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Roker Ramble: Men In Black

Commentators, Referees And Pundits - there's an acronym in there somewhere.

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I'm tired of poor refereeing. I'm tired of the inconsistencies and the implications, of biased and incorrect decisions that Stevie Wonder would raise an eyebrow at. I'm tired of the way it can ruin a game and become the major talking point about it afterwards. I'm tired of the attitude of the governing bodies that have refused to endorse change for the better. And I'm tired of a game that's becoming so valuable to clubs yet is so reliant on the performance of three individuals who cannot possibly hope to get every decision right.

Because that is what the game needs and deserves - getting every decision right and until we can either achieve that or something close to it, then the game, despite all it's global success will remain fundamentally unfair. Last season, if Newcastle had beaten Aston Villa in their penultimate game as they should have done, then the decision to disallow Watmore's goal against Watford for offside would have relegated us. A decision that the replay would have immediately shown to be incorrect but with no mechanism to appeal - we would now be in the Championship.

And it's not good enough to say that the errors equal themselves out over the course of the season, that's naive and an excuse to hide from the reality of the situation.

The answer is of course a ‘video referee'. The game is covered on more cameras than the Bigg Market on a Saturday night, and it's pure insanity that they're not used in conjunction with the referee to validate game-changing decisions where necessary. Both hockey and rugby union have embraced the use of cameras, so why hasn't football learnt from this?

Because FIFA have always resisted change, arguing it would threaten the universality and simplicity of football and the pace of the game, as well as removing some of the controversy and debate between fans. I for one, didn't realise that complaining about a useless or biased referee who has just screwed you out of a result was one of the games great attractions. He was a far sighted man, Sepp Blatter, lets hope his cell has a window.

But all may be about to change. Earlier this year, Sepp's replacement, Gianni Infantino gave the green light for trials in the use of video assistant referees, and last week it was introduced for the Eredivisie league game between Ajax and Willem II. More tests are set to follow in different competition formats in Australia, Brazil, Germany, Portugal and the United States, with discussions also taking place about introducing it in England and Scotland.

This is great news and a real step forward. Hopefully within a couple of seasons discussion about the outcome of a game can purely surround the performance of the team, and not how it was influenced by the people trying to moderate it.

Which is going to give the commentators something less to talk about, and that's got to be a good thing. I listen to a lot of games on the radio and it's a tough gig for a commentator. To take such a visual spectacle and transmit the action and excitement into an audio experience really takes some skill - although they could be making it all up, you wouldn't know would you, and if they don't reference some part of the pitch in every sentence then I have no idea what they're talking about.

By comparison, the TV game must be plain sailing. All they have to do is set the context for the game - ‘it's twenty years since Wenger took over at Arsenal', ‘this is Tony Pulis' one thousandth game as a manager', etc, tell us the names of the players and off you go. But these days it's all about adding value and commentators can't help but help out.

‘I think Ronald Koeman will have one or two things to say at half-time to Everton' (John Motson). You think? ‘He'll be disappointed he hasn't hit the target with that' (Steve Wilson), implying that skying the ball over an open goal from five yards may have yielded him great satisfaction instead. ‘Required a pretty decent save from Courtois because the ball appeared to be moving'.(Steve Wilson) Yep, the moving ones are the tricky ones.

Which brings us to the pundits. ‘Pundit' is a 17th century Sanskrit word meaning ‘Learned One', and given that most if not all pundits are former professional players or managers, then the title is surely deserved? It depends on the context. Most of us watch Match of the Day, and the pundits on there are shackled, they have perhaps 90 seconds to describe the bad refereeing decisions and play with the graphics before the next game is rolled out. It's a waste of their time, and largely of ours, the game is reduced to a few minutes and they have little opportunity to fully explain anything.

Because what I want to hear from pundits is the background and set-up to the game - how one team is going to adapt to playing the other, what they're looking to exploit, to counter, what tactics they're going to employ, what will have been said in the dressing room - in other words what they experienced as professionals and can now bring to the table.

Pundits come into their own in live games, where there's time around the event for a proper discussion, where the whole game is shown and themes can be followed in real time. There's time for debate, argument and opinion and not just formulated sound bites.

We all watch the game, we don't need to be told what we're watching . We don't need to be told that a player is playing like Lionel Messi when we can see it's more like Lionel Ritchie. What we want to have explained and what would add value, is being told what to look for rather than what we can see.

I've been wondering why a player taking the corner holds his arm up just before he kicks it. Presumably it means more than ‘I'm going to kick it now so you should get ready'? I thought it might signal a predetermined cross, a definite move rehearsed and honed to perfection on the training pitch, but then having watched the same players take lots of different corners, this is plainly not the case.

And there are variations - some players fling both arms up simultaneously just before kicking, reminiscent of the ‘whoah' part of the hokey-cokey which was always my favourite bit, but this seems equally random with corners being sprayed across most of the final third using the same gesticulation.

The only consistent link I can recall is having watched Seb for years, and his routine never changes, fiddles with his laces, gazes wistfully into the middle distance, holds up one arm and then clips it neatly onto the head of the first defender who clears it down field. Works every time.

I've been accused of focusing on Ibrahimovic too much in previous articles, of being obsessed - it was said that I'm suffering from 'Zlatanitis' . I don't wish to be picky but the correct medical term for an excess of Ibrahimovic is 'Zlatanosis'. 'Zlatanitis' merely means one's Ibrahimovic has become inflamed. Important to get these things right I feel.

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