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A bridge too VAR

3 years ago

Well, I hadn’t really been looking forward to the World Cup as much as I thought I would, but here we are.

I have watched as much of it as a person reasonably can. The young ‘un has watched the kick off of every match he could, before disappearing to play imaginary World Cup Finals, and his big sister even sat through the England v Panama match.

We’re not doing the sticker book as this year it costs roughly the same as Rafa’s budget for a new striker, but we’re happier than Lionel Messi looked after the Croatia match.

There are a few big differences at this World Cup that we are supposed to expect to see next season. One of them is the hullaballoo in the penalty area during corners. Hmm… didn’t work out too well for Harry Kane against Tunisia, but this was all fixed by the time he was slammed to the grassy canvas against Panama. Yet perhaps the biggest one is the introduction of the hotly debated, and much anticipated, VAR system.

Well, we watched a few matches and it made an apparently positive difference. It forced agreeing nods of infallibility, and the pundits in the studios didn’t really know what to do with their new-found positions of agreement. Roy Keane didn’t look quite as much like his eyes were about to pop out of his head with rage. And once everyone had agreed the obvious… they didn’t really know what to say.

It doesn’t seem to slow down the match much more than swarms of players trying to persuade a referee that he has got it wrong. And that might, long term, affect the reactions of supporters and managers. Now, while this could numb the emotions of those contestable decisions, there are some areas in which the current idea might need a little bit of a rethink.

The ‘clear and obvious’ business is not particularly clear. And sometimes it isn’t particularly obvious, either. But this did not stop the Morocco players feeling a bit miffed as Spain’s audaciously flicked, nail biting, last minute equaliser was ruled to be onside. Using the VAR system, it clearly was, indeed, onside. So why did the Morocco players trail after referee?

They had played well, and deserved something from the match. Running after the referee was a bit pointless. It was like when the kids moan about there not being any pudding when there just isn’t one because of the clear and obvious fact that you haven’t been to the shops. But this brings up one of the beautiful, yet ugly truths of VAR, and football.

Maybe the best bit about a football match is the rollercoaster of emotion. Knowing that your team has been hard done by can be unifying; just look at how much we roar on the team after a bad decision –or at least one we disagree with. But we also want fairness, consistency, and accuracy in the decisions. VAR goes a long way (although not the whole hog) towards eradicating some of the refereeing decisions that would have us up in arms.

Consistency isn’t very interesting, but it’s been refreshing to see that referees not only make mistakes, but have the get out of jail free card of someone telling them through their lug-piece that it might be worth a VAR. And that bit, for me, is better than watching a load of rightly or wrongly incensed footballers pointlessly chase the referee.

Would it have prevented the Hand of God goal?

Would Schumacher have been sent off (and probably banned for yonks) for his ‘challenge’?

Would it have stopped Arsene Wenger moaning on about the referee? Maybe, maybe not.

But it might level the playing field a bit for the ‘smaller’ clubs who don’t often get the big decisions against ‘bigger’ clubs.

So it’s good that while we can all agree that Spain were onside, we can argue about whether or not the system works. It might just give us something else to talk about instead.

You can follow the author on Twitter @georgestainsby


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