VAR – What is it good for ?
Guest Post by Mattybhoy
On Wednesday evening , viewers at home and the punters who’d taken out a second mortgage to get a ticket for the former City of Manchester stadium were treated to an exciting Champions League quarter-final tie that contained plenty of thrills and spills but was ultimately soured by a moment of soulless technicality that encapsulated the game’s dour drive for perfectionism.
If it was up to your humble correspondent, ideally neither of the two financially-doped EPL clubs with no real continental pedigree playing last night would be gracing the sanctity of a European Cup semi-final today; but alas, that is the game we have on our hands now.
Christian Eriksen is an excellent professional and a very good player to watch; he helped spearhead a workmanlike Denmark side to the Round of 16 at last year’s World Cup and can be pointed out as one of the reasons for Tottenham developing into genuine Premier League challengers over the last few seasons. Yet last night he made a dreadful error in playing an unconvincing ball back to his own keeper. See, even the great players do that sometimes. Make mistakes.
As it transpired, the ball deflected off Bernardo Silva on its way through, rendering Sergio Agüero offside and the resulting goal invalid, but that wasn’t spotted by either the Turkish referee or his linesman. So for almost an entire minute Man City players, staff and fans were revelling in the sheer ecstasy of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, only for a team of stuffy officials sitting in front of a series of TV screens to snatch that away from them.
This, in essence, is where the flaw of VAR lies. It spikes the punch, it spoils the moment, it leaves one always wondering whether what they’re experiencing in those fleeting seconds is too good to be true.
In real time, not one the four officials on the ground saw that offside. If there was a flag up immediately after the ball hit the net, then that’s fair enough. But nobody ever asked for perfection. Fans watch football precisely because of the drama, the mistakes and the occasional sense of injustice that fosters togetherness among their tribe. VAR removes, or attempts to remove that from the game in one fell swoop. One of the greatest appeals of football is that sometimes human error comes into play and has unfortunate consequences. For the most part, the best team will win. Sometimes, luck isn’t on your side and a bad call can ruin a game. That’s just football. That’s life in general. The best laid plans oft go awry. Do we really want every fractional error clarified and corrected retrospectively while a whole stadium holds its breath?
Remember Pierluigi Collina? He used to be able to run a flawless game on his own, through knowledge of the sport and a genuine understanding of players, managers and human emotion in a highly charged atmosphere. He didn’t need off-pitch assistance to lend credence to his authority on it. What we needed were better trained refs in the Collina mould, not box-ticking jobsworths who can rely on a second opinion to get them out of a corner when they need it.
Fans have been blindsided by the corruption scandals at UEFA and FIFA this decade, and some have now come to believe that this is a necessary evil and should just be welcomed with a resigned shrug. Let’s have a quick glance at two of the first things that come to mind when trying to justify VAR; namely South Korea’s highly dubious passage to the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, and Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in 2010. In the first instance, looking back with hindsight, one has to concede that was just naked corruption, topped up with a dose of rank incompetence among the officials FIFA elected to choose for those games. In the second case, the disallowed Lampard goal eventually heralded the advent of goal line technology – each match ball contains a sensor inside, and the ref gets an immediate alert on his watch as to whether the ball has crossed the line.
The decision is immediate, the moment is uninterrupted.
This writer does not claim to have any direct solutions to the problem of corruption at the upper echelons of the game, but I can recognise when the high lords are throwing us a bone to try and keep us happy in the meantime. If VAR is the best they can do, then I’d rather we just stick to the way things were before.
In a weak and blundering attempt to convince viewers that the modern game is still brimming over with romance and last night’s quarter-final is proof; BT commentator Darren Fletcher evoked the names of Bell, Summerbee and Lee who delighted the Maine Road faithful in the 60s and 70s, and legendary Spurs servant Bill Nicholson who oversaw the only two league title wins in that club’s history as a player and a manager. However clumsy the comparison may be, let’s go with it and follow that logic to its conclusion. The (I’m guessing here) 25 to 35,000 ‘real’ Man City fans, those who could actually tell you who Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee were, will today be feeling robbed. Not because they lost a European quarter final tie, but because they’d been allowed to believe that they’d won it, until fusty bureaucracy took it away from them.
You know what VAR is? VAR is Stuart Armstrong not lifting his head up and playing in Andy Robertson down an unguarded left flank at Hampden Park in injury time and instead losing the ball that ultimately ends up with Harry Kane getting an equaliser. Of course England were the better team, and deserved something from the game, probably a win. But I’d rather not have felt the delirium of those two Leigh Griffiths free kicks beating Joe Hart only for that palpable taste of joy to vanish at the death because of one technical inaccuracy.
Video Assisted Refereeing, while borne out of good intentions, does not serve the spirit of the game.