Last weekend saw a scuffle and a rather bizarre red card, though 3,000 miles west of where you might have thought.
In the dying minutes of Orlando City’s defeat to New York Red Bulls, a melee broke out between players of both sides. After the dust had settled, match official Jorge Gonzalez consulted the Video Assistant Referee, the system having been brought into the MLS earlier this summer.
When he returned Gonzalez brought with him a red card for ex-Milan superstar Kaka, much to the player’s bewilderment.
Replays showed the player grabbing the face of opponent Aurelien Collin from behind. But instead of this being an act of aggression, it was a piece of playful banter from the Brazilian, which was confirmed by Collin smiling back at his friend and former team-mate.
Gonzalez was unmoved. Laying down the letter of the law, he sent Kaka packing, sparking another debate around the controversial system.
Over 24 hours earlier, across the other side of the Atlantic, a similar situation saw a referee working without the aid of video assistance produce a hotly debated red card of his own.
Ryan Jack was ordered off during a highly charged clash between Rangers and Hibs after the Gers midfielder appeared to thrust his head into Anthony Stokes. As pointed out by Kris Commons on Sportsound the following night, the angle from behind showed Jack clearly putting his head into his opponent. However, the side-on angle showed nothing approaching a headbutt. Under the rules, an incident which can be construed as violent conduct can be ignored by the official if the contact is “negligible”, which it looked from the side, but not from behind.
The Beautiful Game has long been criticised for its hesitancy in embracing the assistance of video replays. Rugby, cricket, MLB, NBA, NFL, they all incorporated technology to aid officials long before football considered following suit. However, such reticence wasn’t just a stubborn resistance to change.
Goal-line technology and offside decisions are black-and-white, right or wrong calls, but so much of the football rule book is open to interpretation. NFL may have implemented instant replay years ago, but it still isn’t used to judge penalties such as holding or pass interference. As commentators will tell you, there’s a degree of holding on just about every play from offensive lineman, while pass interference can go either way if receiver and cornerback are both engaging in contact before the ball arrives.
The same is true of the NBA. Video assistance lets referees know for sure who the last player was to touch the ball before it went out of bounds, or if a shot was a two-pointer or a three-pointer. But it’s not there to help them decide whether two players colliding together is a charge (offensive foul) or an blocking foul (defensive).
Calls for video technology are growing. Fans want referees to get the correct decision. But the truth of the matter is, when it comes to yellow and red cards, and even penalty kicks, fans are not going to always get the decision they think their team deserves, even if the system is used to judge those aspects of the game.
Looking back at the 1-1 draw between Celtic and Rangers at Parkhead last season. Leigh Griffiths, advancing on goal, appeared to be brought down by Clint Hill inside the penalty area. Referee Boddy Madden waved play on. Celtic fans were incensed, and understandably so. Replays appeared to show Hill going through the striker to get a touch on the ball. Ex-whistler Charlie Richmond, though, said he thought Madden got the decision correct in his column for the Daily Record. It’s up to the interpretation of the individual. Two referees can sit and analyse a decision for half an hour and still come away with different opinions at the end of it.
That’s not to say it shouldn’t implemented. Anything to help referees, if it can be done properly without detracting from our love of the game, should be seriously looked at. But it won’t eradicate controversy.