Tony Pulis doesn’t sit down for press conferences. Every other manager does. With a beaming grin or a heavy sigh, they slip into their seat and await their inquisition. Pulis strides into the press room and stands straight-backed in front of you. He is not impolite, nor is he aggressive, but somehow he makes you think that he’s doing you a favour and that you should probably take advantage of it swiftly and without dilly-dallying. This weekend, at Manchester City, he was a little different. He came with a plan. A plan for the future of refereeing.
The crueler-minded of you might suggest that he had plenty of time to formulate this plan, given that the game was essentially over after 89 seconds when West Bromwich Albion were reduced to ten men. This is not the case. Pulis continued to whirl and spin in ever more furious circles in the technical area even after City had scored their third. No, Pulis had been considering this long before the case of mistaken identity at the Etihad.
“What we have to do,” Pulis announced, “is find a way to help the referees out. I would definitely call now for managers to have two calls each and every game, they have thirty seconds and they can have a video link-up with people upstairs who can watch it on video. It will eradicate the major decision referees are getting wrong that actually affect games of football.”
Brilliantly, Pulis even sourced funding for the hypothetical scheme by offering to sell advertising space on whatever large object is waved in the air to signal the manager’s desire to appeal. Here is a man who sees all the angles.
The traditional response to this sort of proposal is to ask whether it would work further down the pyramid, knowing full well that it would not. The backpass rule was accepted with only light opposition because it was as simple to impose on a World Cup tournament as it was a primary school friendly in Devon. But we are far beyond those days now. The Premier League, with its barely imaginable wealth, might as well be played on the moon for all that it has in common with football elsewhere. The stakes have never been higher. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be treated in isolation.
But with every law change, one question must be asked: What would Sam Allardyce do with this? Allardyce is dark and cunning and shrewd. When the offside law was…ahem…clarified in 2005, Allardyce was on it like a dog on a dropped sausage. From the first pre-season friendly, he was working the margins, scoring preposterous goals from set pieces to the fury of his slower-witted contemporaries. In fact, Allardyce has probably commissioned a full report on this already. 196 pages and a 30 minute powerpoint presentation entitled ‘Maximising Managerial Appeals.’
Allardyce would hoard his appeals and use them in the closing stages to break up play. Or he’d use them to alleviate pressure when his team was under the cosh. Perhaps he’d whip them out back to back to intensify the scrutiny on a struggling referee, to try and make him cry in front of everyone. There are reasons why, with the exception of that single year spent rescuing West Ham from the Championship, Allardyce has been a Premier League manager since 2001.
Pulis is on the right track. We do need to give referees more help and we do need to make use of video technology. With monitors on every desk in the press box, every journalist at the Etihad was able to ascertain the identity of Wilfried Bony’s assailant within seconds of the incident. It is ridiculous that we give that technology to journalists, but withhold it from referees. But let’s not put it in the hands of managers.
A wiser idea would be to have a senior referee in the stands with the ability to review footage independently and communicate with the officials on the pitch. How much power he is granted, how wide his remit is spread, is up for further debate. But let’s at least give him the ability to buzz the referee and shout, “It was Dawson, not McAuley! They’ve got different numbers on their shirts, man!”
We’ve had three cases of mistaken identity in two seasons. Pulis is right, it’s time to give the officials a helping hand.
Do you agree? Is it time for video technology in the Premier League? Or do you draw a twisted satisfaction from seeing the officials, contorted by their own inadequacies, pilloried for your dark pleasure? Let us now by emailing [email protected]