MARADONA AND THE TECH GODS

Hublot’s lat­est Big Bang mo­ment is a mar­ket­ing coup that sees it into Ap­ple Watch ter­ri­tory.

Esquire (Malaysia) - - MA­CHIN­ERY - WORDS BY JA­SON TAN

While the spy ver­sus spy plot car­ries on around the poi­son­ing of for­mer Bri­tish dou­ble agent Sergei Skri­pal in Sal­is­bury, a rather more jolly game was be­ing played in Hall 4 of Basel­world, Switzer­land last month. It was billed, in flam­boy­ant Hublot fash­ion, as “a fu­sion be­tween the world sprint­ing leg­end, the God of Foot­ball and the Spe­cial One for a Foot­ball Match of Friend­ship.”

Es­quire was en­ter­tained by Jose’s hissy fits and still mar­vels at how Usain Bolt so joy­ously took flight on tar­mac. But it is most be­guiled by the Man with the Hand of God: on the blaz­ing af­ter­noon of June 22, 1986, Diego Maradona (1.63m) out­jumped Eng­land ’keeper Peter Shilton (1.83m) in the 51st minute of the World Cup quar­ter-fi­nals be­tween Eng­land and Ar­gentina at Es­ta­dio Azteca, Mex­ico City. Ar­gentina 1, Eng­land 0.

It was a cli­mac­tic fin­ish to a won­der­ful build up that saw Maradona stroll, shimmy and burst free of Eng­land play­ers miss­ing their salsa teacher. The fact that he’d ‘scored’ with his left hand added to the drama wit­nessed by the 114,580-strong crowd. Ref­eree Ali bin Nasser (Tu­nisia) later claimed he awarded the goal af­ter his as­sis­tant ref­eree, Bog­dan Dochev (Bul­garia), hadn’t raised his flag to in­di­cate an in­fringe­ment had taken place. Dochev died last year, aged 80. He told Bul­gar­ian me­dia that FIFA rules then did not per­mit him to dis­cuss de­ci­sions with the ref­eree, even though he had im­me­di­ately sensed some­thing amiss, re­ports the BBC. Maradona, the tragic Dochev said, “ru­ined his life”. Drama in­deed, and grist for the karmic fac­tory. And Peter Shilton? He tweeted ear­lier this year that he’s been in­vited to din­ner with Maradona in June and is still think­ing about it, not­ing that the lat­ter is yet to of­fer him an apol­ogy (“be the big­ger man” tweeted one of Shilton’s fol­low­ers).

But this is not why Es­quire thinks Maradona is a bit more in­ter­est­ing than Messi. It’s be­cause, if he’d cheated for the first goal, God had said it was okay. How else to ex­plain his sub­lime sec­ond, just min­utes later, when he’d left them in his wake and on their back­sides? And this, Es­quire sub­mits, is why Maradona said it was the Hand of God. Any doubt that He ap­proved would be ban­ished af­ter Maradona scored two more against Bel­gium in the semi-fi­nal on the way to vic­tory over West Ger­many (3-2) and lift­ing the Coupe du Monde. (Eng­land, had it got there, would have lost to the Auld En­emy on penal­ties af­ter ex­tra time.)

But there could only be one Hand of God. The Ali bin Nassers of our time will now be aug­mented with VAR, the Vir­tual As­sis­tant Ref­eree that makes its of­fi­cial World Cup de­but in Rus­sia this June, hav­ing first been tri­alled in Ja­pan-korea 2016. What would have hap­pened if VAR had been used to ne-

gate the Hand of God? Om­nis­port asked Maradona. He was staunch: "Noth­ing. I would play against the VAR!” "I think there must be tech­nol­ogy in foot­ball," he added, speak­ing cour­tesy of Hublot. "And foot­ball can't be dis­con­nected from tech­nol­ogy be­cause it is ev­ery­where.

"I think VAR is some­thing re­ally good be­cause it re­flects what hap­pens on the field. It is not just about recog­nis­ing a goal or an off­side."

Basel­world 2018 wasn’t the first oc­ca­sion Maradona has thought about tech’s dis­rup­tion of foot­ball, beau­ti­ful in its spec­trum of hu­man­ity and hand­some mo­ments. But first, re­call the spec­tac­u­lar save by Luis Suarez of Do­minic Adiyiah’s stonk­ing header and pre-des­tined match-win­ner in ex­tra time + 1 minute in the Uruguay v Ghana in quar­ter-fi­nal of South Africa 2010. “The Hand of God now be­longs to me. Mine is the real Hand of God,” the un­throt­tled striker said in his post-match com­ments. (No, new footie fans, he wasn’t the Uruguay goalie.) Suarez was sent off in tears. His­tory beck­oned the African con­ti­nent’s first-ever World Cup semi-fi­nal­ist as Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take the penalty. He missed. Suarez was ec­static. Ghana would lose 2-4 in the en­su­ing penalty shoot-out.

But ev­i­dently, He had al­ready been there, done that.

“Ob­vi­ously I think about it when­ever I show my sup­port for the use of tech­nol­ogy,” Maradona told FIFA.COM last year. “I thought about it and, sure, that goal wouldn’t have stood if tech­nol­ogy had been around. And I’ll tell you some­thing else: at the 1990 World Cup I used my hand to clear the ball off the line against the Soviet Union. We were lucky be­cause the ref­eree didn’t see it. You couldn’t use tech­nol­ogy back then, but it’s a dif­fer­ent story to­day.

“It’s not just my goal in ’86 that wouldn’t have counted. Let’s not for­get that Eng­land won the World Cup in ’66 with a shot that didn’t go over the line. Then it hap­pened to them in 2010, when (Frank) Lam­pard’s shot crossed the line against Ger­many but wasn’t given. Eng­land had the ball and scored the goal they de­served, but Ger­many grew in con­fi­dence af­ter that and it changed the match com­pletely.

“There have been lots of in­ci­dents where World Cup his­tory would have been dif­fer­ent if tech­nol­ogy had been used. It’s time to change all that.”

And with that, ladies and gen­tle­men, be­hold Big Bang Ref­eree 2018 FIFA World Cup Rus­sia,™ the Of­fi­cial FIFA Watch. It of­fers the colours of the 32 par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions for your per­son­alised dial (or mim­ics a “neu­tral” Big Bang), an­nounces matches 15 min­utes be­fore kick-off, vi­brates, and dis­plays GOAL in­stantly in real time, be­sides other match stats that are a pun­dit’s de­light.

But it is the Big Bang Ref­eree’s use as a de­vice to en­hance the om­ni­science of the man in black that is so Space Odyssey (the film cel­e­brates its 50-year an­niver­sary this year). It was tested dis­creetly by referees dur­ing the FIFA Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup 2017 and the FIFA Club World Cup 2017. It runs on the newly re­branded (An­droid) Wear OS ecosys­tem and is com­pat­i­ble with all de­vices us­ing An­droid 4.4 and above or IOS 9 and above. In Rus­sia, the referees’ watches will be con­nected to goal-line tech­nol­ogy, foot­ball’s equiv­a­lent of ten­nis’s Hawk-eye sys­tem, and synced with the Big Bang-shaped ref­eree boards in the World Cup’s sport­ing are­nas.

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