The controversy of the game between Chelsea and Manchester United will rumble on for a few more days yet, with the two teams conveniently having the chance to move on with a game against, well, each other in midweek in the Capital One Cup.
If it is anything like last night’s game, it is a match few will want to miss. Sunday’s game, with five goals, one of which was offside, and two red cards, as well as being a thrilling spectacle for neutrals and Manchester United fans, was a perfect illustration of the folly of calls for video technology to be used in football. After the game, Roberto di Matteo was understandably irate at the referee’s performance, and baffled by the red card handed out to Fernando Torres, who appeared to be clipped before being booked for ‘diving’.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, conversely, felt the decision was the correct one. Indeed had Torres not been booked for diving Mark Clattenburg would have had to decide whether to send off Jonny Evans himself. Had that happened, United would have been furious.
Now imagine there was some kind of video appeal system which teams could use during matches. Had the referee sent off Evans, rather than Torres, you can bet United would have appealed. What would have followed would be even more confusion and controversy. If the decision is upheld, United would be even more livid than they may have been anyway, seeing a player sent off when they felt the opponent dived, even after a video replay was consulted.
If the decision was changed, then Chelsea would be even more furious than they were already, given that Branislav Ivanovic was sent off moments earlier for a similar offence.
Then picture that, after the actual decision to send off Torres was made, Chelsea were able to appeal for a video replay. Had the referee stuck to his original decision, the fall out from yesterday’s game would have been greater still. If he had changed his mind, Ferguson and United would be incandescent with rage.
This is the problem of video technology in football. Decisions such as the one made by Clattenberg yesterday are mostly subjective. There is no definite ‘right or wrong’ answer. One person can interpret an incident one way, another will have an entirely different view of proceedings. Throw in the extreme tribal loyalties of football supporters, and that situation is exacerbated further still. There are decisions which are not black and white, which probably can never be adequately resolved. Other sports are able to use technology because their rules are clearer. In tennis for example, the simple question of whether a ball is in or out can be determined with a video replay. Whether Torres went to ground intentionally or simply as a result of his momentum cannot be determined with technology.
The focus will understandably be on the referee, on Chelsea and United, after the match. But perhaps it is worth reflecting on whether yesterday’s game demonstrates that video technology is not the simple answer we all think to such problems.