Were you as surprised as I was that the top clubs in Germany voted against goal-line technology this week?
I’m trying to settle on why I expected a ‘ja, bitte’, and it’s a combination of factors.
The starting point has to be that German club football has enjoyed such a good reputation in recent years that you might have expected them to be trailblazers off the pitch. Instead, emphatically it’s the Premier League and English FA.
Then there’s the teutonic reputation for doing things first. And doing things efficiently. And the fact Germany companies have been right in the mix for developing the technology. German-based innovation GoalControl will be used at the World Cup in Brazil.
The German national team famously benefitted from an awful decision on a ball crossing the line, so important that it swayed Mr Blatter to finally give in to technology, when Lampard was denied in the 2010 World Cup. But they have still suffering more historically, Hurst’s second goal in the ’66 final being disputed to this day.
But the main reason I felt they were sure to bring it in has been events in the Bundesliga this season. More than one goal-line incident has felt like the catalyst for change, though the biggest incident wasn’t technically about the goal-line.
Steffan Kiessling was awarded a goal playing for Bayer Leverkusen against Hoffenheim in October…but the ball went through the side netting. It was a stunning mistake, the kind that would have astonished in a weekend amateur match, let alone one of Europe’s top leagues. The calls for video technology were loud for days after that. So loud I thought they would still be reverberating now.
Instead only 12 of the 36 voting clubs in Germany voted for technology, way short of the two thirds that would have brought change.
Mighty Bayern Munich and their coach Pep Guardiola were open with their backing, one of the nine Bundesliga clubs who want it introduced, exactly half the league. And perhaps this is the most telling statistic. Germany is not anti-technology, it’s simply reluctant to make it a priority.
The feeling from Germany is that other football matters are simply more important to them right now. Starting with the fans and affordable football. An exciting ‘product’ is important, but a perfect product? Surprisingly no.
Goal-line technology has actually been one of the star performers in the English Premier League this season. While Suarez, Sturridge, Hazard and Toure have been rightly lauded for their contributions, praise for GLT has been measured.
But respect must be given to the Premier League for their determination in driving this, side-by-side with the English FA. They have been proved right. I was one of those leaning towards sceptical about technology because GLT would solve only one problem. I came around to the view that it’s better to solve one problem and open the doors to more technology than none at all.
And the moment that the Premier League and Hawk-eye can be proud of came this month when Fulham played Newcastle. With the score goalless and Fulham desperate for points their defender Johnny Heitinga scored a certain goal off the underside of the bar. Or did he? The pundits had typically rushed to the wrong conclusion then dared to criticise the officials and technology for disallowing the goal.
Then we saw the replay. Nearly all of the ball was over the line. Nearly. A tiny fraction was touching the line. NO GOAL. Impressive. Could have been the difference between promotion, relegation and tens of millions of pounds.
For the technology behind it please see my piece for Al Jazeera at the start of the season, filmed at Arsenal.
And it’s Arsenal of course, who are at the centre of calls for the floodgates to open. For more technology to be brought in. Video replays.
I can partly understand the clamour. The wrong man being sent off in the defeat against Chelsea was so bizarre, so embarrassing for the officials, that it incredibly overshadowed Arsenal’s 6-0 humiliation at Chelsea in Wenger’s 1,000th game in charge.
As usual everyone rushed to conclusions, many of them incorrect. Why did Oxlade-Chamberlain not tell the referee it was him who hand-balled not Gibbs? Oops a replay just showed he did. Why did Marriner not listen? Ooops he did, but taking ‘advice/instruction’ from a player is not a straightforward matter. The Ox should definitely have been sent off. Ooops, no he shouldn’t, the ball was going wide when he handled so he should have stayed on the pitch for legitimate reasons after all.
What was abundantly clear is that it was an excruciating incident for referee Andre Marriner and the fourth officials, where eyesight, common sense and communication took the day off, in a match watched around the globe. Open-mouthed.
A UEFA spokesman was quick to seize on this mistake, pointing out on twitter that an “With an additional assistant referee on the end line, the referee would not have got that sending off wrong. Technology is not the answer. More eyeballs are the answer.” As long as those eyeballs didn’t belong to the UEFA match officials who didn’t allow Marko Devic a vital, legitimate goal for host nation Ukraine v England in Euro 2012, spoiling a lot of good progress with their ‘five officials’ approach. Human error will always happen, that’s life.
I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help but think of American football at these times. They’ve got it right. They know what they are, what they have to do, what compromises they need to make to get the product right. So expect the ever-bold Premier League to push for more technology.
Will they succeed and change football further? Not in a hurry. IFAB, football’s rule makers are more of the calm old-school sweeper than a headless chicken winger. If it’s right, if it’s acceptable, they will have given it lengthy consideration because turning back isn’t an option.
Maybe one of things the Bundesliga clubs remain wary of is opening the door too quickly but we can be almost sure – not technologically 100 per cent sure of course – of two things.
Firstly that the Bundesliga will now endure more controversial incidents that make their ‘no’ seem like a mistake. They have to be prepared for that, even if ‘nein’ is currently the right call for them.
Secondly, there will be at least one huge incident at the World Cup that DOESN’T involve goal-line technology and will raise the need to expand the help to big-time football off the pitch.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport