Thursday, September 17, 2009

Europa League: A eureka moment?

Another season, another incarnation. The Europa League proper kicks off tonight for the first time.

What is it now? Basically the Champion’s League-lite.

Having used the behemothic blue riband event to strip the UEFA Cup of whatever lustre it once had UEFA have come up with the Europa League as a way of breathing life into their second tier event.

That actually sounds a bit too nice on UEFA. They’ve created the Europa League to get more money out of games featuring clubs that aren’t good enough to play in the Champion’s League.

This season those teams include some names with illustrious European reputations slumming it either because their glory nights have disappeared into the distant past or they are trapped in leagues that don’t support multiple Champion’s League entries.

And among those number we must place our very own Celtic. Or Glasgow Celtic as they will no doubt be known for the duration of their involvement. They kick off tonight in Israel where Hapoel Tel-Aviv provide the competition. Not, one would imagine, the easiest of trips but Tony Mowbray will be seeking the salvation of a Europa League run so he’ll be keen to hit the ground running.

I must admit that the Europa League doesn’t really interest me in the slightest at the moment. Maybe it will grow on me. The UEFA Cup was steadily watered down over the years and the league format of the last few years seemed a desperate move. Which was fitting as it produced only a succession of desperate games. Maybe the Europa League will spark some life into the competition and maybe not. I’d not bet my house on Platini’s Pillocks having found the winning formula though.

But I’ll be watching tonight with some interest as the new "assistant referee" experiment is tried out for the first time. As well as the normal two linesmen patrolling the flanks, tonight we’ll also have two others on the goal line. They’ll be looking out for dives, fouls and making sure they keep any eye on balls crossing the goal line among sundry other duties

Hmm. Now, you might think that a referee, two linesmen and a fourth official should be able to manage things themselves. If they can’t then there’s every chance that adding another two will simply increase the crew of incompetents from four to six.

But maybe it will work and maybe the referees will appreciate the help. I’m keen to see if they’re also there to flag for things like obstruction when a defender shepherds the ball out of play and shirt pulling and general "jostling" at set pieces. These are normally ignored at the moment. Clearly, if illegal, they should be clamped down on but to do it every time is really going to interrupt the flow of the game.

I’m not yet convinced by the use of technology during games but if debates about the ball crossing the line are common enough to demand two extra pairs of eyes then surely we could come up with some kind of unobtrusive technology to do the job. In fact I’m sure a Higher Physics class could come up with something that would get the job done.

I am intrigued by the experiment but I’m not convinced that it’s really needed or that it will work.

And I’ll leave you with this thought – positioning is all important.

Take Eduardo and the most famous dive since Greg Louganis stuck the heid on the highboard. If you were standing at certain places behind the goal that night then you’d have been as blind as the referee, traditional linesmen and Arsene Wenger himself.

That, you might think, would render this experiment redundant before it’s even started.