Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Don't pull the plug on VAR, instead embrace the chaos

Too many have been smited by its dastardly decisions such as highlighting the clear and obvious error of Raheem Sterling's armpit hair being offside

They say it is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all. That sentiment can easily be applied to how many feel about VAR at the moment, the technological wonder that was supposed to right all the world's wrongs, denuclearise the Korean peninsula, limit Donald Trump to zero characters on Twitter and stop the follicly challenged from tearing what little hair they have left out.

But love for VAR is in desperately short supply right now. Too many have been smited by its dastardly decisions of identifying handballs, awarding a penalty to Tammy Abraham when there is no need to award a penalty to Tammy Abraham, or the clear and obvious error of missing Raheem Sterling's armpit hair being marginally offside.

But the idea of arguing over a decision that is still fundamentally decided by man (or woman, as we saw in the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Women's World Cup) is nothing new. Football has always generated flash points, the basis for endless debates, burning injustices and the deep cut of emotional scars that will never quite heal. All VAR has done is provide a shiny new platform on which to air these grievances. Old men yelling at clouds has been replaced by young men screaming at an inanimate object as it projects "goal" or "no goal" in crystal clear HD on a giant screen.

Think back to a time of pre-VAR, the halcyon days when man called the shots before being partly replaced by machine (though presumably the TV cameras and editing desks are still operated by man). The idea that bad decisions evened themselves out over the course of the season, when of course they absolutely didn't, was partly the reason for the technology's introduction in the first place.

Those pundits, players and fans who called for the use of instant replays afforded to match commentators and recently-sacked managers in glossy TV studios to aid match officials are the same ones bemoaning its use now.

If you're watching a Premier League match at home VAR is essentially a glorified replay screen from every conceivable angle. If you're a fan watching a match at a Premier League ground VAR is essentially a glorified replay screen without the replay. The motives for the latter aren't entirely clear. Perhaps the Premier League fear the natives will storm the field with pitch forks and stage Hong Kong style protests if they dare see what the rest of us can.

Complaints range from the unfairness of goals being chalked off for handballs in the buildup (Conor Coady, Gabriel Jesus) to the length of time it takes to make a decision (Nuno Espirito Santo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer).

Fans wait while a possible goal by Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus is checked by VAR during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad stadium in Manchester, England. AP Photo
Fans wait while a possible goal by Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus is checked by VAR during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad stadium in Manchester, England. AP Photo

Nuno and Solskjaer threw the same toy out of their respective prams on Monday night when the VAR official had the temerity to check Wolves' equaliser for longer than 15 seconds to determine if Joao Moutinho was offside. If you listen hard enough, you can hear the distant sound of the voice of reason gently whispering "take your time, just get the decision right". If managers are complaining over the time it takes to determine a goal, imagine the havoc wreaked when VAR is asked to look at an incident that may result in a red card from a previous passage of play.

But as with most decisions, in football and in life generally, only one side benefits. Mauricio Pochettino is thanking his lucky VARs that Jesus' goal and Erik Lamela's foul on Rodri were both adjudicated in Tottenham Hotspur's favour in Saturday's 2-2 draw against Manchester City. Pep Guardiola, on the other hand, must be digging deep trying to pluck out the few remaining hairs from his follicly challenged skull.

VAR will never please everyone because it's not its job too. I'd had conversations with three colleagues, none Wolves or Manchester United fans, before I'd even finished my morning cup of coffee discussing Monday's events at Molineux. As I said previously, all VAR done has shifted the conversation from one that didn't previously employ technology to make a decision to one that does. What might be a clear and obvious error missed to me might be blindingly obvious one to another disgruntled fan.

My advice is don't pull the plug on VAR and instead embrace the chaos. Man and machine failing together in glorious harmony.

Updated: August 20, 2019 08:30 PM

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