Very little in this world can come as close to providing such levels of elation or crushing disappointment as sport. The closing moments of the Barclays Premier Leaguein England gave the supporters of Manchester United hope, belief and delight before snatching it away in under two minutes as rivals Manchester City snatched the title from their grasp. The FIFA series has managed to recreate this feeling for gamers everywhere in each game, despite the 12 minute window for drama to occur.
If you are a regular user of Twitter, Facebook, forums or any other method of conveying annoyance or frustration, you will undoubtedly have seen FIFA players post-game. While players and managers will get in trouble with the powers that be should they criticise the referee, gamers face no such repercussions. So naturally, the online world becomes an audience for how awful the referees are. Are they as poor as gamers say they are though? Has FIFA actually perfected the art of the referee?
Executive Producer on the FIFA series, David Rutter, says that they want to recreate the “predictable unpredictability” of football. One of the ways in which this is done is by having referees with different types of refereeing personality in the game. Some will be very strict, while others are more lenient. “But I’ve been hacked down in games, while my opponent gets a free for the lightest touch,” you protest. “These things happen,” is the easiest and possibly most accurate response to give. The Greeks were left on ten men in the very first Euro 2012 match after Papastathopoulos was sent off for two fairly soft yellows. The second came after Murawski was impeded, although it looked as though he was heading for the ground of his own accord.
We’ve all had those moments where the referee gets in the way of play and the ball hits him. Sometimes it simply stops momentum, other times it presents an opportunity for the opposition and in worst case scenarios the ball hits the referee and loops over the goalkeeper. Again, stranger things have happened…well, perhaps not stranger than a goal being scored from deflecting off the referee, but Keith Andrews was pushed over by the referee in Ireland’s match against Spain. The assumption would be that play would be stopped, but everything continued as if nothing had happened.
The problem, or perhaps the redeeming feature depending on your viewpoint, is that FIFA referees are infallible in other situations. While on-the-line clearances or deflections off the post may cause discussion, the decision is always right. If a fraction of the ball has not crossed the line, FIFA will not award the goal and will be right. Although I am sure there is YouTube footage available of a clear goal not being awarded, but those clips are few and far between. They certainly aren’t as common as in real matches. The most recent example is John Terry’sheroic “clearance” that broke Ukrainian hearts. This incorrect decision was made by three different officials with different viewpoints.
Our favourite FIFA calls are offsides of course. While players may occasionally get the benefit of the doubt in a match, the offside rule in FIFA is black or white. You are either on or offside: No ifs, no buts. This also comes back to bite fancier players who try rabona passes or backheel passes into the net. While they are attempting to score, if there is a player ahead of them it is very likely that an offside decision will be made. This is an error on the part of the referee, but again it’s not a case of a poor decision; it is simply a case of the law being adhered to precisely as FIFA knows best.
If FIFA is trying to simulate real life then other decisions need to cause controversy, debate and discussion from time to time. Players also need to make up their minds what they want. When the offside law is applied perfectly, players wish that there was some wiggle room; when tackles are judged with varying degrees of accuracy, players demand pinpoint accuracy. At least the next time I play FIFA I will be glad to see a goal like the Ukrainian goal against England actually given, and I will certainly be glad to never have the whistle blown just as the ball is about to cross the goal line á la the infamous 1978 World Cup match between Brazil and Sweden.
Are FIFA referees perfect? Far from it, but are they a fairly accurate representation of what we see week in, week out? You would have to say “Yes.”