At the end of the Brazilian World Cup most entities involved with football paused a moment to analyze what took place and attempt to identify the takeaways from the prolonged experience. One stark contrast that has emerged of late entails comparing Nike’s unveiling of its new football, Ordem, which La Liga, the Premier League, and Serie A, have adopted for their 2014-15 seasons, with FIFA’s lack of substantive comment or action on the state of its horrible officiating at the tournament. Let’s take one officiating issue and one ball issue by way of illustration.
If one studies the game video closely, one comes to the realization that the World Cup Final head injury suffered by German midfielder Christoph Kramer, in the first 17 minutes of the match, was not the consequence of a normal collision between contesting players. It was also not occasioned by a bad fall, or by any other normal run of play action, such as, we have all now learned, a vertebra-busting knee blow to the lower back may be deemed. It was instead the consequence of the intentional shoulder to the head blow by Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay on Kramer. The blow was so violent that the German player suffered a concussion and had to leave the game shortly thereafter. The tragedy here is three-fold and all three point to poor officiating at the highest level of our sport.
First, was the fact that the foul occurred at the far end of the penalty box, a few yards from the sideline where the linesman stood. The flag never went up, the foul, a clear penalty, was never called. Second, the magnitude of the blow was not grasped by any official even after the referee, Nicola Rizzoli, was asked by Kramer “Ref, is this the final?” Rizzoli’s eventual response was to pass the exchange along to Krame’s teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger. Had FIFA but had a concussion protocol, and thus referee trainings on the issue, the exchange would have at the very least raised all types of red flags. Third, is that fact that FIFA has yet to acknowledge the issues or act upon them.
Unfortunately, because this is just one of so many poorly handled officiating issues in World Cup 2014, the actual brutality of the foul has gone mostly without comment. Fortunately, the critical lack of injury protocols that led to the inexplicable misread of Kramer’s query by Rizzoli was not missed by the news media, who have unanimously clamored for reform.
If only two things come of this one incident FIFA could say it has heeded the 2014 Cup’s lessons. First, a protocol for the handling of concussions is needed immediately. Second, football requires something along the lines of the type of managerial flag employed by American Football, which allows a team’s coach to question a ref’s call or non-call and have video replay reviews determine the appropriateness of the officiating decision being questioned.
If FIFA added that one device, Giorgio Chiellini’s incessant fouls on Luis Suarez might have been called before Suarez lost his cool and head and bit back in retaliation. Imagine the impact of replays of Camilo Zuniga’s hit on Neymar, or Arjen Robben’s myriad dives, or Fernandinho’s many unsportsmanlike tackles, or the unending string of Javier Mascherano’s masterfully disguised tactical fouls, or of Garay’s knockout blow on Kramer. How many outcomes might have been different if the refs had this simple devise at their disposal? Yet, even if FIFA were to add this innovation, the question remains, would the refs “see” and thus reverse their mistakes? And if they chose to ignore what the world saw differently would they still be allowed to referee in the future?
Technological advancements, also partially based on World Cup takeaways, seem not to be deterred by whether a few folks in Zurich feel the good of the game is being served by the innovation. When Adidas’ World Cup 2014 ball, Brazzuca, replaced their panned World Cup 2010 edition, Jabulani, the decision was widely hailed as the right advance and the innovation was duly adopted and implemented.
Now, three of the top leagues in the world, all of which used the Brazzuca in their 2013-14 seasons, have agreed that Nike’s Ordem (the word means order in Portuguese as in “Ordem e Progresso” or Order and Progress, the motto on the Brazilian flag) will indeed bring some additional order to the way a football feels and flies. The cup ended on July 13th, the European seasons begin this month. That is some response time for a football innovation.
The innovations, over a ball that was already hailed as very good, that won the decision-makers over were: that the Ordem is more aerodynamic because Nike’s proprietary Aerowtrac grooves and micro-textured casing make the ball’s flight more accurate by gripping and channeling the air to ensure mid-air stability. The Ordem’s “RaDaR (Rapid Decision and Response) technology” makes the ball’s spin in flight easier to detect both when looking at the ball directly and viewing it peripherally. This visual enhancement, achieved via reflective panels, will allow players to see and react faster to the ball in flight. Finally, the 12 fuse-welded synthetic leather panels that comprise its casing offer a more sensitive feel to the player kicking the ball and allow a player’s ministrations to be more accurately translated by the ball.
It took years to include additional refs on the pitch and certainly decades to get to goal-line technology, do we really need to spend much more time seeing unsportsmanlike acts and poor officiating determine the outcome of our game? Faithfulness in our ball’s flight and in our game’s fair play should go hand in hand. Is it not time to apply some additional technological innovation—a little Ordem—to the way we officiate our sport?