How far can technology in football go, realistically?

Hawk-eye will be operating for the Premier League next season

With the Fifa approval of the goal-line technology ahead of the next Confederations Cup, followed by the Premier League clubs giving the thumbs up to its incorporation from next season, football takes its first steps into a new era with a general halo of agreement that proves that Michel Platini’s negative to implant the measurement in the Uefa competitions is just an inexplicable rant.

Even the old-school football top dogs and, in general, everyone with the mentality that ‘football is not the same as in the old days’ – often reluctant to any kind of evolution – have embraced the decision, leaving Platini on his own and fighting a lost battle with the poorest of the excuses: it’s too expensive.

At this stage it is perfectly clear that goal-line technology is needed and its implantation will be beneficial for football. But controversy arises when it comes to decide whether technology should be used to decide over other actions during the game. How far can we go using technology in football? What consequences would it have on the game as we know it nowadays?

We could admit that some important decisions that are, taken when the game is stopped, could be assisted by video replay without having a major impact on the pace of the game. For example, a player is down after a possible aggression and the referee has to stop the game. With simply another referee in front of a screen, the official could have information of what happened within seconds, and therefore act consequently.

It gets more complicated when it comes to decide over actions that will affect whether the game continues or not (i.e. a man goes down inside the box and the referee has to decide to give a penalty or carry on). In those cases, the teams would have to carry on playing until the game stops or the decision is communicated by radio.

The problem here is the subjectivity that many decisions imply. While deciding if the ball crossed the line or not doesn’t involve any assessment – sensors will cover that -, judging whether a challenge deserves a yellow or a red card can inevitably be attached to personal judgement. In numerous occasions we have been shown a replay from a hundred different angles and we still find it hard to decide.

It is in these situations where football, as it is now, could be affected. The idea of a relatively fast-paced sport could be blurred by the use of video replays to evaluate a controversial action. Besides, those who show their dis-conformity with the incorporation of technology in football rest their arguments in the difficulty of where to draw the line when deciding what actions should be decided by video.

Is a possible penalty worth a video assessment? Surely. And a hard challenge that could have injured a player? Of course. An offside position that ends up in a goal? The list could go on to the smallest of the debatable decisions, as all of them could result decisive in a punctual moment. Trying to rule what can or cannot be decided by replay could turn into a nightmare that only would bring controversy – one of the main things that technology should be aiming reduce.

The more reasonable step in this regard could be establishing a limit of actions that each team can recall, as it happens in tennis or American football. Giving the manager or the team captain the empowerment to decide when their team want an action to be reviewed would assure that the teams are acquiescent with when the game needs to be stopped, and setting a maximum of two or three recalls per game would guarantee its agility.

The fact that many decisions – even following the rules by the book – are subject to personal judgement is not reason enough to stop football from evolving. The controversial actions will remain controversial after a thousand replays, but the ones that are not should be judged fairly. There is too much in stake in football in these days for a goal, a game or a championship to be decided by a human error. Technology has to be there for when those human errors occur. After all, it doesn’t happen that often: many people would say ‘Hurst’, ‘Maradona’ and ‘Lampard’ if you asked them to name three.

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