Tissue Thin Pseudonym raises a very good point in the Group D 3rd game thread:
Watching these games I keep thinking that soccer badly needs a second referee on the pitch. There’s just too much space for one guy to cover and watch. There was all sorts of whining from traditionalists when hockey started using a second ref but it’s been a vast improvement and soccer has fewer issues with another body creating obstructions.
I agree, long term, the best way to improve the refereeing of the game at the highest level is to get away from the remnants of the cult of the all powerful and all knowing center referee. The game is too fast, the players are too skilled and the field is too damn big for one guy to cover the entire field with some assistance from his assistant referees whose focus is pulled towards a dynamic line just at the moment of a hard offensive challenge.
At the highest levels, the center referee is running eight to ten miles during a regulation 90 minutes plus stoppage time game. That is more than any single player on the field. He is also engaged in as many full speed, hair on fire sprints as the hardest working forwards. He is attempting to cover a field of two and half acres where it is not uncommon for a twenty second sequence of hard challenge, sixty yard displacement of play, hard challenge, thirty yard displacement, hard challenge, fifty yard displacement.
Few other major sport asks as much from there referees. NFL referees have to officiate the same number of players on a field 70% as large. They use a seven man crew. Baseball uses a six man crew to control ten to thirteen players. Hockey uses four officials to control twelve players. Only rugby asks as much of their officials as soccer does.
So why hasn’t the highest level of play seen a change to improve the officating? (By the way, so far, I think the officiating in this tournament is very good)
Futball, or soccer, or footie, still has the legacy of a single man officiating where that official is the lord of the pitch. Thankfully, this attitude is slowly dying out as the role of the official now is seen as a means of facilitating a safe and fair match instead of being the cop, judge, jury, executioner and appeals court of a match. For most of the history of the game, there was a single referee or a single referee and two flags. the assistant referee as a distinctive and skilled profession is a recent phenonoman. FIFA only engaged in the creation of a dedicated assistant referee track in the past generation. Before that, an official at the World Cup could have the whistle in game 1 and a flag in the final.
The referee as lord has some rational basis due to the nature of the rules and the culture around the enforcement of the rules. In soccer, there is the concept of advantage where a referee recognizes a foul but s/he has the obligation to consider whether or not the fouled team is in a better position to continue an attack or if they are better off to bring the play to a stop for a free kick. Additionally, referees at the highest level are making the following decision path on any challenge:
Is it fair: if yes, continue play, if no, next question:
Is the challenge trifling unfair; if yes, continue play, if no, next question:
Is the fouled team at an advantage with the ball still moving; if yes, continue play and signal that you saw the foul but are applying advantage. If the fouled team is disadvantaged, stop play.
Was the foul careless; if yes simple free kick unless there is a persistant pattern of fouling. If persistant pattern, start thinking about a caution for persistant infringement on the laws.
Was the foul reckless — if yes, at least ass-chew and put people on notice that this behavior will not be tolerated or just go straight yellow.
Was the foul excessively violent or having no legitimate tactical reason for the contact — send the offender off.
That decision tree is cycled every single challenge. Soccer currently has a problem with inter-game consistency (the ref last week let us do X… problem) so most assessors and evaluators grade referees on their intra-game consistancy (are the challenges that got a foul in the 3rd minute getting a foul in the 87th minute, is a clean challenge in the 17th a clean challenge in the 66th?) Adding a second official who has the ability and authority to stop play at their own discretion instead of just being able to “ask” for a stoppage as the current assistant referees can do will produce some very ugly games in the first two years of adaption.
I think over the long term, referees will adapt. Some of the old guard referees won’t be able to handle working a four man, two whistle game. They will retire or be placed on lower level games. Some of the up and comers will crash and burn as finding an effective and efficient mind meld with another official who also has a whistle is a different skill than what they have been selected for. However, new officials who are used to working multi-whistle games will be trained and selected for that skill set.
I would anticipate better average and median quality officiated games with two World Cup cycles if FIFA adapted a two whistle system in the next two years.
None of the analysis above is particulary relevant to Saturday morning kiddy ball. There, we just want a referee with a pulse and a willingness to make a decision even if it is the wrong one.