2016: Football’s new year’s resolution?

Argentina’s Lanus footballers argue with Ecuadorean referee Roddy Zambrano (C) during the Copa Sudamericana 2014 match against Paraguay’s Cerro Porteno. Photo credit:JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)

Alert: If you have no interest in football, stop here!

An annual Christmas pleasure is spending time with my Evertonian in-laws. This year gave us an absorbing game against Stoke (match report here) decided, as you may recall, by a controversial penalty in stoppage time. Roberto Martinez must be one of the most civilised men in football, so his outrage was all the more telling!

Surely it is now time to try and fix the increasingly costly consequences of bad decisions. And as we look back on 2015, I do think we can import some aspects from other sports into the nation’s favourite.

So how about giving a form of  rugby’s “TMO” or cricket’s “DRS” a go?  Just for a trial season, just for penalty area incidents. And just limited to two “appeals” for each manger per 90 minutes. We have the technology.  The other rules of the game could accommodate the interruption with minimal adjustment.

I say “interruption” but look at the benefits – not just of improved decision-making, but in how the game is played.  We acknowledge that referees are human and can occasionally make mistakes.  But in allowing   a limited challenge, we support their authority, not undermine it.

When you are thinking  about the thoroughly distasteful but endemic  “crowding”  of referees  by players, anything to give the  man in black (forgive the stereotype,  which  I know is increasingly  outdated) the respect and space  to do  the job  is surely worth considering.

Also I would take the opportunity to go further.  If part of the role of the TMO is to diffuse controversy on the pitch, why not make improvements in player behaviour also part of the trial.  No crowding of the ref.  Discussion through the captain, not everyone. A much lower thresh-hold for dissent-related yellow and red cards. And in return, as a meaningful gesture to greater transparency, let’s put a mic on the ref. That seems to work very well elsewhere!

I’m by no means alone is wrestling with this issue.  George Riley wrote well on it in 2011 (read his blog here) So it is not unthinkable. Yes, there would be a few more cards over the first two or three games next season, but people will soon get the idea!

In return we get a better game and better role-models.  Investors can be more confident of getting a fair return for their input.  Gamesmanship diminishes and skill levels should predominate.

Time to wake up Simon, I hear you say – but the above is achievable if enough of us want it. The custodians of the rules are not hermetically insulated from the rest of us.  Why shouldn’t we expect and insist that the game not only confronts its problems but does so with zeal and imagination?

A happy new year to all!

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