VAR too Far?

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?

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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.

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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..

Offsides –

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?

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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.

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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.

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The best league in the world?

So with the end of arguably the most exciting Premier League title race in history complete, Manchester City ran out Champions again but the question that appears to be asked now is whether the Premier League really is the pinnacle of World Football? With both European Competitions dominated by English Teams, some would believe that this is the answer to your question, however critics could say this is not always how the cookie crumbles.

Manchester City, the greatest team of the Premier League era, were tracked all the way until the final whistle by Liverpool, the greatest team to ever come 2nd (?) if there is a commendation for that. However, the gap to the rest and the quality of the competition may not have boosted the form claim in question. With Huddersfield Town ending on only 16 points – 3 wins, 7 draws and a -54 goal difference – Fulham managing to scrape 26 points and Cardiff battling hard but falling late on with 34 points.

Looking into Europe, the leagues are clearly dominated by 1 or 2 Teams everywhere. PSG 16 points clear and despite the endless piggy bank funding them, they still have no recent european success. Barcelona have taken advantage of an abysmal Real Madrid season have won the league at a cantar with Atletico 11 points adrift. Bayern Munich are stuttering to a possible marginal league title again over Borussia Dortmund. Juventus strolled to a 13 point margin lead over the rest in Serie A with Inter Milan in 3rd a whopping 23 points behind. So maybe we do have the best league in the world, right? Manchester United are the biggest club in World football, huge budget and finished 32 points behind the league leaders.

Sky Sports and BT Sports money is pumped into the Premier League. Hundreds of Millions in fact. Parachute payments for relegated teams are more than the budgets of most european clubs so I would hope that the quality of those bottom clubs would provide a better return on what we are currently getting?

The Premier League is often known to be the most exciting in the world where anyone can beat anyone on their day but this season seems to have been a strange affair. Teams would prefer ‘not to lose’ and especially when setting up away from home, it has turned into an Attack vs Defence at most stadiums in the country and hopefully hit them on the counter. Most bottom half teams are even adopting this strategy at home vs the ‘Big 6’. This philosophy may keep them in the league and ultimately depending on the ambition shown by the club and the manager then this may be enough however one example of success I have enjoyed this season would be Wolverhampton Wanderers. Yes they heavily invested but some of those signings have been a revelation. Playing attacking wing backs such as Doherty (a fantasy football favourite) and a midfield containing a bargain Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves feeding into Jimenez has caused ‘upsets’ by simply attacking the so called ‘Big 6’ and not giving the respect supposedly all big teams deserve.

An early 1-1 draw at Home to Man City in August set the tone for the season ahead. Followed up by a 1-1 draw away at Old Trafford and a 1-1 draw at The Emirates. A 2-1 home victory against Chelsea when coming from behind. First loss was at Home to Liverpool (the only team to not drop any points against Wolves this season but they did lose 2-1 in the FA Cup). Wolves beat Spurs away 3-1, lost 3-0 to City, Drew 1-1 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge undone by a 93rd Minute Hazard equaliser, 2-1 win against Man United and finally a 3-1 win at home to Arsenal.

Now ‘anybody can beat anybody’ is a typical cliche and the magic of the FA cup does show that but the table at the end of the season never lies. The finances of the Premier League allow all clubs to attract top talent from all over the world but ultimately the pinnacle of most players is to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona in front of the Camp Nou.

Could bottom half teams invest better and be able to play a brand of football that Wolves adopted and ultimately match the big boys of the Prem?

With the Champions League and Europa League finals contested by 4 Premier League teams, the standard of our top teams is clearly peaking in comparison to other leagues in Europe. England’s performance at the World Cup was very encouraging and we are definitely moving in the right direction but still not the best in terms of national teams. We can certainly look at our amazing academy’s and be proud of what we are now producing. Talent such as Jadon Sancho who has torn the Bundesliga apart but Premier League clubs have young english talent yet to play consistently enough which may be holding back their development. Callum Hudson-Odoi, Phil Foden, Dominic Solanke, Mason Mount, Reiss Nelson and so on.. all have the world at their feet but may not have the opportunities available to them.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has been voted the best right back in the world this week. Given a chance by Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and now in his 2nd Champions League final in 2 years as well as creating ‘that’ goal in front of the Kop to produce one of the greatest comebacks in football. English football has the potential to be the best National Team in the world to match arguably having the best club teams at the top of the league. Give the youth a chance and it will benefit both club and country.