How much reliance are we going to give to VAR?
Now there will be a lot of people either side of this argument and I’m going to keep this unbiased (hopefully). The penalty in the 1st minute of the Champions League Final between Liverpool & Spurs has caused a lot of controversy. Fans of either side have their opinions and the neutrals are split, myself included.
Sissoko appeared to be pointing/ordering at a team mate as Mane crossed the ball from about 1 metre away.. on first viewing on TV it looked like it hit his hand but on closer viewing it’s hits his chest first and rolls down.
The letter of the law (12):
It is usually an offence if a player: touches the ball with their hand/arm when: the hand/arm has made their body unnaturally bigger. the hand/arm is above/beyond their shoulder level (unless the player deliberately plays the ball which then touches their hand/arm)..
So, with Sissoko pointing and having his arm away from his body, it IS in an unnatural position and it is making his body bigger.. however, it hits his chest first? The photo very clearly shows this so where does VAR come into this?
The decision went to VAR and on the biggest stage of them all, with the whole world watching, this ‘independent panel’ of referees decided that he referee was correct, even with the unlimited amounts of angles that they have on offer. Couldn’t they see that Mane was so close to Sissoko, there was no way of moving out of the way? Could they use common knowledge and decide this? Was he stopping a goal-scoring opportunity? Mane was simply going to cross the ball and hope to create a chance. All of this added to the drama but it also has left a sour taste for Spurs fans who feel it ruined their chance of the biggest footballing trophy of all.
Anyway, away from this decision, VAR is changing the game. We were told that VAR would eradicate human error, it would stop the doubt and the decisions which could prove costly to all teams. In my opinion, it’s opened the game up to more disrepute.
One piece of technology that has changed the game for the better is Goal-Line Technology. This is a huge positive to the Premier League and the one and only example that needs to be given to signify this came at the Etihad this season where Liverpool somehow missed out on a goal by millimetres which ultimately could have been the Premier League Trophy defining moment.
Had John Stones not made that clearance, had Goal-Line technology not been available to clear up all doubt then we could of found ourselves with all sorts of question marks hanging over the Champions head. From watching it live, this looked a clear goal. So why is VAR not so conclusive?
Lots of examples available but I will look at few..
Harry Kane was controversially given Onside by VAR in a cup tie against Chelsea back in January. The striker ran through, was wiped out by the Goalie and a penalty was given and converted. However, on reflection, angles came to light after the game which clearly showed Kane’s top half offside… again, one up for debate and not remove the ‘doubt’ that VAR was supposedly there to do. The only part of the body that isn’t possible to score with is your hand/arm. His head is shown to be past the ‘VAR Line’ so why wasn’t this given? Why didn’t VAR have the correct angle for this decision?
Penalties (for holding) –
World Cup 2018. 3 words which are key to VAR and this example. Never has a World Cup had so many penalty incidents – the amount given was up 174% in fact. A huge increase and it had its highs and lows.. for England it was good. Maguire, Kane and co were man-handled in most games and penalties kept being given.. there is a fine line between holding (football is a contact game remember) and dragging an opponent down. Where should the game of Football draw the line? VAR will highlight that shirt holding/tugging but isn’t that part of the game that we love? Obviously to an extent but still, if we take this side of the game out of it and allow people to have a clear run or not compete for a header then are we taking the competitive nature out of the game?
Diving/Contact in the area –
Now this is a controversial section. One which you shout for if it’s your attacker or you throw the TV out the window if it’s against you.. a player goes down in the box and the referee heads to VAR. Slow motion zooms in the contact area and you see the slightest contact, maybe even a shoe lace brushing an opponent. To the letter of the law, it’s contact and the defender didn’t get the ball and it’s a penalty.. but do we really want this to happen? As soon as an attacker gets to a goal threatening area, defenders will be afraid to make any contact and instead of making tackles they will simply just try and block or deflect away. Common sense needs to prevail. Diving is cheating and we need to be clear that contact needs to strong enough to cause someone to go down and fall over.
VAR in the Premier League.
We all love a big crunching tackle, but as we all know, what was acceptable back in the 80s and 90s is not possible now. The game has changed in a way where it is more about flair and skill rather than passion and brute force. Some people love it, some people loathe it. VAR will be introduced into the Premier League this season, expect less big tackles and a more sterilised version of Football as managers ask players to rein it in to ensure they have 11 men on the pitch and give them a better chance of winning.
One worry I have is the infrastructure that we have in place. People have probably seen the wonky lines we currently get on the photos and in turn then more doubt around the decision. Does the English Stadia have the network in place to catch all angles and aid VAR to the extent that it needs? American Football are huge stadiums, all with cameras that follow the play overhead and capture all angles. The Premier League does not have this sort of access at all stadiums apart from a small handful of Champions League / Top 6 clubs. I can’t imagine Turf Moor or Carrow Road being able to have this set up in place so will VAR be successful on potentially trophy deciding decisions.
Are we changing our game for the better or worse? There are arguments for both sides. I would hate for our game to become reliant on computers and technology and the ‘fun’ aspect is removed. Bad decisions are swings and roundabouts in football. Every team gets bad calls against them and then the following week will pick up a call in their favour. It gives us talking points and is part of the highs and lows of being a passionate fan. Waiting 2 minutes for a VAR decision to be made can stop celebrations or you’ve just fallen down 5 rows and sent limbs flying everywhere for no reason.
In my honest opinion, use VAR with common sense. Goal-Line technology, mistaken identity, Clear penalties that are NOT given (allow the ref to use his common sense and instinct) and potential horror challenges which get punished incorrectly.