Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Life of Riley

"If, in the opinion of the referee, a player who is moving towards his opponents' goal with an obvious opportunity to score a goal is intentionally and physically impeded by unlawful means, i.e. an offence punishable by a free-kick (or a penalty-kick), thus denying the attacking player's team the aforesaid goal-scoring opportunity, the offending player shall be sent off the field of play for serious foul play in accordance with Law XII (n)."

Having landed back in New York after ten days in Florida (and a nasty late dose of heatstroke), I took myself off to the pub for some punishment at the hands of Arsenal. Leaving the apartment was not difficult thanks to universal and sleep-inducing TV coverage over here for the late President Gerald Ford (a.k.a. the only President never to have won a election). I think I finally understood it by the end though.....anyone watching the pictures would eventually turn desperately to drink, and then to his wife Betty's clinics for expensive help.

Despite Arsenal's iffy Premiership form, once I saw Thierry Henry's name on the teamsheet I feared the worst even more. However having just about clung to a 0-0 scoreline, it was frustrating to see the game completely ended as a contest after just thirty minutes thanks to some ridiculous refereeing from Mike Riley.

I cannot deny that Sankofa was guilty of conceding a penalty, but to claim that he denied Van Persie a goal-scoring opportunity is a total nonsense. After Scott Carson had somehow tipped a deflected shot onto the crossbar, Sankofa needlessly tugged at Van Persie. It was needless because El Karkouri was always going to get to the rebound first anyhow, hence a goalscoring opportunity was not denied although a foul was conceded. The theatrical flourish with which Riley brandished the red card suggested the decision was as much about pleasing the 57,000-odd Arsenal fans than implementing the FIFA laws above.

Until now I had tended to view the introduction of video replays as unnecessary, and perhaps just a little, you know....American. However having seen how the the restricted but fair use of video challenges worked well at the US Open tennis (thanks to 'Hawk Eye' technology), I am now strongly in favour of its gradual introduction.

By way of reminder, players were permitted two challenges per set (plus an extra challenge per tie-break) with correct challenges not removed from the player's subsequent entitlement. Not surprisingly perhaps, most matches did not witness the maximum no. of challenges because a) players know only too well that most challenges would not be worthwhile, and b) a second rejected challenge during a set may result in a player losing the option to challenge a later and more important call.

The end result of course was that everyone was happy....both players, the fans and the umpire (who avoided the ignominy of a McEnroe-esque tantrum). Indeed, the showing of the challenged call on the big-screens added to the enjoyment of the spectacle (funny what happens when you treat fans like adults).

If introduced, it is vital to balance the importance of fairness with the sport's natural fluidity. I would initially recommend limiting each manager to one official 'video challenge' per game. The challenge can be with regard to any aspect of the game from trivial disputed throw-ins to vital goalline decisions. If the decision is with regard to a decision not given (ie. a free-kick) then the manager makes his challenge, play continues until the ball is dead and then the video is reviewed and play potentially taken back.

Although some of these decisions may be matters of opinion (free-kicks) as opposed to fact (goalline decisions), the ultimate arbiter (ie. the video referee) would be a current of former referee whose decision the challenger must agree to respect (from my experience, few of these decisions are actually difficult to make with enough camera angles anyhow). If a definitive decision cannot be made within say 90 seconds then the challenge is assumed to have been rejected. If a challenge is rejected, then no more challenges are permitted for the remainder of the game. If the challenge is accepted, then further (correct) challenges are permitted up to say a maximum of three per match.

Hence a manager will not simply be challenging every trivial disputed free-kick because they would run the risk of losing the right to challenge a later more important decision if wrong. Also a challenge should only be made immediately after the incident in question (ie. that disputed Fulham free-kick had to be challenged immediately, not solely after it resulted in a goal).

I would prefer the type of system above that puts the onus upon managers/coaches rather than one that gives the referee the responsibility of referring decisions to a video referee. I'd feel happier if say Alan Pardew was forced to admit in a post-match interview that he takes responsbility for the Fulham equaliser because he 'wasted' a challenge earlier in the game.

The problem with the a referee-led system is that the ultimate egotists like Graham Poll would have total self-belief and refuse to refer, whilst matches refereed by the unassured likes of Andy D'Urso might never finish. The technology exists, we all head straight from the game and onto Sky Sports News or YouTube to review the decisions, so why do the authorities bury their heads in the sand?

Anyhow having said all that, we were unlikely to take much from tonight's game so there's not much point dwelling on this particular decision. The frustration was that after thirty minutes it was almost pointless as a Charlton fan watching the rest of the game, and predictably it proved to be the case. It was a bit like catching your wife in bed with another bloke and then hanging around to watch.

Before I discuss the game, I must again express my displeasure regarding our away kit. It's ugly, it's difficult to pick out on TV (and I assume live also), and it has no relevance to our history. The sooner we return to a white or yellow away kit and stop allowing a work experience sixth-former to design our kits the better as far as I'm concerned.

Until Riley's decision that ended the contest we had looked well-organised albeit outclassed, Pardew perhaps surprisingly opting for a 4-5-1 that sacrificed a forward for a holding midfielder (Faye). Fabregas had already forced a fine save from Carson and Henry had headed against the post long before the penalty, but we had shown (faint) glimpses of promise with Rommedahl occasionally given space to roam then frustrate.

Thereafter it was all one-way traffic with the Addicks unable to mount a single worthwhile attacking foray, and only the brilliance of Carson prevented a Curbishley-esque West Ham scoreline. Indeed, this is a worthy juncture to salute our on-loan keeper who despite conceding 37 goals in 21 Premiership games, is currently odds-on to lift our Player of the Year trophy.

It is not only his performances under duress that have impressed, but his all-round attitude and body language also. It has been a wonderful loan-signing for all-concerned....Charlton clearly, Carson certainly and Liverpool probably (he's certainly been getting plenty of practice). Compare Carson's attitude to another young Englishman (Carlton Cole) who arrived full of promise but whose disinterested performances help to explain why his career is already heading downhill at the tender age of 23.

Other than Carson's heroics, it was hard to pick out any other Addicks for particular mention though I happened to think Diawara had a reasonable game, his attempt to swap shirts with Henry before the final whistle notwithstanding. Marcus Bent chased pointless long balls with less-than-complete commitment, whilst it took me at least an hour to realise Bryan Hughes had been substituted on 32 minutes such was his usual anonymity. Talal El Karkouri moved to right-back meanwhile after the aforementioned substitution, and reminded me at least that he might have enough about him to be more effective in that holding midfield postion than Amdy Faye.

We can take our minds off of Premiership survival for ten days now thanks to an FA Cup tie at two-time European Cup winners Nottingham Forest. I am not usually in favour of playing weakened sides, but in light of Darren Bent's injury (added to those of Andy Reid and Luke Young), I would back Pardew if he blooded some youngsters with one eye on the 'Boro game which we absolutely must win.


At 2:07 AM, Anonymous Romanian Addick said...

Hear, hear re the away kits, a real stinker, and the home one is not much better either, what's with the white shoulders, we've never had those, makes it look like an Arse kit wannabe.


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