Currently football managers and their staff aren't allowed to use electronic devices in the dugout that would allow them to analyse matches and make changes in real time. Now with huge clubs like FC Barcelona want that to change, we look at the arguments for getting technology on the bench

On May 22, 2016, the English national football team beat its Turkish counterparts by two goals to one. Like many England matches, no one really remembers the match for anything that happened on the pitch because the game’s real incident came when Turkey’s manager, Fatih Terim, incensed by an offside goal being allowed, paced the touchline watching a replay of the goal on his phone. Eventually, as cartoon steam started to escape out of his ears, Terim showed his findings to the fourth official, but rather than use the make the referee aware of the mistake that had been made, the fourth official appeared to confiscate Terim’s phone.

Unexpectedly, rather than being just another dull England friendly, the game has become known for highlighting the uneasy relationship between football and technology. In the England -Turkey case, the information Terim took from his phone was used to harangue the match officials, but the information gleaned from having electronic devices available to managers could them allow to make better decisions and more effective contributions. This is the opinion of perhaps the world’s greatest football team, FC Barcelona.

“Sports need to change its rules, and do things to adapt knowledge to the match,” says Raul Pelaez, head of sports technology at FC Barcelona. “Specifically, in football I imagine that in a few years we can see staff on the bench with laptops seeing in real time the performance of the players. Now it is not possible because it’s not allowed – to have electronic devices on the bench. I think it needs to change.”

Punish behaviour not tech

Football is often accused of burying its head in the sand when it comes to introducing new technology. It took years for football to accept the usefulness of goal-line technology, and while it is now permitted, it’s still not a requirement in the world’s major leagues. However, despite its Luddite approach to introducing tech, football’s lawmaking body, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), is currently consulting with football’s stakeholders on the subject of introducing electronic devices into dugouts around the world. The problem, as it sees it, is that introducing technology could turn football (even more so) into a game between the haves and the have nots, and ultimately create unfair advantages between competitors.

“We wanted to avoid [the situation where] teams who are financially disadvantaged, who will not have access to information in the technical area, feeling disadvantaged [compared]to teams who have financial resources and [can afford] to analyse tactics and player movements,” says IFAB Secretary, Lukas Brud.

Fatih Terim examines his phone versus England. Featured image courtesy of Kostas Koutsaftikis / Shutterstock, Inc

That argument ignores the fact that football is already fundamentally unequal – if one club can afford to pay a reported £89.3m, not including wages, then how can other football clubs with more modest budgets compete with that? But Brud admits that apart attempting to make football fair, the IFAB also wants to avoid situations like the one Fatih Terim caused against England.

“We want to avoid people in the technical area, whether they’re players, coaches or technical staff, being able to see replays that can be transmitted to the technical area,” says Brud. “The technical area needs to remain clear of those devices because we can’t control them.

“We will be doing a survey with all the member associations around the world to see if we should potentially allow these kinds of technological devices in the technical area, but punish behaviour not the use of it. In other words, if a team is using it without having any impact on their behaviour towards the match officials or the other team then that’s fine. If they approach the referee and say ‘I just saw on the replay that you made a massive mistake’ then that should be punished,” explains Brud.

“We cannot control what is happening in the technical area right now because the devices are becoming smaller and smaller, so information can be accessed easily nowadays, and the fourth official’s role is not to check whether a player has hidden or has a mobile phone in his hand.”

Laptops on the bench

Former Southampton manager Harry Redknapp once famously barked at his performance analyst: “I’ll tell you what, next week, why don’t we get your computer to play against their computer and see who wins?” But despite Redknapp and others’ protestations, the introduction of technology in football cannot be avoided, although, as Barcelona’s Pelaez points out, “the most important thing is still the ball and the players.”

Brud says that the IFAB is currently discussing whether to allow medical staff to use electronic devices, like tablets, so that they can assess injuries quicker

Brud says that the IFAB is currently discussing whether to allow medical staff to use electronic devices, like tablets, so that they can assess injuries quicker and have access to potentially vital resources. According to Brud, this will likely be approved the IFAB’s AGM in March. While that would be a positive step, the move wouldn’t allow for managers and coaches to analyse data in real time, although Brud says depending on the outcome of its conversations with football’s stakeholders this position may change come the time of the IFAB’s 2018 AGM.

“We need to identify if that’s what football wants, so we will liaise with all the different stakeholders around the world to find out if coaches, players, referees, competition organisers – whoever is relevant to this debate – whether or not we should allow the technical area to use technological devices,” says Brud.

Eventually we may have reached a situation where football managers have access to real-time, player-performance data, but don’t count on them being able to transmit this data onto the pitch electronically anytime soon.

“If players on the field of play can receive a signal from a communication device from the coach or from his staff, then this may be prone to the potential misuse by potential match fixers,” says Brud. “This is a big business and we want to avoid and to support any mechanisms to avoid match manipulations.”

The desire to avoid signals being sent from match fixers to players is understandable, but it’s odd that no such worries were identified when officials were given communication devices, and, like players, they also have the power to change the course of a match.

Given the IFAB’s position, it’s unlikely we’ll see football managers being able to stop bellowing nonsensical orders from the touchline anytime soon, but it’s inevitable that football will introduce increasing quantities of technology in the coming years. The football dugout is certain to change, with more and more tech discreetly being introduced, but don’t expect the field of play to ever consist of anything more than players, an official and a ball.

Factor’s Gift Guide: 10 present ideas for fitness fans

Struggling to find a suitable gift for the fitness enthusiast in your life? Never fear, Factor has you covered. Here’s ten gift ideas that are perfect for the gym bunny, thrill seeker or fitness fanatic in your life.

Misfit Ray

£79.99 from Misfit

A collaboration between Misfit and Speedo, the Ray is sure to keep fitness fans happy. The lightweight band automatically tracks steps, distance, calories and sleep. You can connect it to your phone to receive notifications and alarms or even control connected household devices. Swim-proof and with batteries lasting up to 6 months, the Misfit Ray is perfect for those wanting to keep an eye on their health at all times.

YI 4K Action Camera

£237.99 from Amazon

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Billed as the best action camera ever, the YI provides professional-quality video at 4K/30fps at 60mbps, four times the quality of 1080p. Using seven layers of all-glass lenses and a new generation chip, the camera can shoot for two hours with a single charge. The YI is the perfect camera for those wishing to capture their adventures in perfect detail, whatever those may be.

FlipBelt

£25 from Flipbelt

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A comfortable belt alternative to the running armbands that can’t carry all your things or the bulky pouches slapping against your hip as you move, the FlipBelt is specifically designed to sit flat and securely on your hips, without bouncing or riding up. The ideal gift for the enthusiastic runner, the belt lets you easily and comfortably carry your essential items with you as you exercise.

Urbanista Boston Wireless earphones

£39.99 from Carphone Warehouse 

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Lightweight, wireless and compatible with all Bluetooth devices, the Urbanista Boston earphones allow you to comfortably listen to music and talk on the move without any risk of tangled cables. Over-ear and noise cancelling, the Boston earphones make it easy to listen to your music no matter what you’re doing. Whether on the run or walking to work, these are a great choice of wireless earphones.

Under Armour HealthBox

£349 from HTC

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Under Armour’s HealthBox is a connected fitness system comprised of four products that are designed to work in unison to measure, monitor and manage the various factors determining how you feel. The box contains the Band, a smart band measuring sleep and activity, Scale, a chest strap that tracks heart rate, and Record, the data collection app that helps you manage progress. The HealthBox is the ultimate package for fitness obsessives.

Bushnell 2016 Neo Ion Golf GPS Watch

£129.99 from Golf Bidder

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Pre-loaded with 35,000+ courses in more than 30 countries, the Bushnell Neo Ion is the watch for the avid golfer in your life. Auto-course recognition, battery life for three full rounds and a shot distance calculator, this watch has it all. Thankfully, it comes with charging cable included and no membership or download fees. If your nearest as dearest fancies themselves a Rory McIlroy, this is definitely the timepiece for them.

Eider Shaper ski jacket

£400 from Eider

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It may be niche, but if you have a beardy skier in need of a gift, this jacket is ideal. The Shaper’s Fix-A-Shape ergonomic zip is the first of its kind and, thanks to the shape of the teeth, is able to fit the jacket’s collar to the line of your face with no friction. Aside from the zip, the jacket is also made with a bi-density weave for maximum performance.

Gocycle G3

£3,299 from Gocycle

Conventional knowledge may suggest we’ve pretty much hit peak bicycle, but Gocycle begs to differ. Founded and designed by a former member of the Mclaren Cars design team, Gocycle’s G3 is innovative new electric bike that takes full advantage of automotive knowledge to deliver a ride that is ergonomic, elegant, lightweight, ingenious and fun. Unfortunately, however, it has a price tag to match.

TRX HOME Suspension Training Kit

£149 from TRX

Including the TRX Home Suspension Trainer, two anchoring solutions and six digital workouts, this suspension training kit is sure to make short work of getting your loved ones in shape. The kit can be set up anywhere in less than a minute, allowing fitness fans to never miss a workout. At home, in the park or on the beach, TRX’s kit is there to help build cores and sculpt that dream physique.

NW-WS410: Waterproof and Dustproof Walkman

£80 from Sony

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Waterproof to a depth of 2m, sealed against sand, dust and grit and able to handle temperatures ranging from -5°C to 45°C, the NW-WS410 is the ultimate training partner. Designed to withstand the elements, the Sports Walkman is able to keep up with you no matter what. With up to 12 hours of battery life and an ergonomic shape that keeps the Walkman stable, it’s a great option for sporty music fans.