Video technology in football is coming and last night shows why it's badly needed

There were a number of contentious calls in the Atletico Madrid-Barcelona Champions League quarter-final.

JUST OVER 12 years ago, Man United were knocked out of the Champions League following a poor refereeing decision.

In the first knockout round match of the 2003-04 campaign, the Red Devils faced a Porto side managed by a young Jose Mourinho.

Leading 1-0 on the night and on away goals on aggregate, Paul Scholes subsequently had a perfectly good goal ruled out for offside (see below).

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Costinha then scored in the last minute to ultimately put Porto through, but the goal would have only taken the game to extra-time if Scholes’ previous effort had not been ruled out.

In hindsight, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that one incorrect call by the officials could have changed the face of football irrevocably.

Porto went on to win the Champions League that year, and Jose Mourinho secured the Chelsea job as a result of this achievement. However, if Scholes’ goal had been correctly awarded, Man United would have been well placed to advance, with Porto going out and Mourinho potentially fading into obscurity instead of becoming one of the most recognisable and esteemed coaches in the game.

Similarly, at the semi-final stage of the Champions League six years ago, Mourinho’s Inter advanced at the expense of Barca 3-2 on aggregate.

However, the Catalan side were the victims of a number of questionable calls over the two legs, most notably when a perfectly legitimate last-minute Bojan Krkic goal that would have sent Barca through was wrongly ruled out (as shown, in somewhat exaggerated form, below).

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Instead, of course, Mourinho’s Inter advanced and went on to win the competition, ensuring the Special One got the Real Madrid job and thus the course of European football was again altered drastically in the process.

Singling out these two incidents is not an attempt to detract from Jose Mourinho’s legacy — the Special One may well have gone on to become a world-class coach even if he had not benefited from those two extremely fortuitous decisions at crucial moments of big games. Nonetheless, the key point is to simply highlight how big an impact one isolated refereeing decision can potentially have on football at large over the course of a season, or in some cases, several seasons.

Last night was no exception to the recent trend of constant controversy. In the Atletico Madrid-Barcelona game, there was not one but at least two blatant officiating mishaps. Firstly, Andres Iniesta should surely have been sent off for the deliberate handball that led to the penalty for Atletico’s second goal. And secondly, Barca should have had a penalty, after (ironically) Iniesta’s shot was blocked by the hand of Gabi — the referee wrongly assumed he had handled the ball outside the area.

And of course, that’s ignoring the first-leg, when Fernando Torres was somewhat harshly sent off, while two-goal hero Luis Suarez wasn’t even booked for a blatant kick on Atletico full-back Juanfran. Atletico may well have still advanced if all these key decisions were called correctly, but the fact that they weren’t doesn’t do much for the credibility of the sport.

While initiatives, such as the use of extra officials behind the net and goal-line technology, have been put in place in an attempt to make the referee’s job easier, big games are still being decided by incorrect decisions on a regular basis.

Moreover, with the speed at which football is played having become more intense than ever of late, matches are only getting more difficult to officiate as time goes on.

In addition, with more money at stake than ever in football, it seems increasingly farcical that the fate of these multi-million dollar brands can still be determined by one moment of madness or instance of human error.

There are signs of change on the horizon, however. A report last month indicated that video assistant referees — similar to those in rugby — would be used for “game-changing decisions” in football on a trial basis, which will begin “no later” than the 2017-18 campaign.

These so-called ‘game-changing decisions’ are understood to encompass goals, red cards, mistaken identities and penalties. New Fifa president Gianni Infantino is among those to back the prospective initiative, describing the long-awaited onset of technology in football as “inevitable”.

One of the main stumbling blocks, however, is the worry that the natural flow of the game will be severely interrupted as a result of this transition into unfamiliar territory.

Nevertheless, there are ways to deal with this issue. For instance, giving the two sides’ managers three chances to challenge a refereeing decision — akin to tennis where players are prevented from abusing the system by being restricted in the number of dubious calls they can dispute — is one potential compromise that surely wouldn’t affect the rhythm of a match significantly.

And while all the indicators suggest there is finally a genuine desire among the powers that be to embrace technology, it is essential that these alterations are green-lighted sooner rather than later. Otherwise, further big matches will inevitably be spoiled to a degree by inept decisions being made by excessively overworked officials who are being unfairly asked to make impossible calls in highly pressurised circumstances.

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