The UEFA Executive Committee has decided to conduct a test trial of the so-called vanishing spray utilized by the referees to mark out free-kick and wall positions at the final tournament of 2014 UEFA Under-17 European Championship. Thus, Europe's football governing body apparently follows world federation FIFA that will deploy the spray at Brazil's World Cup 2014.
|WC 2014 Referee Ben Williams marking the wall-distance|
The tool, that is being availed in South American competitions for several years and that was first tested by FIFA at U-20 World Cup 2013, is supposed to support referees when controlling the correct wall-distance of 9.15m and defining the correct and stationary ball position during free-kicks close to the penalty area. The spray creates a white foam line which vanishes within one minute. Usually the spray is stored in a bottle placed at the referees' trousers.
The responsible men in the football associations touch on a very subtle issue in modern football once again by shifting focus on the wall-distance at free-kicks. Basically, the observation that plenty of attackers here and there steal some (centi-)metres in order to revamp the free-kick position is legitimate. In addition, it is widely known that several defenders are infringing the wall-distance of 9.15m. So at first glance, this tool appears to be a logical means to make the game better.
However, there are several strong arguments against it.
First, the game is not made better, but slower. It takes the referees some seconds to sort out the spray bottle, mark the foam lines and store the bottle away. Besides, it does not exclude the opportunity that some players will ignore these lines.
Second, a tool to prevent infringements with regard to the wall-distance and to stealing some metres has already been implemented in the last century and is commonly called "yellow card".
Third, marking an optically visible line does not necessarily mean that the distance between the wall and the ball's position really is 9.15m. Furthermore, it still allows the possibility that the referees did not identify the correct position where the previous infringement leading to the set piece had occurred at all. If FIFA (and soon UEFA) were consistent, they would have to equip their match officials with a measuring tape and the sixth sense to ensure accuracy.
Fourth (and most important), it is a worrying signal if the responsible associations do not rely on their referees' ability to manage free-kick incidents including the correct ball position and wall distance with their personality. Referees, who savour authority being respected by the players, who are to able to communicate appropiately with the players and who have a general awareness for this sort of infractions, do not need a spray. Therefore, the implementation of the vanishing spray probably is one of those projects of some office sitters in Switzerland who feel the urge to immortalize themselves. At any rate, it is futile in my opinion.