Long Reads

Will VAR Ruin Football?

Image Credit: ESPN

VAR has only been with us for a few years, but it has already become the Marmite of football. Fans either love its introduction or wish it had never been invented. VAR is being used in the English Premier League this season, and it’s already dominating the game. As everyone tries to get used to it, what are the arguments in favour of and against its use and will it ruin football?

A game based on what actually happens

The main advantage is that we finally have a game that is based on what really happens. Isn’t that how it is supposed to be? Sadly, in the past, it just hasn’t been the case. How many times did we see offside goals scored or dead-cert penalties not given? Far too often is the answer to that question. VAR offers a way to solve that problem, but it must be used properly, and that’s not quite the case yet.

The right result

Football is a game dominated by money, and wrong decisions can cause teams to win or lose millions of pounds. Without VAR, it would have been Manchester City who progressed to the 2018/19 Champions League semi-finals, not Tottenham after Aguero’s late goal was disallowed.

Then there was the late penalty VAR awarded in the PSG v Manchester United Champions League tie. Neymar wasn’t even on the pitch but declared the United penalty as a “disgrace”. VAR has a massive influence on games now, and it just must be used correctly. If not, then this could lead to some costly mistakes being made in games.

It’s not perfect… yet

VAR isn’t perfect, though, and England’s 2018 World Cup game against Tunisia proved that. Fouls committed on England players didn’t see the referee call for VAR to check the incidents. Tunisia were awarded a penalty, but Alan Shearer’s view was that the fouled player was “looking for the foul”.

That’s a problem VAR has because players will still try to dive to get penalties. At the end of the day, what happens will be influenced by human decisions. Thankfully, we haven’t reached the stage where computers make decisions.

That was also shown in a 2017 Confederations Cup game between Germany and Cameroon when the referee initially sent off the wrong player. He got it right in the end, but only thanks to VAR. Technical issues can arise, too, as was seen in Manchester City’s Champions League game at Schalke last season. On that occasion, the pitch-side camera wasn’t working.

The system has also created a “when is a handball not a handball” argument, something quite critical when it comes to penalties. BBC pundit Gary Lineker tried to clear that one up, tongue firmly in cheek…

Referees chief Mike Riley believes VAR will “evolve over the next three or four years”. Already those lines on the pitch are more accurate and will improve even more over time.

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Slowing the game down

One of the big problems with VAR is the way in which it slows the game down. Last season’s FA Cup tie between Tottenham and Rochdale was littered with VAR decisions. It was almost like a young child being given a new toy. The referee Paul Tierney just couldn’t stop using VAR. The game was stop, start, stop etc. and just wasn’t being allowed to flow. Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino called it “embarrassing”, while Jermaine Jenas felt it was an “absolute shambles”.

Get back on the pitch

Surely one of VAR’s strangest moments was in the Mainz v Duisburg game in the German Bundesliga. The players were back in the dressing room for half time, when suddenly told that a first-half penalty had been awarded! They had to go back out on the pitch, take the penalty, then go back off again. Gary Lineker described it all as “varsical”, and that can’t happen again.

Include the fans more

If football is to continue using VAR, then it must find a way of not just making the decision process faster but including the fans more. Cricket allows every part of the review process to be seen and heard by the fans.

The use of dramatic music, usually from ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ is often used in T20 to add drama to the decision. Yes, there’s a delay between the ball being bowled and the final decision being made, but there’s a degree of entertainment along the way. Football must find a way of introducing that.

Offside is offside

West Ham’s opening Premier League game against Manchester City produced plenty of controversies. Raheem Sterling’s armpit was deemed to be offside and ruled out a City goal. Offside is offside, and until a law review is carried out, it’s just something we will have to live with.

Can we celebrate yet?

It’s a wonderful moment when you’re elated by a goal, whether you be a player or a fan. Even neutrals who place an occasional football bet think they’ve won and join the celebrations at home. But with VAR, it’s all a bit different. Players aren’t quite sure whether they should start celebrating or not. It’s always been a tad embarrassing when in the past, players scored a goal, went crazy only to turn around and see the referee had disallowed it.

It’s like that now with the introduction of VAR. A goal is scored, but the players and fans aren’t entirely sure what to do. Should they start their celebrations and then see VAR come into play? Players and fans are left wondering if that goal is going to be given or not. If it is, then a celebration a few minutes after the goal has been scored just doesn’t feel the same.

We love controversy

It’s not just affecting what is happening on the pitch. Radio commentaries are becoming dominated by discussion about VAR. It’s the same when you come to the radio phone-ins. It’s just one call after another discussing the technology and how the callers either think it’s the best thing since sliced bread or a nightmare from Hell that needs to be consigned to history (and that’s just after a few weeks). VAR may have to end up having its own special programme the way it’s going.

There’s good and bad about this though. Don’t we just love talking or reading about football as much as watching and playing it? At least with VAR, we’ll always have something to discuss.

And surely it won’t be long before VAR is integrated into football console and computer games like the realistic Football Manager.

Conclusion

VAR is here to stay, and we’re just going to have to get used to it. It’s not perfect yet, and decisions need to be explained more to the fans, and the time taken to make those decisions reduced. But this ability to make decisions based on what happened, not inaccurate guesses by referees must be applauded. This is the future of the game, whether we like it or not; just make sure it’s done right.

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