Video Technology: It's Not Always Black & White

Mike Hewitt

There were a handful of "controversial" decisions in Sunderland's victory over Chelsea this weekend that proved video technology is not always the answer.

Remember when goal line technology was introduced to the Premier League? Remember how it was going to save the Premier League from dreadful decisions? Can you count how many times it's been used since it was brought in? I can't, so infrequently has it been employed. For all of the outrage surrounding "did the ball cross the line?" moments, they actually don't happen that often.

I suppose the argument is - or rather was - if technology could be utilised to prevent things as obvious as a goal not being given when the ball hadn't crossed the line, then why not use it? It's a pretty instantaneous decision, quickly relayed to the referee without fuss. The problem I always had with the idea of bringing any form of technology is, where would it end?

The ball crossing the line is pretty much a black or white decision. It either did or it didn't. A goal should be given or it shouldn't. There's no interpretation. Since its introduction and subsequent lack of use, the media and fans have had to find something else to focus their outrage on. The relative redundancy of goal line technology thus far has actually led to a clamour for more technology to be used, rather than less.

There have been calls for video technology to be introduced to decide whether players have been fouled in the box or for red cards to be issued when the referee has missed acts of off the ball violence. One such recent example came at Upton Park when Andy Carroll clearly fouled Simon Mignolet, only for a subsequently scored goal to be allowed to stand.

That was a monumentally poor piece of decision making by the referee, only magnified by his decision to consult and then overrule his assistant, who had spotted the foul and flagged it. In this instance, a quick look at the screen would have cleared things up. There was absolutely no doubt that Carroll had fouled Mignolet. The major surprise was that the referee didn't protect the goalkeeper; they often get given free kicks for less.

However, fast forward to this weekend just gone and our victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and the argument for video technology falls foul of incidents that are less black and white, more monochrome. Jose Mourinho may have seethed at Mike Dean's decision to give Sunderland a penalty after Cesar Azpilicueta was deemed to have felled Jozy Altidore in the box, but the referee was well within his rights to point to the spot.

That said, I don't think it was a foul. I don't think Altidore cheated either. I just think he put his foot down in a slightly unnatural position after losing balance, which initiated the contact with Chelsea's sliding Spanish defender. Others have viewed the incident and said it was a nailed on penalty. Just watch any number of Premier League review shows this weekend and you'll see pundits giving an opinion on it, but with no consensus as to whether or not it was a foul.

Some say yes, others no, each having seen the incident from several angles and in slow motion. Dean and his linesman had a split second decision and in the opinion of a significant number of supporters, pundits, experts and writers, they got it correct. In fact, the only reason it's been made such an issue of is Mourinho's hysterical, pantomime post match reaction. Would video technology have cleared this up and given the Portuguese tactician the verdict he wanted? Maybe, but it would have depended who was watching the monitor.

The same goes for another controversial moment in the match; Dean's decision not to award Chelsea a penalty for a foul by Sebastian Larsson on Ramires, when the Brazilian was in front of goal and about to head the ball into an empty net. Strangely, some pundits described this moment as an excellent piece of defending. It looked a blatant foul to me.

Indeed, the only key incident that video technology could have cleared up in the game was to alert Dean to Ramires' forearm smash on Sebastian Larsson. Had he been notified, the referee could then have rightly sent the Chelsea man off. That was clear cut.

Otherwise, like most things in football, incidents create debate. Sometimes there's simply no definitive view. In fact, most of the time there's not. Just as we view players' performances differently to one another as supporters, referees also interpret challenges differently to each other. A video replay does not produce a decision, the person - or persons - watching it do. Do they have a more correct opinion than the man with the whistle and cards out there on the pitch? Or would video technology just open another can of worms, slow the game down and give more cause for people to be outraged about the state of officialdom?

I for one have no problem with things staying just as they are. The current system might not be perfect, but it works at all levels - could a League 2 club afford to provide multi angle replays for every incident of note? - and the pace of the game is retained. Progress is only progress when it can be shared by everyone. Football is a sport loved by all and playable by anyone at any level in almost any location. More technology simply increases the disparity between the elite at the top and those left to scramble around at the bottom. Money, as ever, dictates what's important.

Given that video technology couldn't clear up two significant incidents in one game this weekend, I think that's evidence enough to leave the decisions to the man in the middle. By all means berate the referee when he gets it wrong - it'd be remiss of us as supporters not to - and indeed, were his decision making powers stripped away and handed to a man with a screen, out of sight and of mind, who would we blame then if things didn't go our way? Technology can be a tool and a useful one at that, but personality and emotion are just as important - if not more so - and football is a human game after all. Let's keep it that way.

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