With technological advancements being introduced into the game at a seemingly rapid pace, how is technology shaping the future of football?
The air was thick in Mexico on that day in 1986, when England stepped out onto the field alongside their quarter-final opponents, Argentina. The sun was hot as both teams stood in a line and emptied their lungs with the echoing sound of their national anthems. St Georges flags surfaced around the edges of the concrete stadium; the atmosphere was electrifying.
Maradona kicked the ball to teammate Jorge Valdano six minutes into the second half after inching the ball from the penalty area with his left leg. Valdano attempted to take on numerous English defenders, but the ball was intercepted by English midfielder Steve Hodge, who then knocked it back and forth before kicking it towards England's goal.
Maradona would have been flagged for being offside based on the players' positions, but as the ball came off an opponent, there was clearly no offside offence. Maradona faced goalkeeper Peter Shilton, who was reaching ever so slightly higher than Maradona, alone inside the penalty area as the ball was coming down. Maradona extended his left arm as Shilton leapt forward with his right hand. The ball was pushed by Maradona's uplifted fist, which struck the ball into England's goal. Maradona started to clap as he looked sideways towards the referee and the linesman to get their approval. It was a goal, England were knocked out of the World Cup.
From this moment, distraught fans were crying out for technology to be introduced to the game.
It was 1833 when the first form of technology was introduced into the game in the form of the ball design that we essentially still use today. We fast forward 150 years and it was around the time of the 1896 World Cup when technology came in the form of video analysis, heart rate monitoring and various other technological advancements which saw the game become more competitive.
After an evergrowing demand for goal-line technology after the infamous Hand of God, it wasn’t until 30 years later in 2014 when this piece of technology was welcomed into the Premier League and the first goal to be decisively awarded through goal-line technology was Edin Džeko's goal for Manchester City against Cardiff City.
Since then, technology has flourished within football. The extraordinary shifts that have been introduced into the game have come at a phenomenal pace and have either been eagerly welcomed or deeply speculated.
In more recent times, the most significant development in football is the introduction of video assistant referees (VAR), which states it makes more accurate and fair calls. However, there has been much division between those who support the use of VAR and those who are against it. Those in support argue that it helps to eliminate incorrect decisions and promotes fairness in the sport, while those against it claim that it slows down the flow of the game and undermines the authority of the main referee. Overall, the use of VAR in football continues to be a topic of debate and discussion among fans, players, and officials.
Another area where technology will have a big impact in the future is in the way fans experience the game. Augmented reality and virtual reality could be used to bring fans closer to the action, offering new and innovative ways to watch and engage with football. For example, fans may be able to immerse themselves in the game from their own homes, experiencing the excitement of being in the stadium without ever leaving their couch.
The future of football will also be shaped by changes in society and the way people consume media. With the rise of social media, fans are increasingly demanding more immediate access to news, highlights, and analysis. Clubs and organisations will need to adapt to these changing expectations, offering fans a more personalised and engaging experience both on and off the pitch.
We don’t know what the future holds for both technology and its involvement within the game, but what we do know is that as technological advancements are made, they will inevitably surface in the world of football. It's difficult to imagine what comes next, but it's an interesting topic of conversation and only time will tell.
Images: Valentin B. Kremer