One of the great World Cup success stories has been the “magic spray” used by referees to keep a defensive wall 9.15 metres (10 yards) from the ball at free kicks but its inventor says he is more concerned with the good of the game than making millions.
Heine Allemagne, 43, who has given FIFA free use of his invention at the finals, says he is driven by a love of the game and helping referees keep discipline rather than becoming a multi-millionaire.
And his invention could hardly be more simple. The referee sprays a line of biodegradable foam derived from vegetable oil in a line on the pitch indicating where the players must stand at a freekick, and that line disappears within a minute or two.
“I had no commercial ambition, I wanted to develop the product. Perhaps there will be some financial side but that can come later, I wanted to get the product perfect for football.
“I wanted to help the referees keep discipline. The time now taken at free-kick has dropped from 48 seconds to around 20 seconds. There are less yellow and red cards and more goals from free-kicks, and the players respect the line.”
Although the spray cans are not yet widely available, Allemagne said the retail price would be around US$5 (RM16). FIFA took delivery of 320 cans for the 64 World Cup matches and Allemagne has absorbed the hypothetical cost of US$1,600 himself.
One of the more intriguing aspects of his story is the time it took for such a simple concept to become accepted.
Although local football authorities welcomed it in the early stages, he said FIFA president Sepp Blatter and secretary general Jerome Valcke needed some convincing when they reached a more advanced stage.
“Some people needed convincing like them. Blatter was sceptical in the beginning but then realised this solved a football problem.
“Some people did not think it was necessary or would act as enough deterrent to keep people behind the line. But they changed their minds.”
Allemagne, who was born and raised in the state of Minas Gerais where tomorrow’s semi-final between Brazil and Germany is being played in Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium, was working in TV and graphic design when he came up with idea 14 years ago.
A keen amateur footballer, he was increasingly irritated by the time-wasting that surrounded every free kick at every level of the game with players encroaching towards the ball.
The prototype was first used in the minor Copa Belo Horizonte in 2000.
It was gradually used in higher levels and two years later the Brazilian FA (CBF) sanctioned its use after it received a 100 per cent approval rating by the referees who had it.
In 2006 Allemagne joined forces with Argentinian Pablo Silva who was independently working on a similar product and since then they been working together on the spray they called the 9.15 Fair Play spray — the metric distance players need to be from the ball at free kicks.
By 2012 the spray, with many technical modifications along the way, had been tested in 18,000 professional games and was authorised by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) who approved its use at all levels in 2012.
FIFA tested it at the Under-17 and Under-20 world championships in 2013 and it was also used at the Club World Cup before being used for the first time at the World Cup.
“I am just a face in the crowd, someone from Minas Gerais who tackled a century-old problem,” says Allemagne.
Although he holds an international patent for the product and is protective of it and could become a very wealthy man out of it, that does not appear to be his goal.
“There are ethical values involved. Multinational companies absorb the work of others and make their profits, but my journey is not about that,” he says. — Reuters