September 21, 2009
Posted: 1923 GMT
As a neutral, I couldn't care less about Manchester United beating Manchester City with a goal in the 96th minute. Neither of them are my team and it was a great game - one of the best Manchester derbies I have ever seen.
I do however, believe it raises the question as to whether the referee and his match officials should be responsible for time-keeping in this day and age, when the rewards for victory are so high, and when teams are fit enough to battle right to the final whistle.
Remember, while stoppage time is viewed as time added-on, it's really no more than compensation for the time lost during the game. In other words, the aim is for each game to last exactly 90 minutes, no more no less.
The problem is that each official appears to have a different view of what constitutes time wasted. Time lost for treatment to injuries is obvious. (Though what constitutes an "injury" requiring the trainer in today's game would have been a rub and a shrug not so long ago.)
But minutes added on for other things like substitutions, goal celebrations, delayed free-kicks, and petty stuff like not tossing the ball to an opponent when it goes out of play, are all open to interpretation.
What's more, with the various other things the officials have to watch-out for in a high tempo game often played at the very limit of the rules, it must be really hard for them to stay abreast of something as basic, but fundamental as the time.
So, why not take out the guesswork by having an official time-keeper? What's more, have the official clock visible to the players, coaches, and fans so that everyone knows where they stand in terms of how much time is left.
The clock could even be stopped every time the whistle blew for an infringement, substitution, or whatever. I know the technology exists in the NBA whereby the reaction to the ref's whistle is almost immediate.
The beauty of the idea would be that as well as ensuring that games last the full 90 minutes, avoiding controversies like the one in Manchester, it could also cut-out some of the play-acting and gamesmanship, such as the 89th minute substitution or the phantom foul, that teams quite legimately use at the moment to waste time. There'd be nothing to gain.
The clock could even stop once a goal is scored, as the ball is dead anyway. That way even the most prolonged goal celebration would not cause a double whammy for the conceding team, which, at present, gives up a goal and some of the time left to respond.
I would also favor the game ending with an official buzzer instead of the ref's whistle. After all, how often have you seen the prescribed amount of stoppage time elapse only for the ref to add on a bit in order to let a particular move, such as a corner, play-out... When time's up time's up, and if you have a buzzer and a time-keeper that would be that.
Now I doubt there'll be much support amongst the football purists for this suggestion. Too progressive. Too impersonal. Too American - I can hear them all now.
But I'm pretty sure there's at least one person in the football fraternity who might be open to the idea, and his name is Mark Hughes - manager of Manchester City.