How technology has changed the face of football today

We now experience televised sport, and football in particular, in a matrix of graphical wizardry. Sky, BT Sports, BBC, and even Setanta introduced so many nuances to the Beautiful Game, aided and abetted by pitch-side fans armed with smartphones, that the thought of just one, grainy camera at games, a la Kenneth Wolstenholme introducing Match of the Day way back when, seems totally alien.

by Alex Jones

Even international games at footballing outposts are now delivered in HD (and soon UHD), multiple cameras transporting images thousands of miles in crystal-clear vision. With our own, handheld technology in place to record goals and incidents, allied to the proliferation of cameras at every match, timing is now everything.

One wonders how many decisions from each sport have gone awry throughout history because of a lack of replays and digital precision in measurement. Imagine, for example, judging a close finish in a 100 metres sprint by human eye, or swimming or cycling. A decision of seconds could perhaps be judged accurately, but what about tenths of seconds, or hundreds or thousandths? Imagine the pressure of placing winners in these ten Olympic contests with no replay to consult. The brain can process an image in just 13 milliseconds but the results of some of these contests boiled down to segments of time far shorter.

Technology in the very fabric of sport has enabled structures that can make instant decisions (even cricket has flashing stumps), and shave time away, even when it would seem a peak has been reached. Anywhere further microseconds can theoretically be removed is a target. Any way of tricking the body to move faster, of altering conditions to make a race or game smoother, is to be welcomed. Any way of slicing a few moments away in training from the face of a timepiece from Tic Watches could make a sportsman millions.

It will no doubt come, but sometimes the obvious takes time. Instant goal-line technology was introduced to the English game following a successful trial at World Cup 2014, in particular Karim Benzema’s fabulous volley against Honduras. Of course, purists and traditionalists have long-argued about introducing technology into football, putting forward several arguments.

There are few sports with so many subjective decisions and one can imagine that using the video replay system for football could lead to chaos. Imagine a league decider played in a febrile Etihad atmosphere, where Chelsea only need a point to see off Manchester City. Both teams could contest each and every decision against them, creating a staccato match of such tension and anger that it could descend into carnage.

Was the handball deliberate? Did he get the ball or the man first? Was he interfering with play? More pertinently, would a second viewing of a certain incident clear it up? Programmes such as Goals on Sunday and MOTD2 are fed by analysis of the day’s decisions in the comfortable surroundings of a studio, and one suspects that an on-the-spot judgment would fare little better. Therefore, the imposition of a limit would perhaps benefit the procedure; the Dutch FA have trialled with great success a video-link system where each team would be able to challenge one decision per half.

Goal-line technology is long overdue, and not just since 1966. Chelsea fans still argue that Luis Garcia’s half-shot never crossed the line in the Champion’s League semi-final, while the Watford-Reading ‘ghost goal’ has gone down in Football League history. England is not the only country to be haunted by these floating-ball apparitions.

But once expensive technology is incorporated into Premier League games it introduces a divide, a clear difference between how the game is marshalled at different levels. Teams at the lower rungs of the footballing ladder can struggle to pay staff; do they now need to splash out on goal-line technology to be used perhaps two or three times a season? The ramifications of non-installation could be massive. Imagine if a lower-league team played a top-flight team in the FA Cup, and secured a giant killing through a dubious goal, which would have been chalked off had their ground possessed goal-line technology – like their opponents’.

That’s now, but what for the future? Cameras mounted to sports shirts, more advanced medical facilities, better drugs (unfortunately), robotic referees, and many other changes will no doubt happen. And footballers will get stronger, taller, more skilful and more resilient.

How technology has changed the face of football today

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