Fabio Capello recently offered compliments to England referees when he observed how infrequently they stop the game. Capello praised the match officials, stating:
“The first thing I noticed were the referees because they whistle so little compared to those in the rest of Europe.”
Statistically his inference that the England refs tend to let the game play on more than their European counterparts is correct. The Premier League referees currently allow 25 free kicks per game, the lowest average in Europe. The referees dole out about 3.2 yellow cards a game, also the lowest when compared to the averages in the neighboring leagues: 4.5 a game in Italy and 5.5 per game in Spain.
The English referees are also much closer to the game, staying about 14 meters back from the action, 9 meters less than just two years ago. The English refs run about 7.5 miles per game to stay so close. But these statistics are silent on whether or not the referees are accurate and the introduction of goal line technology could give us those statistics.
But in an effort to further avoid goal line technology, while still providing potentially more accuracy, UEFA proposes introducing two extra assistant referees in the penalty area at both free-kicks and corners. UEFA is still experimenting with placing the extra officials behind the goal line or on the pitch itself. Said UEFA spokesman William Gaillard: “The game’s a lot faster now, it’s hard to keep up with play all the time…Some people say it is better for them to stay behind the goal, others that it is better for them to be inside the penalty area so that things that go on such as pulling and pushing are properly sanctioned.”
UEFA got the green light from the International FA Board to test this option starting with youth tournaments, and depending on those results, two more referees could be introduced at the professional level as an alternative to goal line technology. These extra refs would act as the linesman does now, communicating their observations and opinions to the referee via radio.
This development is illustrative of UEFA’s awareness in safeguarding the game from erroneous calls, but UEFA may simply be stalling an inevitable change in the game, choosing instead to add more of the same than something completely different. Yet if football has to change, adding two more officials is counterproductive if the goal is to give the player’s fairness and accuracy.
Adding two more referees has its own problems. It adds another layer of human error and inconsistency that will alter the flow of play. It still changes the traditional form of the game, a change that opponents of goal line technology decry. It will add costs to the game for the clubs and the league, and in the long run may be more expensive than the technology. It requires two more competent referees for every game.
It also adds two more bodies to the pitch for the players to work around. And while in theory it gives the referees more help, it also adds two more points of view that will inevitably at times be at odds, leaving fans to ask why there isn’t a video available for all three on field referees to refer to.