Referees, What can be done?

Another game, another controversy, in the Newcastle v Manchester City game referee Rob Styles sent off Newcastle defender Habib Baye for what looked like a perfectly fair challenge on Robinho. Once again Referees have come under scrutiny for incorrect decisions so what can be done to help them out?

1) Instant Replay: Unlike other sports such as rugby, tennis or (American) football, soccer does not lend itself to replays that well. One thing most fans are united upon is that they do not want the flow of the game to be disrupted, so in my opinion, you could only apply replays to situations where the game is already stopped. This means I wouldn’t like it to be applied to situations where is a question of the ball crossing the line or not as it would be too disruptive. Therefore the only situations where replays could practically be applied is

a) When a foul is awarded and there is confusion whether or not it was committed inside or outside the area, or
b) When a goal is scored and there is a question of the ball having crossed the touchline in the build up.

In both of these situations play will have been stopped so there should be minimal disruption. However, sometimes replay is of no help. In the recent Sunderland v Arsenal game, Arsenal had a goal disallowed for the ball going out of play and TV replays were inconclusive. Therefore there would have to be a stipulation that like in the NFL a decision could only be reversed if the referee sees something definitive.

2) Punishment for players who dive: It is a total mystery to me why more players are not punished for diving and even more of a mystery why punishments are not retroactive. Diving is cheating, simple as that. Players should still be subject to yellow cards for diving based on video evidence as per the current rules. I have an even more extreme idea. Any player caught diving can be fouled once (within reason i.e. no head shots or leg-breaking tackles) in the next game without a decision. Think Didier Drogba would go down so easily knowing that a big defender like Martin Skrtel gets one free shot at him in the next game?

3) Punishment for players and managers who abuse the officials: The FA in England are running a new ‘respect’ campaign, which preaches respect for the match official and the idea that only the team captain can speak to the referee regarding decisions. However, referees get no protection from the FA, who seem to favour the big clubs and big-name players in matters of discipline. Last season, Alex Ferguson and Carlos Queiroz basically called Martin Atkinson a cheat on live TV and escaped without punishment. That is unacceptable. Seemingly, every time Wayne Rooney or John Terry are sent off the decision is rescinded and the referee punished not the player, again unacceptable.

4) Punishment for consistently poor referees: Lets be honest here, some referees who have made it to the Premier League are simply not good enough. Mike Riley has been the worst referee in the league since the retirement of Neale Barry. Rob Styles has now awarded two penalties in his last 3 games that were perfectly fair challenges. Last night he didn’t even glance at his assistants before awarding the spot kick and replays showed the penalty he gave when Samuel fairly tackled Ronaldo at Old Trafford was given with his view unobstructed. Rob Styles last season awarded Chelsea a penalty at Anfield to the surprise of both team for a phantom foul and awarded Birmingham a penalty when Sun Jihai legitimately challenged Gary McSheffrey shoulder-to-shoulder. Referees are now meant to be professional, so punish them by stripping them of their elite status. Also this should apply to assistants who consistently perform badly.

5) Use of Technology: I fail to see in this day and age why it is not possible for a microchip or something similar to be put in the ball and have some sort of sensors a ball width behind the goal that would alert the referee when a ball has crossed the line and he should award a goal or not.

6) Change the way referees are assessed: The current method is unbelievably stupid. I assumed the referee assessor sitting in the stands assessed his performance straight away. This is not the case. What happens is the assessor highlights major incidents to then look at on video and make their assessment based on that. This allows for no common sense to be exercised, such as could the referee see in incident in question? Why you need someone sitting in the ground whose sole job is to identify incidents to look at I’ll never know.

7) Change the rules! The current rules allow no common sense to be applied. The offside rule is so ridiculously complicated that every referee interprets it differently. I would also like to see the rule where free-kicks were moved forward for dissent re-introduced and also I would like a change to the professional foul rule where not every one has to produce a red card.

I realise referees have the toughest job in football and everyone makes mistakes, but until some of the above measures are taken, the controversies will not go away.