Manchester United v Liverpool: Why Spidercam heaps more pressure on Michael Oliver

The additional technology at Old Trafford is likely to put the referee’s every decision under even more scrutiny than normal.

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Different: Spidercam, which has also been used in cricket, offers a unique viewing experience and many will be looking forward to seeing it in the English top-flight for the first time

With cameras covering almost every angle and every decision magnified however small it may seem, the job of match officials has never been tougher.

Although referees are getting fitter, so are the players and a modern Premier League game played at an electrifying pace is increasingly difficult to keep up with for the men in the middle – some of which are in their 40s or 50s.

Television coverage is becoming more expensive for companies to acquire and their eagerness to improve the service they provide for viewers means changes are being made all the time.

And the introduction of the ‘Spidercam’ for this weekend’s blockbuster at Old Trafford is the latest addition by Sky Sports to make those watching on TV feel like they are a supporter inside the stadium.

Crews have been busy installing the 3D camera system, which slides across wires above the pitch, throughout the week and it will undoubtedly enhance the experience for armchair fans by bringing them closer to the action.

But, for officials going about their business, the extra feature will only increase the pressure to ensure their decision-making is impeccable and intensify scrutiny should they make a wrong call.

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First: Old Trafford will be the first stadium in the Premier League to experience the Spidercam (Picture from Sky Sports)

The use of the Spidercam at World Cups, European Championships and the Champions League in recent years has given competitions at the top of the game a revolutionary new dimension.

With the 360-degree camera roving across the pitch, it can reach as high as 10 metres above the playing surface and be operated from pitchside.

It will come to the fore for corners, penalties or free-kicks and, given the number of set-pieces in every single game and the amount of grappling that goes on inside the box, the footage is likely to leave officials even more red-faced if they fail to identify even the slightest infringements.

During a time when referees are being criticised on an almost weekly basis, they will have to brace themselves for further scrutiny if and when the Spidercam is rolled out in every ground.

With instant reaction, pundits often make the life of officials difficult and the use of this technology will spearhead the post-match analysis through an array of optimum replays, with decisions likely to be under the microscope more than ever.

A series of controversial red cards lately will not have helped to convince fans that standards are improving, which is certainly a bone of contention, but their esteemed reputation worldwide remains upheld.

Although some Select Group officials have operated at major tournaments before, most recently Martin Atkinson and Mark Clattenburg at Euro 2016, many will not have officiated with this technology.

Michael Oliver, who is tasked with taking charge of Manchester United against Liverpool on Sunday, is still relatively new to the European and international circuit but, with his 32nd birthday approaching next month, he is one of the youngest and fittest officials in the Premier League.

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Man in the middle: Oliver has been a Premier League referee since 2010 – the same year Spidercam was used at a major football tournament (Picture from BBC Sport)

Having overseen United’s 3-1 home win over their north West rivals last season, previous experience of what can be one of English football’s most fiery occasions will stand the Fifa official in good stead.

But nothing can prepare him for what lies ahead once the whistle has blown and an auxiliary camera is hovering directly above watching his every move.

Of course, with the stakes high, the right decisions must be made but, whilst the Spidercam is a broadcasting innovation, a reminder that officials are only human is often needed and giving fans a birds-eye view of proceedings won’t do their cause much good.

Not normally afraid to make a big decision, Oliver – who will be relieved he hasn’t had the same media storm follow him in the same way Anthony Taylor did before the reverse fixture – knows he needs to be at his best but he is the ideal man to illustrate that the officials can handle any extra pressure heaped on them.

Although the Spidercam is effectively on trial at Old Trafford, it won’t be long before every Premier League game will have this additional feature – if the successful implementation of goal-line technology and exploration of further video technology is anything to go by.

And match officials must be ready to raise their performance to another level and react in a positive manner, otherwise their confidence may suffer to the extent that it may be beyond repair.

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