By Ahmet Guvener
It is a well acknowledged fact that soccer has the fewest number of officials per square feet in any team sport may be with the exception of rugby. If one follows
the history of Laws of the Game one can clearly see the transition from the linesman -- whose sole duty was to indicate that the ball was out or not and the direction -- to the Assistant Referees with
more appropriate job definitions. Later on we saw the fourth officials, then the additional assistant referees and very soon we will see the visual assistant referees (VAR). Along with those the use
of technology like the Goal Line Technology (GLT) and communication devices used by officials was introduced. I even consider the spray used to indicate the 10 yards as the use of technology.
Let us not forget we are just talking about the professional game where billions of dollars are being spent on teams. In grassroots and amateur soccer, we sometimes can hardly find fourth officials
let alone the use of sprays and others.
All these were introduced with the hope that there will be less match-critical mistakes in a game. Match-critical incidents are incidents which
change or might change the outcome of the game like goals, red/yellow cards and penalty kicks. Referees making clear match-critical mistakes are reprimanded seriously by their observers. I do not
understand why team owners, coaches and fans can forgive and understand match critical mistakes made by players but not those made by officials. Well this is not the topic of this article.
The new Laws of the Game
changed the title of Law 4 from the Assistant Referees to Additional Match Officials. Now Law 4 talks about
the Assistant Referees, the Fourth Official, the reserve Assistant Referee and the Additional Assistant Referees (AAR). It will not be surprising to see Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in the near
future. The IFAB has given permission for VARs to be used in trials, including by MLS. This side of the Atlantic knows very little of the AAR. AAR is the result of the tug of war between Sepp
and Michel Platini
. Blatter, the former FIFA president, was in favor GLT whereas Platini, the ex-UEFA boss, favored AARs. GLT is extremely expensive; $250,000 for installation in one stadium
. For a decision -- goal or not -- that occurs in a very small percentage of the games, $250,000
is a lot of money. For example, MLS refused to use GLT. The alternative was to put an official on the goal line to act as a “goal judge.” That is how the concept of AAR was developed.
The AARs are being used in UEFA-sanctioned tournaments like Euro 2016 and the Champions League. One did not see AARs in any other continent. Only two major leagues used AARs in Europe, the
Italia Serie A and the Turkish Super League. This year the Turkish federation decided not to use AARs. The AARs are selected from the core of referees and not the assistant referees since they are
expected to be more than a “goal judge.” They are expected to help the referee with some match critical decisions in the penalty area like a penalty kick or disallowing a goal for a foul.
This is where the system starts to crack down.
Soccer is also the only team sport -- except rugby again -- where the referee has the final say and is the only boss on the field. So when you
have two AARs making match critical decisions on the field, they better be as qualified as the referee in making those decisions. So if you watch Champions League games, you will see FIFA referees as
AARs. It is easier to find qualified AARs -- FIFA referees -- from the same federation for the Champion League games. There are a maximum of 10 FIFA referees in any country. For national league games,
it is very difficult to assign nine games in one weekend with qualified AARs. The less experienced AAR usually doesn’t have the self-confidence -- against the back drop of, let us say, a FIFA
referee -- and does not help the referee on a match-critical incident. The referee who has an AAR on the goal line concentrates at other parts of the field and hence also misses the match-critical
incident. Sometimes the less experienced AAR wants to become a hero and makes a very controversial and usually incorrect match critical decision. Either way having two extra pair of eyes on the field
in the case of soccer does not always imply less number of mistakes. That is the reason why the Turkish federation decided not to use AARs in the Super League this year.
For the referee
and AAR system to work harmoniously, you need the same team working together for a long period of time. For that reason, I was expecting that the AARs will phase out in a number of years considering
that Platini was out of office although one of AARs greatest supporter, Italian Pierluigi Collina, is still the head of refereeing in UEFA and the Asian Football Confederation referees
committee proposed that additional assistant referees should be introduced in the
AFC Asian Cup 2019 and the AFC’s top club competitions.” To be honest, this decision startled me.
Introducing more officials does not necessarily bring in better decisions in
soccer as I said earlier it might cause problems in national leagues. But how about the use of “instant replay”? After nearly all the team sports started using “instant
replay,” IFAB and FIFA couldn’t resist the change. Instant replay and VARs will be in our lives shortly. The instant replay in soccer will be for some match-critical incidents and will be
not be initiated by coaches like in other sports. The success of instant replay relies heavily on the quality of broadcast, especially directing. The broadcasts of some of the MLS games do not give me
too much hope for a successful implementation of “instant replay” in USA. C’est la vie. Soccer is a game of mistakes whether the mistakes are made by owners, coaches, players,
officials or directors of broadcasters. It makes no difference. You cannot remove the mistakes from the game completely.
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA.
He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, Texas.