Michel Platini should have been beaming last week.
After two sensational semi-finals, it’s now Bayern Munich against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley. A sellout German showdown in London on May 25; a feast of attacking football in prospect, not to mention the largest beer festival outside Bavaria. Uefa’s marketing department could not have asked for more.
Yet the Uefa president seemed troubled when he spoke to journalists in Lille on Friday. The reason? Bayern’s third goal in their 4-0 first-leg win against Barcelona, when Thomas Muller blocked Jordi Alba, allowing Arjen Robben to run on and score.
“I don’t believe nobody saw the foul,” said Platini. “I understand the error of the referee... But there were three international standard referees involved and none of them saw it. Something is not right.
“If the referee were on his own, he wouldn’t have seen it, and two might not have seen it either but, between three, they have to see it.”
Having rejected goal-line technology and pushed the solution of goal-line officials, Platini has been sufficiently embarrassed by this incident to suggest that conversations between officials during matches should from now on be recorded.
Technically there is no difficulty about doing this. However the proposal has to be discussed by Uefa, and by the officials themselves, so nothing will change for the two finals this month. The idea is to have a system in place in time for the new season.
So why go public now? After all, there have been other examples of officials missing or ignoring crucial incidents in the penalty area this season. In February Celtic had grounds for complaint after Juventus defenders constantly blocked and grabbed their players at set pieces. The Dortmund-Malaga quarter-final tie turned on some poor offside decisions.
Nevertheless Platini seems content that the present arrangements are working.
“In the Champions League, I’m very happy with the results (of a five-man team). Practically no mistakes have been made and the referees see practically everything that happens on the pitch.”
A cynical view is that Barcelona have a lot more influence at Uefa HQ than either Celtic or Malaga. True, but that’s only part of the story.
Uefa have found it hard to convince their various member associations to follow their lead in using extra officials. One exception is Italy, home of Uefa refereeing supremo Pierluigi Collina. So Italian officials are familiar with the arrangement whereas most others are not, including the Spanish officials in the Celtic game, the Scottish officials in Dortmund — and indeed the Hungarian team in charge of the Bayern-Barcelona match.
All of them are competent officials, but competence is not the issue. It’s about the amount of authority you give the officials behind the goal-line. When Collina pushed through the change in Italy he argued that these new officials needed to be people with a lot of experience and clout because the incidents that decide a game are almost always in the penalty area.
That’s also what Uefa implied when they introduced the new men, awkwardly described as “additional assistant referees”, in 2010: “Their particular brief is to focus on incidents that take place in the penalty area, such as holding or pushing at set-piece situations. The deployment of additional assistant referees is also seen to have a deterrent effect, as players will be aware that they are being closely watched. The team of five officials is connected by an audio system, thereby enabling the referee to take a decision when he is informed of an incident, and the presence of the additional assistants covers a larger angle of vision in the penalty area.”
The reality is different. The additional assistants are almost entirely passive and mute. Possibly they are muttering comments under their breath but there is very little sign of them making a significant contribution.
It looks as if referees are calling all the shots, and that the men on the goal-line are very much the junior members of the team: seen but not heard, like the children of Victorian England. For Uefa, and Platini in particular, that has to change and the system has to be shown to work better, or the clamour for technology will continue to grow.
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