By Tony Attwood
I have often argued that although we all get the idea that football is handled differently in Europe from the way it is worked in England, there is a feeling put out by the alliance of the media, the League and PGMO that this is just because the funny foreigners don’t quite understand “our game” and don’t really get football – which of course we English invented, and therefore fully understand.
This approach is adopted so that the media and PGMO is able to keep discussions about other ways of doing things to a minimum. Hence discontent is reduced, the media is by and large compliant and there is a general agreement as to what is newsworthy and what is not.
Thus possible match fixing is most certainly not a topic of note in England – but we can never be sure what those perfidious foreigners get up to. Interviewing referees after a game on TV? All seems a bit crass – and unnecessary. Not even worth debating the possibility. Taking ex-players and calling them “expert summarisers” – well of course they are, they played football right?
It is not quite like this in Europe, and this fact was brought home to me big time with an interview with Raphael Nuzzolo, the Swiss player, now in the last year or so of his career who currently plays as a midfielder for Neuchâtel Xamax.
He was asked in an interview in LeMatin, the Swiss newspaper, for his thoughts on VAR. Not only was his commentary articulate and interesting in its own right, but he also commented on the difference between VAR in England and the rest of Europe. Can you imagine any current English player doing that?
Nuzzolo made the point that VAR is intended to make football fairer but in fact has made football “more incomprehensible”. He pointed out that of course it is good that what he calls “large errors” can be corrected by VAR, but the system is breaking down because of inconsistencies. In particular, he notes the habit of English TV stations looking at marginal decisions, and then projecting video created lines across the pitch so the viewers can see if the player is just a millimetre or two offside. On Swiss TV – and indeed as I understand it, in quite a few countries, that is not done.
Now the point is not whether this is a good or bad thing, but rather that it has created a difference between each country – and is a topic that in Europe is being debated. But not in England. Here we take what we are fed.
Now this is not the case with the goal line technology, which the player rates as the best thing that has happened. It is incredibly fast, and everyone does it in the same way. As Nuzzolo says, ” The decision is made quickly and is unequivocal. On the other hand, for the other rules, the use of this technology is more open to criticism. Offside is for example interpreted differently depending on the country from which the referee comes.”
At this point the interviewer challenged the player with what I thought was a particularly interesting question: “So you prefer to go back, even if you are the victim of a bad decision?”
And Nuzzolo’s answer was “Yes, because we cannot apply this video arbitration. I would prefer to stop and start again on better foundations. We wanted to go quickly to remove the errors. But it is clear that this does not work. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will go back…
“For me, the tools are good, but they are misused. In the end, it is people in an office, located miles from the stadium, who decide whether there is a goal or not. This removes spontaneity and responsibilities from the referee.
“How could we improve this system? Its use should be unified. Remove the use of the TV created lines on the pitch and be able to tell with the naked eye if there is an offside or not. For the rest, the video should help in rare cases. For interpretations of hands or red cards, this must be the responsibility of the referee. It is he who is on the ground and who is the only person empowered to judge, depending on the speed of the intervention.”
Now that is a particularly interesting point, given the recent case at Arsenal where the TV panel argued that the player was far enough away from where the ball was kicked to be able to move his hands out of the way, while a simple analysis of the physics (considering the distance from the ball and the speed of the ball) showed it was quite impossible for the player to react in time. A completely false opinion was given by the studio “expert” and left unchallenged by the show’s presenter.
What we got was the referee’s judgement, which the studio panel did not like. Which is of course fine if the referee is not part of an ultra-secret organisation that does not open itself up to any questioning or criticism.
Nuzzolo also added that when he watches a match as a spectator, “I don’t get up after a goal, because I don’t know if it will be validated or not.
“As a spectator, I watch many matches taking place in foreign championships. And unfortunately, I take much less pleasure in doing so.”
Now this kind of debate is something we are not getting in England, for the simple reason that PGMO forbids it. Of course newspapers, radio and TV stations could open up the debate and question the whole way in which refereeing is run from a central secretive cabal, but then they would be in breach of their contract which allows them anything from the rights of showing the game, to the right to sit in the press box.
Not for the first time I wish the English media could open up the discussions in the way they can do in most of the rest of Europe.
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