By Paul Gardner
Thanks to Michel Platini, we now have two extra officials on the field at Champions League games. This is an experiment, you understand. To get the boasting out of the way, it also happens to be an experiment that I suggested in a SoccerTalk column back in 1977 when, basing my idea on the fact that baseball added extra officials for the World Series, I speculated that, during the World Cup, soccer could add "extra 'goal-linesmen' -- perhaps four, one positioned at each corner -- with a purely advisory role ..."
So now, 33 years later, we have, not four, but two of these guys -- I shall call them EEOs (for experimental extra officials).
I’ve seen them referred to as operating “behind the goal” but that’s not where they are. Their position is on the goal line -- but as the goal line is effectively broken into two halves by the goal itself, they’ve had to choose which half they should patrol.
That decision has evidently been based on the position of the regular assistant referees (ARs) -- for the EEOs are to be found on the goal line on the far side of the field from where the AR operates. Which in turn means that, if the referee is running the conventional diagonal pattern, he will find an EEO close to him at each end of the field.
The EEOs are wired for radio communication with the referee, but they don’t have a flag. In the dozen or so CL games that I’ve watched this season, I have not really been aware of the them. They seem to have contributed little -- mostly, I suppose, because there have so far been none of the contentious goal-line incidents that were the main reason for the birth of EEOs.
It doesn’t make sense to employ these two guys to do virtually nothing. I had suggested (we’re back to 1977 again) that my extra officials could “also keep an eye open for off-the-ball violence” -- a phrase which is not that clear, though I know what I had in mind: all that pushing and shoving and choke-holding that goes on at corner kicks.
I can’t say I’ve noticed any action from the EEOs at corner kicks. So it came as something of a surprise when, at the 66th minute of yesterday’s Partizan vs. Arsenal game, a foul was called on Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs -- apparently as a result of an intervention by the EEO.
If I’m right in that, things did not go smoothly, because the call was delayed and in the meantime Gibbs had sent over a cross that Marouane Chamakh headed over the bar. Only after that did we get the call, with the EEO indicating the position of the foul. Had Chamakh been on target with his header ... well, you can imagine a mighty outburst from Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger against a disallowed goal.
Another occasional task for the EEOs, it seems to me, is at penalty kicks. At the moment, these are monitored by the referee and one AR, and the monitoring -- as we saw in the Spain vs. Paraguay World Cup game -- leaves a lot to be desired, because in that game neither clear goalkeeper movement, nor obvious player encroachment was spotted.
Two extra eyes, those of the EEO, should help here. But it appears -- from yesterday’s evidence -- that not much thought has been given to this. There were three penalty kicks in the game. At the first, with the AR taking up his usual position at the goal line/penalty area line junction, the EEO (on the opposite side of the goal) stationed himself at the goal line/goal area line junction.
I find that meaningless -- it can only mean that the EEO is looking for goalkeeper movement -- in other words duplicating what the AR is doing. Even so, neither official signaled the pretty clear goalkeeper movement -- one big step forward. Possibly there was no action because the goal was scored. Or possibly not, because on the second penalty (same end of the field, same officials, same positioning) Vladimir Stojkovic, the Partizan goalkeeper, saved the kick -- even though he, too had moved forward. Again, there was no call.
The third penalty, at the other end of the field, and therefore involving a different EEO and AR, had a variation. This EEO positioned himself at the goal line/penalty area line junction.
I cannot help feeling that an opportunity is being lost here to improve the monitoring of the kicks. On the first penalty, there was clear player encroachment. But it involved players from both teams, a situation that calls for no action from the referee. So the referee got that right ... apparently. But I’m fairly certain I’m giving him credit where none is due because studying the replays makes it pretty clear that none of the three officials involved was looking in the direction of the encroaching players -- so how would they know what was going on?
The real test came on the second penalty, when Stojkovic made his save. On that one there was blatant encroachment by a Partizan player before Arsenal’s Andrey Arshavin struck the ball. Indeed, the player was so far into the box that it seems impossible that he was not visible to referee Wolfgang Stark. But no call was made to retake the kick.
The standard referee position at penalty kicks is not, in my opinion, a good one. It makes it extremely difficult for him to spot encroachment, especially as he usually has his eyes firmly on the kicker. So why not take that EEO (on yesterday’s evidence, he’s merely duplicating the AR’s function) and move him to the corner of the penalty area. From that position he can look along the 18-yard line, watching only for encroachment -- with the advantage that he should be able to keep both the kicker and any potential encroachers in his line of vision.