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Interesting Article about Technology and Innovation in Football Referreeing and Rules


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Van Gaal's technological revolution

By Ernst Bouwes


March 30, 2010

Last season I interviewed Louis van Gaal a few weeks before he celebrated the Dutch title with AZ Alkmaar and it became very interesting when we started talking about the prospect of technical aids in football. In the previous game, AZ had a goal disallowed for offside and we both agreed that the decision was debatable. The scorer of the AZ goal was level with the stomach of a defender, who was lying prostrate with his head near the goal-line and his feet in the direction of the penalty spot. We both wondered which body part exactly constitutes offside and which makes it level.

"I am 37 years in the business and I still don't know the answer. Nobody knows," Van Gaal proclaimed - to which I agreed. This observation appears to have become part of Van Gaal's routine as a recent interview with him in the German sports magazine Kicker described a comparable complaint for the current Bayern Munich coach. Unfortunately for him, the International FIFA Board decided on this particular issue some time ago, says an addition to Law number 11. Every body part of a defender can prevent an offside position except his arm. So the AZ-goal was wrongly disallowed as the linesman apparently did not know the rule. It would have required a rule book instead of technical aids to set it right.

This issue was only a small, insignificant part of the big story in Kicker. The headline "Van Gaal's Revolution" outlined the coach's proposals for a complete overhaul of governance on the football pitch. Firstly, the linesmen are wrongly positioned as they are mostly unable to witness the kick of the ball and the receiving player at the same time - they should move to the corner flag where they can watch the move diagonally. Van Gaal then switched to an even better, but more expensive, solution. He suggested two referees on the pitch, as in field hockey, and a third one behind a computer, which would mark the end of assistants on the touchline. The computer would be fed by a camera network, which follows the track of each player.

This innovation is not something from the realms of fantasy as Bayern Munich have such a system, engineered by Max Reckers, who was taken by Van Gaal from AZ. UEFA use it as well, to track the running distance of players in the Champions League. And it is similar to the ProZone system used in England.

Reckers has also demonstrated a camera system which alerts the referee when a ball - with a chip inside - passes the goal-line. It should also work for the touchline and the penalty box. In the article, Louis van Gaal relished the idea of any technical solution. The computer should decide.

And he was not finished there. The throw-in should become a kick-in, while the playing time should become an effective ball-in-play 70 minutes, as in many other sports like basketball, ice and field hockey. Then came his views on penalty shoot-outs, which while suggested before would still be radical. Van Gaal suggested to take a man off every five minutes during extra-time. In the last five minutes it will then be six against six. If the teams are still level, they should play on until a Golden Goal is scored.

His last proposed innovation is more realistic. Although he agrees nothing beats the smell of freshly sprayed grass pitches in the early morning sun, he embraces artificial turf: "Then every ground in the world would be the same, which I prefer over the extreme differences in quality of grass pitches." There Van Gaal has a point. The current match schedule leaves little time for a pitch to recover, which can be detrimental to the quality of football on show. The development of artificial turf has reached its 'third generation' - 3G -, which constitutes a mix of synthetics and grass. Most professional teams have at least one training ground equipped with it.

Van Gaal has compiled his suggestions and tips under the name of 'Fairplay', although it is nothing official. The interview was even published a few days after the International Football Association Board had its annual meeting in Zurich, so it had no bearing on the outcome of the board's verdict. Defying the outcry for technology from many, the board members decided to keep technology out and even stop the experiments.

Unfortunately this decision came without any explanation. However, the goal-line technology alone would cost each club about half a million euros to install and maintain. Should a small club, entering the Europa League for maybe one or two qualifying games once every five years, be compelled to buy a system which might never be used? Champions of goal-line technology refer to HawkEye in tennis and cricket, but that is used many times per match. The goal-line discussion pops up once or twice a year at a club at best, which may have been what persuaded the Board to vote against it.

Van Gaal's offside technology would be even more expensive and leaves some questions unanswered. Can a computer decide if a player in an offside position is interfering with play? The Bayern coach has an easy solution: "Away with the passive offside rule!". Secondly, what should be done when the technology breaks down. Abandon the game?

As a columnist, I'd rather propose to have more respect for referees. Should there be evidence that the men in black deliberately make mistakes or take sides, then Louis van Gaal would have a point. As this is not really the case, he should just accept decisions. With his experience he knows good and bad moments will even out over a season.

He should maybe instead address his colleagues and the players. When Thierry Henry handles the ball to keep it in against Ireland, there is only one to blame for cheating: Thierry Henry. Others take a dive in an attempt to earn a penalty and some fake injuries to stop a game. At least these annoyances are harmless. Much worse are the elbows and ruthless tackles. A pitch may be the only workplace where one can harm his colleague and get away with it. "I went for the ball" or "Of course, I did not deliberately break his leg" have become acceptable excuses for reckless tackles.

Instead of whining about the introduction of technical aid-systems, the football world should clean up the game with a modern disciplinary system. Violent acts on the pitch, causing physical harm to another player, should be punished much more severely.

The suggestion that a player should be suspended until the victim has recovered is a bit arbitrary, but at least three or four months off the pitch might, hopefully, make a player think twice before flying in at knee-height. At least this proposal would not take a big investment to introduce.

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"Firstly, the linesmen are wrongly positioned as they are mostly unable to witness the kick of the ball and the receiving player at the same time - they should move to the corner flag where they can watch the move diagonally."

I have been saying this for years on this forum and elsewhere, a voice in the forlorn universe......:)

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