It seems at the conclusion of most high profile games these days it reopens the debate over the introduction Video Assistant Referees, or VAR. Real Madrid’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich is fresh in the mind following three offside goals and a debatable red card decision. Would VAR have changed the result?
After the FIFA Club World Cup used the system, which has been trialled in other leagues, we saw the positives it can bring.
In the match between Kashima Antlers and Atletico Nacional, Kashima’s Diago Nishi was dragged to the ground in the box but the referee didn’t see the incident. He went over and consulted the replay and awarded the Japanese side a penalty. It took around 30 seconds but he got the decision right. Kashima converted the spot kick and went on to win the game 3-0.
It was also used in the final when Cristiano Ronaldo scored Real Madrid’s second goal. His celebrations were cut short when he saw the linesman’s flag signalling for offside. The referee consulted the video and despite a brief moment of confusion the goal stood. Again, the correct decision.
Modric isn’t a fan of VAR
In Luka Modric’s post-match interview he clearly didn’t believe VAR had a future. “It is something new. To be honest, I don’t like it. It creates a lot of confusion.
“We had a meeting with referees the other day. I did not listen too much as I don’t expect it continue. For me it is not what football is about. We will see what happens. The first sensation for me is not good.”
Of course, we’re all entitled to our opinions on the subject but it seemed strange to say it isn’t what football is about. I thought the essence of the game was that the best team on the day won. If you’re fouled in the penalty area but the referee tells you to get up, how is that fair? Every single fan can recall at least three or four high profile decisions which went against them. Decisions which may have cost said teams’ titles, European football or saved them from relegation.
In general we’re often against change to our daily routines. It’s why we love sleeping in our own beds, a certain brand of cereal for breakfast and possession of the remote control. The stress of life, work and dealing with children means we seek solace in these creature comforts. “Who has moved my cushion?” becomes a declaration of war as it upsets this fixed environment. With football, it’s much the same.
‘But it’s too slow and ruins the flow of a match’
The fear, and one we all share, is that change could ruin the game we love. The adage of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it comes to mind. The general consensus is that the sport has never been better. The quality on show, the speed of the game, everything is improving. “More technology isn’t needed in our game,” they shout.
Most football fans are concerned by the time it takes to make a decision. “It’s a fast-flowing game, we can’t afford 30 second breaks every few minutes.” I agree it’s essential the time it takes to make a decision needs to be as short as possible but the game is already quite stop-start. The ball is in play for less than an hour across the top five European leagues. We’re already losing 30 minutes of play and no one bats an eyelid.
Football is fast-flowing but when someone is fouled, how long does it take before the game restarts? You include the time it takes for the fouled player to recover, the referee to deal with the guilty party, then use his vanishing spray, step back and blow his whistle. It can sometimes take over a minute or even longer if the tackle was particularly bad. We accept it as part of the game, the same will be true for VAR.
“But that’s added on at the end of the half!” Is it though? I think we’ve all seen how inconsistent injury time is across the board and in most cases, those minutes are lost. It’s why players and notably goalkeepers wind down the clock in the final 10 minutes or so. If they waste five minutes only one or two will be added on. It’s exploiting the system in place.
‘We want our talking points, not perfect decisions’
Another strike against VAR is the idea controversy is part of what makes the game enjoyable. A debatable decision going for or against your team instigates debate amongst friends and family. There’s logic behind that but, ultimately, it’s wrong. If my side scored a perfectly legal goal but the linesman incorrectly flagged for offside I don’t ever think: “Well, at least I’ve got something to talk about with the guys at the pub.” It’s nonsense. Why can’t we spend time analysing a good match with a fair result as opposed to ‘what the officials got wrong’ this week?
And let’s not pretend incidences won’t crop up that won’t have anything to do with VAR. Interpretations of the offside rule is one which confuses many fans. I find it bizarre a player can be in an offside position, jump over the ball and not be interfering with play. The fact the ball goes towards him or under him means he leaves the keeper in two minds. It’s the same with fouls. Decisions won’t always be universally correct but most, or at least more than now, will be.
‘These decisions even themselves out’
The concept these decisions even themselves out over a season is another made up narrative. They don’t. It’s an excuse by those on TV who want to praise the bigger teams and not dwell too long on the negatives. Whenever an elite side is on the receiving end of a bad call they create hashtags about a campaign against their club. It puts unfair pressure on officials. Ask a side near the bottom how many decisions go against them, then see how many in the TV studio give a damn.
Officials are human, they will make mistakes. Let’s help them. Imagine accountants before they invented calculators. “I’ve been doing it my way for 50 years and never made a mistake!” And it’s fine to continue as you wish but surely having something to check you were right is even better? Referees and linesmen should react the same way as they do now, errors and all, but with the safety net of a video replay to rectify those mistakes. Over time it should help elevate the pressure on them.
There is still work to be done before VAR is implemented
There are some legitimate concerns with VAR and they need answering before it’s put in place. The system needs to be available to all levels of football. Yes, it’d be costly, but this is where the rich clubs need to value the integrity of the sport over handing themselves a bigger dividend. TV cameras are at every professional football match so why not use them?
It’s simple enough to overturn or allow a goal that has already been scored but there are grey areas. Imagine a player is through on goal but is flagged for offside and play immediately stops. VAR informs the referee the player wasn’t offside. It’s impossible to recreate that same scenario again. Do you award the attacking team a freekick? It doesn’t feel enough. Do we ignore offside calls until the referee blows his whistle? That seems unrealistic.
How often can it be used during a match?
We also need to consider how often these decisions can be referred to the video referees. If the time to make a decision is less than 10 seconds, maybe this is less of an issue. Another question is what decisions fall under the review system – everything or only certain cases, i.e. offsides and penalties? Can yellow or red cards be rescinded? What about players who dive? Will they be punished during the game or retrospectively?
Overall there are questions which need answering but a concept which produces more accurate results will always get my vote. Change can be hard at first but ultimately we adjust and later consider it a natural part of the game. The sport evolves.
It does seem a strange battle to pick though.
There are a lot worse things in modern football than technology
Ticket prices, for example. Football is richer than ever. That’s a fact. Yet those financial gains are very rarely, if ever, passed down to the fans. Ticket prices continue to rise and price out the average supporter. We’re seeing fans of clubs, entire families with season tickets, unable to justify the cost of going to matches week in, week out. This is of greater concern than whether video referees take too long to reach a decision. This is ruining the game as without fans, there is no multi-million pound industry.
What about letting rich businessman take over football clubs, spending money beyond its means, then ironically working together to stop anybody else doing the same thing? How is that fair? So because you didn’t move quick enough you’re at a disadvantage. You must now do it the hard way because those who abused the system won’t let you follow in their footsteps.
Replica shirts is another one. It used to a home and away shirt for two seasons but now clubs release at least three, sometimes four or five, different shirts every year. Why is that necessary? So they can milk those fans who want to wear their club’s shirt even more? And it isn’t like the prices are lower to make them more accessible either.
What about investment at grassroots level so kids don’t become priced out of learning their trade with a qualified coach? Why aren’t coaching courses cheaper so more can teach those developing their skills? Why isn’t there an incentive for clubs to employ a certain number of homegrown coaches?
These concerns are much more pressing than the introduction of VAR. It might not be perfect, and there will be mistakes, but in the long term it’ll make for a more honest game and that’s what we all want.