Video-Assisted Referees – A Worthwhile Addition or An Inconsistent Joke?

Video-Assisted Referees – A Worthwhile Addition or An Inconsistent Joke?

This year’s World Cup is 14 games in and the usual talking points are prominent. The Cristiano Ronaldo versus Lionel Messi argument rages on, the underdogs have caused upsets and the same names are being thrown around as potential winners. However, the introduction of Video-Assisted Referees has given us something new to talk about. The VAR trial at last summer’s Confederations Cup failed and continued to disappoint in various domestic competitions around Europe throughout the 2017/18 season. It has had a mixed reaction so far this summer. This technology can undoubtedly benefit the game. But is it being used in the best way possible?

VAR in England

VAR was trialled across Europe last season. It made appearances in England’s FA and Carabao Cups as well as the German and Italian leagues. In England, the system was a major failure. A number of decisions in the FA Cup took over 5 minutes to reach. Former West Brom manager Alan Pardew believes these lengthy stoppages resulted in his players picking up muscle injuries during his side’s 3-2 FA Cup win against Liverpool in January:

“You are going from a high tempo work rate to nothing. We had a hamstring injury just after that, so now as coaches, we have to change. We have to get our players to do a warm-up in that situation or keep themselves ticking over. It is a massive thing, one of the most important things they are going to have to take from this trial tonight. I think they must look at that. We did get a couple of injuries straight after the stoppages” – Alan Pardew []

VAR overshadowed Tottenham’s 6-1 FA Cup victory over Rochdale in February, leaving their fans aggrieved. During the 90 minutes, Erik Lamela had a perfectly good goal ruled out by the system. Lucas Moura was denied a stonewall penalty. Heung-min Son had a penalty goal disallowed due to a stutter in his run-up. The reaction to this abomination from the officials was expectedly negative:

“The first half was a bit embarrassing for everyone. I am not sure that the system is going to help. Football is about emotion. It is a contest of emotion and if we are going to kill emotion in football, the fans, the people who love football, are not so happy about what they saw” – Mauricio Pochettino []

VAR in Europe

The Bundesliga also witnessed a very embarrassing VAR moment last April. At half-time in Mainz’s clash with Freiburg, the referee consulted with VAR officials about a potential offence in the closing moments of the first half. Freiburg’s Marc Oliver Kempf was deemed to have handled the ball inside the box. Referee Guido Winkmann called the players back onto the pitch to award a penalty, and Pablo de Blasis gave Mainz the lead from the spot. Mainz went on to win the game 2-0. European football writer Andy Brassell condemned the decision in an honest interview with BBC Radio 5 live:

“Potentially one of the most vital goals in the fight at the bottom, but a new low for VAR. The ref maybe shouldn’t have sent them off as quickly, it depends on how quickly VAR contacted him. The problem is not the technology, it is the process. I can’t understand why the referees are involved in the decision-making process at all. If it is to be used for clear and obvious errors, surely the VAR has to tell the referee what the decision is” – Andy Brassell []

VAR in Russia 2018

There is no doubt that the process has improved in this World Cup. The decisions have been quicker. The fans have been kept in the loop. The final outcomes have been better. Despite this, the inconsistency of the system is tarnishing its reputation. Diego Costa‘s first goal against Portugal and various penalty decisions throughout the opening 4 days have helped the general view on the system. The decisions made by the system have usually been right this summer.

The decision to award Antoine Griezmann a penalty against Australia outlines the main problem with VAR. No amount of technology can get rid of disagreement. It has always been evident. There have still been disagreements about refereeing decisions in pundit studios across the world when replays from a number of angles have been shown. This is something that will never leave our game.

The timing of using the system can be improved. Take, for example, Harry Kane‘s penalty claim in the first half against Tunisia on Monday night. A Tunisian defender wrestled Kane to the ground in the box. However, VAR was not consulted. FIFA released a video prior to the competition stating that the VAR team would be constantly reviewing decisions regarding four key areas of the game – goals, penalties, straight red cards and mistaken identity. However, on a number of occasions during this tournament, stonewall penalties have not been awarded. This indicates that the VAR panel is not doing their job. I firmly believe that this system can drastically improve the sport that we love so dearly. However, its usage needs changes.

Final verdict

In my opinion, VAR is raising as many questions as it is answering. England players remain confused about the technology following their 2-1 victory over Tunisia. Brazil want questions to be answered after their 1-1 draw with Switzerland – they feel that Miranda was pushed in the aerial battle that led to the decisive Swiss goal. Cristian Pavon of Argentina wasn’t awarded an obvious penalty by VAR in their 1-1 draw with Iceland.

These inconsistencies are portraying VAR as a joke. The system will never be taken seriously if it only reviews decisions at the referee’s request. It should be there to review incidents missed by the referee also. The disappointment at the technology is undoubtedly justified. I think it can be a fantastic addition to our beloved sport but it needs improvements. Unfortunately, the World Cup is not the stage to test the process. It is a stage where the process should feature when it has been perfected.

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