Few of us know what the Fifth Official does. He just jogs on the spot brandishing what looks like a policeman’s baton but does no enforcing with it whatsoever.
We are told that the 5th official is not permitted to make any decisions (unlike the linesmen) but is there to aid the referee.
Standing in the Stretford End on Tuesday night when United took on Marseille to book their place in the Champions League quarter-finals I, and those surrounding me were growing more and more frustrated with the 5th official as it seemed he was only there to get in our way. Five of us missed Chicharito’s opener in the 5th minute because the 5th official (see the common denominator?) saw it as an opportunity to run up and down presumably to keep warm as Wayne Rooney squared the ball to the little Mexican.
Cue torrents of abuse from the Stretford End but the 5th official who does have a name, Carlos Clos Gomez, continued to block the view of the fans while not aiding the referee in any way shape or form.
A key example of this was in the second half when Wayne Rooney went down in the box inches away from our pal Carlos but the weapon-carrying referee-wannabe chose this moment to not move a muscle and remain still while the Stretford End arose in disgust.
This is what incensed the crowd most – a man kitted up, running around like a busy-body but with no real purpose or power to change a game.
It works in the NFL in America. They have taken it a step further as they have seven referees. Yes, seven referees.
I mean, I know Americans love XL sizes in everything, but even extra refs? The difference in their game is every official knows their specific role, which can’t be said for these 5th officials who look bewildered standing in front of disgruntled fans, behind disturbed goalkeepers on cold nights across the continent. And they said the manager’s job was the coldest and loneliest in the game.
Back to the NFL’s referee’s, they all look out for different things, and there is far too much action (given the rules – no face mask infringement, no holding etc.) on the pitch for a single ref to cover everything. In addition refs are also helped by modern TV technology: NFL managers can challenge a ref through an efficient system of calls called challenge. As a result, you do see a limited number of evident ref blunders in NFL.
Following this example, you would also expect that, by increasing the number of officials, Football refereeing standards would improve too. But judging by the experiment that is the 5th and 6th officials in the past two years, it appears there has been no progress.
By UEFA remit, their main function is to resolve the ball over / not over the line controversy. But these kind of episodes only happen maybe four to five times a season. As a result their presence is pretty much useless unless they are promoted to a more active role (i.e. overall ref of the penalty box). At the moment, they do not help the match official – as was obvious in all three penalties awarded by that bold Norwegian ref – they do not help the game and they do not help UEFA either, who is forced to pay 500 Swiss Francs per game plus travel costs per each ref without seeing a drop in the case of refereeing controversies.
So RFFH says scrap the extra officials not only because they’re useless but also because us Stretford Enders can’t see the action!
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