By Joe Meloni
Being a soccer fan in the United States means learning to deal with a few things. We understand a portion of our friends, co-workers and anyone else likely to stumble upon our Facebook pages thinks soccer is boring, un-American game. It is, after all, predicated upon not screwing up more than it’s about trying to strike as frequently as possible.
Unfortunately, the World Cup provided more ammunition for my narrow-minded cohorts as overworked officials continually failed to make proper calls or keep matches — even Sunday’s final — in line. Naturally, the blame falls on their shoulders rather than the FIFA officials consistently placing too heavy a burden upon them.
As this game has become even faster and more difficult to manage, FIFA and its bumbling chief executive Sepp Blatter have failed to update the methods of managing matches. Of course, replay has become the hottest topic, but Spain’s 1-0 win over the Netherlands on Sunday displayed more shortcomings of the current referee system. Going back farther in the tournament, there were handballs missed on crucial goals, fouls costing teams wins and myriad other calls ending some sides’ hopes of glory in South Africa.
Howard Webb handed out 14 yellow cards Sunday night. Koman Coulibaly saw Clint Dempsey or Carlos Bocanegra or Maurice Edu commit a foul they couldn’t possible have committed. And Jorge Labbadia could have sworn Frank Lampard’s shot didn’t cross the line. Color me bitter, but there’s no reason anyone should remember referees names after a World Cup.
If Blatter and his suit-clad cronies refuse to budge from their anti-technology stance, a second official needs to be placed on the field. Assigning one referee to each side will diminish the possibility of an official making foul call from 60 yards away, which often results in rash bookings among other things. It may seem drastic, but making the right calls in these games is more important than the arcane tradition currently holding the game back.
Without replay, though, that still won’t be enough. Placing a man next to each net to serve as a goal judge will eliminate missed goals calls as well as any other solution aside from goal-line technology. Blatter did address the need for replay in terms of goal calls, but the precedent will lead to cries for further uses. If FIFA plans to review all plays ruled goals to ensure they crossed the line and there was no offside or hand ball on the play then that’s fine, but it seems like that won’t solve the whole problem.
Soccer is among the few major professional sports unwilling to make any changes to account for new issues. Even tennis, a game steeped in more tradition than any, has implemented replay to ensure that officials have less influence on an outcome than those playing.
In recent years, major American sports like baseball, football and basketball altered their use of instant replay and it appears as though each has found the perfect balance. Soccer, like baseball, is a game with an inherent degree of subjectivity. Replay should be used only to double check the calls of its most crucial moments. In baseball, umpires use replay to ensure home runs are awarded properly. The media and fans have cried for them to further its use, but it’s clear the line is drawn exactly where it needs to be.
Should FIFA implement replay, the extent of its use is as important as the decision to introduce it. No matter how much that yellow card at midfield or the missed handball 40 yards from the box irritated you, their impact on the game was likely marginal at best.
Immediately after Webb blew the final of entirely too many whistles in Sunday’s World Cup title game, reporters and former players began their obligatory critique of the 2010 World Cup. They called the match “anti-football,” and demanded Blatter act quickly in establishing any changes to be made for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Naturally, the comments detracted from Spain’s victory — the first-ever for the nation. In the end, the World Cup became overshadowed by mistaken decisions made by officials, and a final match overshadowed by the record 14 cautions. Pundits have criticized Blatter for his any-publicity-is-good-publicity policy, but it seems like he may be coming around. And he better soon, so this same conversation doesn’t happen four years from now.
Joe Meloni is a contributing editor and writer for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.