate and acts on the second melee, correctly showing yellow cards to both players. But had he seen the first incident, Diego Costa would have been sent off and the entire situation would have been defused. Instead, Costa stays on and knowing that he’s inside Gabriel’s head, he turns the screw. Gabriel reacts, Costa and Fabregas demand that Gabriel is sent off, and now, with all eyes on the pair, the linesman finally sees something and Gabriel is sent off.
But the injustice is that Costa shouldn’t have been there to wind Gabriel up. If Costa was properly dealt with, Arsenal would have played with 11 men and Chelsea with 10. Instead it was the other way round and Arsenal lost a game that they probably should have won.
It’s such a clear case of injustice that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger challenged Dean and the FA to watch the tapes again and see if they stand by their decisions over Gabriel and Costa:
“I would like them, especially Mike Dean, to look at the whole action that happened during the game and see if he stands for his decision.”
Video replay would have absolutely solved this problem and prevented the injustice. But sadly, the FA and PGMOL (the group that runs the officials in the Premier League) have their heads in the sand and refuse to “re-referee” matches by using post-match video technology to punish players like Costa. And the game’s governing body, FIFA, just last Spring rejected Holland’s application to run a trial of video technology pushing any chance of in-match video refereeing to 2018.
I know all of the arguments against video technology: it will slow play down, it will be difficult to stop play, and there are questions about how to restart the game after video technology is used. Ostensibly this is why FIFA rejected Holland’s application to use video replay. Those are legitimate concerns and issues that need to be addressed before the widespread use of video technology.
But what about fights? They don’t happen very often and when they do they are usually incorrectly punished. In other words, the officials rarely get to see what happens to instigate the fight and rather react to the reaction and then the officials typically end up punishing the guy who retaliates. Using video technology to get the calls right regarding fights would not disrupt the flow of the game, wouldn’t be difficult to restart, and would clean up the injustices that occur when the wrong players are sent off.
Just like the way that FIFA allowed the use of goal line technology to get those very few calls right, they should allow the use of video technology to make sure that they are policing fights properly. Fights have no place in the game and they need to be punished properly with the instigators severely sanctioned.
But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for FIFA to implement any video technology. This is an organization which rakes in millions of dollars every year. Until players sue them for their negligence on the video technology issue, they have no incentive to change.
However, the Football Association can implement rules that circumvent the FIFA rules and introduce post-match review. Major League Soccer introduced post-match video replay to punish divers and other misdeeds back in 2011. Not only does MLS review their own matches but MLS players are subject to MLS post-match review for non-MLS matches. Clint Dempsey was banned for 3 MLS games when he tore up a referee’s notebook in a US Open Cup match. This is the equivalent of the Premier League reviewing a player’s conduct in a UEFA Cup match and suspending him from Premier League matches as a result.
Currently the FA hides behind a loophole in regards to video technology: they won’t review an incident unless none of the officials saw what happened (or if it’s spectacularly heinous like when Ben Thatcher elbowed Pedro Mendes). If both Mike Dean and all of his assistants say that they didn’t see Diego Costa strike Laurent Koscielny, then and only then will the FA act.
I understand that the FA wants to stand by their referees and refuses to second guess them. But we fans have seen time and again how the referees get these calls wrong and then the FA will say, “well the referee saw the incident” so by refusing to acknowledge the mistakes, the FA are actually making their referees look worse. The FA are standing by referees who are publicly saying that they got the calls wrong. It’s almost as if they feel like two wrongs make a right.
Unfortunately all of this is hypothetical. As of right now, the FA won’t be introducing post-match video any time soon and FIFA seems a long way off allowing any type of video replay, even for fights which seems like such a simple change that they could do it overnight if they wanted. Arsenal fans and Chelsea fans are going to be left waiting to hear from Mike Dean about whether he saw Diego Costa slapping Laurent Koscielny.
I hope, for Dean’s sake, that he didn’t see the incident. Because imagine the level of incompetence required to see Diego Costa slap Laurent Koscielny, twice, and not even consider it a foul? That would be worse than the incident itself. And if the FA has a referee in their midst who can’t get that kind of call right, and they stand by that referee, English football is in real danger of becoming about as believable as professional wrestling.