17
Apr
12

Fair call?

Referees have always been in a lose-lose situation, and criticism of officials doesn’t look like it will be going away any time soon. Not until big changes are enforced within the game, anyway… 

Referees in the J.League make a lot of mistakes.

This is not a new revelation and it is certainly not something unique to Japan. It is, however, something that needs to be discussed – as much to help the officials themselves as to appease fans, players, and coaches everywhere.

The latest manager to be left frustrated by a poor refereeing decision – when Yuya Osako had a goal incorrectly disallowed against Urawa Reds– was Kashima Antlers’ Jorginho, who cut a beleaguered figure as he took his seat in the press conference after his side’s second consecutive home defeat.

“Before you ask questions there is something I would like to say”, he began. For a second I thought he was going to announce his resignation, Zeljko Petrovic-style. He didn’t.

“Not just today’s game but already this season referees have made many mistakes that stand out,” he said.

“I don’t think it is intentional. I am absolutely not asking that referees favour us. But I wish the decisions could be fair.

“Managers are asked not to speak about referees but I find that a little bit strange. The quality of the referees has an impact on the overall quality of the Japanese game as a whole.

“There are many good things about football in Japan but the quality of referees needs to be discussed. It will help the development of the Japanese game.”

On the whole I agree with these comments – particularly with regards to the need to discuss things in order for the level of the game to improve.

There are aspects in which officials can improve their performance. Often, for example, their communication with players is not good, and this can result in a build-up of frustration for both parties.

However, when it comes to the difficult, game-changing decisions mistakes are inevitable as long as referees are forced to operate under their current conditions.

Assuming that no money is changing hands to influence these calls – and I really don’t think that is the case in Japan – then until officials are given the assistance necessary to help them eliminate big mistakes they need to be treated with respect and tolerance.

The same weekend that Jorginho aired his gripe, several under-pressure Premier League managers were also hitting out.

Roberto Martinez of struggling Wigan and Kenny Dalglish of under-achieving Liverpool both had their say, as did Mark Hughes of QPR.

“You should have confidence that the referees are going to make the key decisions in the game and, just lately, I think a lot of managers have lost faith in them,” Hughes said after his team suffered an incorrect penalty call which saw their captain, Shaun Derry, sent off against Manchester United.

“Listen, it’s difficult. I’m not here to castigate the referee. All we want is referees and officials to get the big decisions right and unfortunately this weekend they haven’t covered themselves in glory.

“They don’t mean [to get it wrong] but surely the level needs to be higher than it is at the moment.”

It is no coincidence that coaches of teams in trouble – desperate to offload some of the pressure on themselves and their team – have the most cause for complaint, and I have every sympathy with those on the end of missed calls.

More often than not referees are chastised once we have all studied several replays from a variety of angles at different speeds though. They don’t have that luxury, and must make a split-second call as they see it.

This leaves us with two options: 1) We accept that human error – on the part of referees as well as players and coaches – is a part of sport, and eliminate abuse of officials accordingly, or 2) the fourth official is aided by video replays.

Initially I leant more towards the first option. Refereeing mistakes, like missed penalties or goalkeeping errors, can cost the odd game but you have a whole season to rectify these. The best team always wins the title, the worst always gets relegated.

Lately I am increasingly convinced by the need for TV replays, though. They would enable, as Jorginho and Hughes desire, referees to improve and ensure that the big decisions are always right.

Of course, if that does happen who will get the blame for defeats then?


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