Tuesday, 16 March 2010: Inter Milan beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge to win the Champions League quarter-final 3-1 on aggregate. The game ends in controversy due to a valid but rejected penalty claim that denies Carlo’s crew (formerly Jose’s boys) a chance at turning the tie around and progressing to the semi-final.
Saturday, 3 April 2010: Old Trafford’s green and yellow gang sees Chelsea defeat Manchester United 2-1. Chelsea’s second goal is allowed to stand, despite Didier Drogba being offside by a measurement similar to the diameter of Sir Alex Ferguson’s ego.
Saturday, 10 April 2010: Martin O’Neill is left reciting his demented leprechaun routine as his side are denied an obvious penalty in the F.A. Cup semi-final. Chelsea go on to win the game; three late goals are enough to secure a return for them to the Wembley Blancmange.
Whether you remember the three games described above with fondness, bitterness or sheer apathy, there is a simple message there for all: Referees really do have the power to decide the destination of the most coveted silverware in football. Had any of those decisions gone differently for Chelsea, their season and Carlo Ancelotti’s C.V. might have ended up looking very different.
It seems to me, at best, mildly insane that in any major football match, the man with the least technological aid, the referee, is the one who makes the decisions. The commentators, the pundits, managers and fans all have access to more information than the man in black. Football has moved far beyond the stage where it’s acceptable to claim that bad decisions are nothing more than a way of providing post match pub chatter.
The money flowing through the game should not be guided my misinformed decision making. Action has to be taken to preserve the authority of referees and the fairness and integrity of the beautiful game, lest it loses some of its attraction.
As it happens, there is one system with the potential to ease the strains of refereeing, whilst maintaining the healthy British banter surrounding questionable decision-making. I propose that the F.A. consider introducing a ‘two challenges’ system. Each manager should have the opportunity to ‘challenge’ a call made by the officials, rather like in tennis. Upon ‘challenging’ the referee, the decision is reviewed by an independent fifth official with access to television replays and analysis. If the ruling is proven to be unjust, then the decision is rescinded. If the referee was right, then the decision stands and the ‘challenging’ manager loses a substitute. Only managers would have to authority to ‘challenge’.
This incredibly simple system could, with refinement and wise application, provide a much needed refreshment of the consistently slaughtered refereeing profession. Wait until your team is relegated by an offside goal. Wait until your team sees a man sent off in an important cup tie. The next time you hurl unimaginative insults at the referee, remember this article………