Enough is enough: The Premier League needs to expand officiating personnel

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This weekend was abysmal. This weekend was ridiculous. This weekend, quite frankly, was a circus.

When Rebecca Lowe, Robbie Mustoe, and Robbie Earle are forced to drum on about 18 different penalty decisions following exciting, top-four battles with intricate matchups and fascinating tactical clashes, the game of soccer has devolved into a farcical joke that panders to the lowest common denominator. Truth is, things have been careening towards this inevitable end all season long.

It’s clear to everyone that with a new age of technology has brought about a new age of accountability for officiating, and thus the standard of refereeing has reached the point where one person is no longer capable of doing the job. It’s just not possible. With immediate television replay, hundreds of camera angles, and countless new gadgets of analytical technology, it’s possible to perform open-heart surgery on a referee’s 90-minute performance. But the officials don’t have those tools at their disposal, and to hold them to the same standard is ridiculous.

This Premier League season has been marred by countless decisions that may appear in person to be a difficult decision, but for television viewers who benefit from endless replays and enhanced camera zoom, are clearly incorrect. And yet here we sit, completely ignoring a monstrous problem hoping that things will change so long as we ignore it.

I’m sure you’ve heard the definition of insanity. The elephant in this room has gone insane.

Jose Mourinho may be annoying, but he’s right (to an extent). There’s no “campaign” against Chelsea, they’ve just happened to catch the brunt of what has been a horrific year for refereeing. Don’t listen to Mike Riley, the PGMOL is either delusional, waging a losing PR war, or both. Every weekend it gets worse, with clear decisions proving mind-bogglingly impossible for

The use of technology in the middle of games is out of the question. Nobody wants to stop the flow of a game for officials to look at instant replay. It’s just not feasible, and it’s just not practical.

The answer to our problems is to add referees. The fact that we still ask one lone official to cover an entire soccer pitch is quite frankly ridiculous. Basketball uses three officials to cover a much smaller court. Football uses anywhere from five to eight. Yet in soccer, we’re still stuck with one, plus whatever the linesmen feel like adding, which sometimes isn’t much. Here’s where the linesman was on the potential Simon Mignolet handball today:

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He’s so far behind the play, there’s no good angle to make an accurate call. And people want to tell us extra officials wouldn’t help? How is the linesman that far back? Because he’s trying to concentrate on 800 things at one time.

Look, officiating is an impossible task. Asking humans to be inherently flawless is a losing battle, always has been a losing battle, and always will be a losing battle. So why are we setting the best in the world up to fail, and then publicly humiliating them when they do on a weekly basis? Isn’t this ludicrous? We’ll never get a perfectly officiated game. What we can do is be reasonable.

The Premier League happens to be one of, if not the most visible soccer league in the entire world. English referees are at the top of the game. Martin Atkinson is easily one of the top referees in the entire game, and yet he looked utterly lost this weekend in the process of essentially handing Burnley a point against Chelsea.

Don’t think it’s that bad? Let me help you. This was called offsides. Jan Vertonghen was called offsides on this. In his own half. And everyone on the officiating staff was cool with it.

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So let’s please help these poor souls out. Sure, there would be a feeling-out period of time which would be weird. It would be awkward. The referees would have to get used to working together rather than working on their own. The players would need to adapt to where they should expect calls to come from. But why are we so opposed to change when it clearly would serve the game better?

Here’s my best attempt at a workable system. If you feel you have a better one, by all means let’s hear it. This is an open forum, a positive discussion to better the game.

  • It would be a combination of the basketball and football refereeing systems. Your head official remains in the center of the pitch. He and only he can issue cards, and he would preside over all official discussions. His main responsibility would be the center of the pitch.
  • There would be one official assigned to each penalty area. They would be positioned next to one of the goal posts standing out of play. They would be allowed to whistle any fouls in or out of the penalty area they see, but their primary responsibility would be to watch the penalty area. For any foul they believe to be bookable offenses, they would consult the head official who would be instructed to trust his coworkers unless he is 100% certain he must overrule their judgement – same as in the NFL. Penalties are almost always game-changing calls, why are we asking referees standing on the midline to suddenly follow a long ball forward, and then make a call when 30 yards behind?
  • The linesmen would stay in their usual areas, and could make foul calls near the touchline, but their main duties would be to monitor offside calls. With the added officials in each final third, their responsibilities to call fouls would be alleviated, allowing them to focus on making the hardest call in all of sports.

Is this really too much to ask? It’s not, and it works. Does adding a pair of referees really cause so much chaos that we still have yet to even make such a proposal? The mere fact that a proposition such as this feels rebellious itself is an issue. Unfortunately, this probably would be met by heavy opposition at the higher levels at first. But why? It only took 140 characters for a smart person to sum it up:

Officiating is hard. One wrong call can not only change a game completely but also overshadows the other 99 the referee got right. One out of 100 isn’t too bad, right? Wrong, when that call means Nemanja Matic is sent off instead of Ashley Barnes. Would Martin Atkinson have been in better position to see that ghastly tackle had his responsibility in the final thirds been lifted? Would a penalty-area official have seen Joe Allen chop down Filip Djrucic? Probably. Nay, most likely.

Case in point: the Brazilian Serie A uses a system very similar to this, and it works. In a game last year down the stretch, with Palmeiras looking to avoid relegation, they earned a crucial penalty for a clear handball in the box. Despite standing right next to the incident, the referee didn’t give the decision for whatever reason, but with an additional official standing next to a goal post, the penalty was given, and Palmeiras earned a point. Watch at 2:00 in this highlight package:

We will never get a perfect system, and yet we continually expect one. So what’s wrong with getting as close as possible? Officials will always get decisions wrong, but enough is enough. Let’s stop spending week in and week out bashing those brave enough to embark on an officiating career, and instead let’s extend them an olive branch. Everyone wins. Yes, even Chelsea.

Free agent players fear being released before season ends

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Out of contract players fear they will be released before the season is concluded, according to a report by The Telegraph.

For the Big Five European leagues, with seasons starting in August and ending in May, most contracts run through June 30. With the coronavirus shutting down leagues across the world and causing the likely extension of most domestic seasons, that timeline is almost certainly pushed back, meaning games could be played later than the expiration of contracts.

While some players who are in the lineup often, such as Chelsea’s Willian, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, or Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser aren’t in danger of being released since they are heavily relied upon by their clubs, many others who are on the fringe could see their contracts terminated before the campaign comes to a close.

The report states that while FIFA cannot change contract law, players are hoping that FIFA will impose temporary sanctions on clubs that release players before the season is up.

High-profile players out of contract who could be impacted include Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne, and Manchester United’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Sports lawyer Nick De Marco of Blackstone Chambers told Sky Sports that it’s likely players will be under no obligation to stay with their clubs beyond the date of their current contract, but some may wish to even if they aren’t playing to continue earning a paycheck.

“Legally, they cannot be forced to continue to play for the club,” De Marco told Sky Sports News. “Nobody can force them to do so; FIFA, the FA, the club or anybody else. If they want to walk away, that’s a matter for them but it will really be a matter of whether, financially, that makes sense for them.”

“If you’re a lower league club, financially stressed, you won’t be wanting to pay players beyond June 30,” De Marco said. “So, a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to work. It’s going to depend on each case. The key is going to be agreements.”

Infantino warns against restarting games too early

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has cautioned leagues on restarting too early from the coronavirus shutdown, citing continued health concerns.

Bundesliga teams have already returned to training as they gear up for a possible May return, while Premier League clubs are hoping for a return to play in June. Both leagues have detailed that for the foreseeable future, games will be played behind closed doors to keep from masses of people spreading the virus.

Still, Infantino is cautious of these plans, hoping that leagues take public health seriously.

“No match, no competition, no league is worth risking a single human life,” Infantino said. “It’s better to wait a little bit longer than to take risks.”

“I cannot stress this enough,” he told Fifa’s 211 member associations on Friday. “Our first priority, our principle, the one we will use for our competitions and encourage everyone to follow, is that health comes first. Everyone in the world should have this very clear in their mind.”

Most leagues are are on hold as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions are taking place about when to restart, and all involve playing behind closed doors first as a return to action in front of fans would likely require a vaccine before that many individuals can safely convene in a group environment.

“It would be more than irresponsible to force competitions to resume if things are not 100% safe,” said Infantino. “If football manages to have a discussion where everyone contributes positively, and keeps in mind the global interest over the individual one, I am convinced our future can be better than our past, and we will be better prepared for the times ahead.”

WATCH LIVE: The 2 Robbies on Lunch Talk Live

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe are two guests who will appear on the show Lunch Talk Live hosted by Mike Tirico.

[ WATCH LIVE: Lunch Talk Live on NBCSports.com ]

NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show, Lunch Talk Live focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories, and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

The two Robbies will join other guests Luke Kuechly, Rich Eisen, Tony Dungy, Michele Tafoya, Paul Azinger, and Dan Hicks.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Gabriel to Chelsea, Kante to Real Madrid

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Chelsea is all over the transfer news today.

According to an ESPN report, Chelsea has tabbed 22-year-old Lille center-back Gabriel Magalhaes as one of their top targets this coming transfer window. The Brazilian has been a regular in the Lille lineup this season, making 24 league appearances and helping the squad to the league’s fourth-best defensive record.

The report states that both sides are “optimistic of a deal” with Chelsea ready to pay the $37 million fee.

With transfer targets are identified at Stamford Bridge, it seems the club has also figured out some sort of strategy regarding transfers out. A report by 90min states that while Chelsea is more than happy with N’Golo Kante, roster congestion may allow them to be flexible with his status at the club.

With Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic developing a solid partnership during Kante’s extended injury struggles this season, plus the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the availability of Ross Barkley, and the emergence of young Billy Gilmour, Kante is expendable. The report states that while Chelsea is not looking to shop the Frenchman, Real Madrid has held longtime interest and Los Blancos are likely to explore that likelihood in the upcoming transfer window.

Kante has three years left on his deal, and while Chelsea is under no hurry to sell, he will be 32 years old by the time his deal expires so any longer and the midfielder’s value is sure to begin falling.

A familiar name with Premier League transfer rumors is Portuguese midfielder William Carvalho. Linked with PL clubs for years, the Real Betis man is now connected with Leicester City as well as French side Monaco, according to the Leicester Mercury which cites unnamed reports in Portugal. The 28-year-old has 59 caps for Portugal, including a starting role in the side’s Euro 2016 title. He would reportedly cost around $25 million with three years still remaining on his Real Betis contract.