VAR badly in need of a spruce-up already - (2021)
Whatever the question, this version of VAR is NOT the answer
Brexit apart, there are few more contentious current concerns than VAR. The Video Assistant Referee. Before ‘anxious and confused’ from Hemel Hempstead writes in to berate me for confusing real national issues with grown men chasing a bag of wind across expensively-manicured paddocks, hopefully you get my drift.
If you’re a football fan, it’s hard not to have a view upon it. VAR, that is.
Colours to the mast time – I’m a devotee, always have been, of referees getting additional technological help. The game is held to ridicule every week because, courtesy of TV, we see the mistakes, some marginal, some glaring, that officials make. And how on earth is the naked human eye expected to be capable of making some of those hairline decisions, offside for example, in the first place? It’s totally unrealistic.
Matches often hang on these contentious moments. Getting them right MOST of the time should surely be a massive priority.
When Frank Lampard’s ‘goal’ (above) in the World Cup against Germany in 2010 was ignored, despite the ball clearly (apart from to the referee and his assistants) bouncing in well behind the line, I think even the reluctant bigwigs in FIFA and UEFA realised that we couldn’t go on like that any more – but is VAR the answer?
VAR is going to be utilised in the Premier League across the board next season, but at present it’s being used in the domestic cups – some of the time. That’s the first problem – as evidenced by the weekend’s FA Cup ties where VAR was NOT being deployed.
Exhibit one – Swansea’s narrow defeat to Manchester City. I defy anyone to find ten people who would agree wholeheartedly one way or another that Raheem Sterling should or should not have been awarded a penalty – but Sergio Aguero’s deft, tie-winning header was clearly a smidge offside.
‘Clearly’ of course only due to the availability of slow-motion, replayed action – NOT to well-meaning officials asked to make such crucial calls, in the twinkling of a moment, using only what God has equipped them with.
I’m a big fan of the NFL. They have their own review system which incorporates the ability for a coach to challenge a particular call – but, crucially, not all of them. This very season’s Super Bowl finalists LA Rams pretty much owed their presence in the big one in Atlanta courtesy of a glaring non-call in the Conference Championship match against New Orleans Saints – a play that, frustratingly, could not be challenged.
They still have their problems then – big ones – but on the whole I believe theirs is a far superior and wider-reaching system than VAR.
When it is deployed, VAR takes far too long. It does pop up extremely significantly from time to time, most notably recently for Manchester United’s late Champions League penalty decider against PSG. I happen to agree that the award of the penalty kick was valid, as when a defender turns his back on the ball he deserves anything coming his way if the ball subsequently strikes his arm or hand, slightly away from his body, preventing the ball from continuing on its path.
It was a brave but in my view just decision, but many disagreed. So did VAR help or hinder its cause that evening in Paris? Was the award overturning the ‘no-call’ to avoid a real miscarriage of justice – the prevention of a ‘howler?’ Hardly. It was a judgement call, which is fair enough – but within a subject, handball, that has few equals when it comes to being contentious, and frankly unfathomable.
Does anyone really understand the VAR protocols, because at the moment the whole thing is a dog’s breakfast. Video technology, to help refs and their assistants to get it right far more that they currently do – mainly due to human frailty but occasionally due to inexplicable incompetence? For me, definitely. Do we feel VAR, in its current form, is the answer to those prayers? Not on your nelly, as my old granny used to say.
Come on football – get it sorted. Speed it up. Set clear parameters, not woolly guidelines. Allow for some challenge elements – and ensure that for cup-ties, it’s all or nothing, matches-wise, for its implementation. Tidy up the handball rule while you're at it, and penalise immediately anyone manhandling IN ANY WAY WHATSOVER an opponent in the penalty area whilst awaiting the taking of a corner. What a running sore of a joke that is.
I'm not known for being referee Mike Dean's most ardent admirer but to his eternal credit he gave Bournemouth a spot-kick for just that at the weekend, and if more referees were brave and did so every time then the ludicrous practice would stop overnight.
VAR was supposed to stop the game being held to ridicule, as with that Lampard moment. Instead it’s adding a layer of unwelcome additional controversy all of its own.
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