Sunday, February 22, 2015

Don’t Cry for Me, Jose Mourinho: Time for the Replay in Soccer?

It is clear that Jose Mourinho never read The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Either that or he completely misunderstood the moral, assuming the boy was doing the right thing by constantly warning the villagers of something that hadn’t yet happened. In any case, there is no question that he has a rather compelling case about the refereeing debacle yesterday, if not some evidence of a larger conspiracy. Chelsea saw an amazing four decisions go against them in one game before the sending off of Matic cost them two points against the bottom dwelling Burnley.

The four decisions were as follows: 1. 30’: Ashley Barnes sends Branislav Ivanovic crashing to the ground in an aerial challenge after a knee in the back. Verdict: should have been a free kick and could have been a yellow card for Barnes. 2. 33’: Ivanovic fires a shot at goal but Michael Kightly diverts it with an outstretched arm, as he turns his back to goal. Verdict: should have been a penalty (very clearly!). 3. 43’: Diego Costa tumbles to the ground after Burnley captain Jason Shackell leans into him with an outstretched arm. Atkinson waves play on. Verdict: could have been a Chelsea penalty but would have been very soft. 4. 69’: Barnes misses the ball and almost snaps Nemanja Matic's left shin with his studs but Atkinson waves play on. An enraged Matic leaps up and pushes Barnes over violently. Atkinson sends off Matic and books Ivanovic for trying to take red card out of his hand. Verdict: the tackle merited a red card for Barnes and a Chelsea free kick, as one of the worst tackles all year.

However, Chelsea are not the only team that might feel aggrieved by the men in yellow and black. Southampton had two pretty strong penalty appeals in the first few minutes of a game they ultimately lost to Liverpool 2-0 today, and then another one tight decision right before halftime that arguably should have seen Mignolet see red. Earlier, West Ham had a 2-1 lead on Tottenham heading into the last seconds of five extra minutes when a soft Song penalty allowed the Spurs to claim a point (their 13th in the final five minutes of games this year). And though I hate to admit it, Crystal Palace might have a legitimate claim that Welbeck was just outside the box on the penalty that got Arsenal their first goal (though I disagree) and offsides before the pass that made it 2-0 (true!). Really, any fan of the sport can think of an endless array of incidents that cost their team or nation a game or valuable points.

The question that emerges is whether some sort of replay system should be implemented. Penalty claims are always a subjective topic and pundits often disagree, even with the benefit of replay and slow motion. But the clear penalties missed, the soft penalties given, the missed yellow and red cards (or wrongly given) and the successful diving (though it has seriously abated this season) all cost teams places in the table, money and ultimately allow the wrong team to win or draw games they shouldn’t. One could argue it’s just the nature of the sport, and adds another element for the pundits and fans to debate and write about, but the major American leagues have been able to implement them without undermining the integrity of the game (even as controversy still abounds). Maybe it is time for soccer to seriously consider taking the next step in technological innovation?

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