Just like with technology, football has moved on with the times. VAR appeared at first in football for the 2018 world cup in Russia. Initially, supporters and pundits worldwide wanted the technology to get rid of poor decisions being made at matches.
One example for Irish fans was the Thierry Henry handball during the World Cup playoff tie in Paris back in November 2009. Former Irish international and soccer expert Eamon Dunphy, a slightly controversial and colourful figure at the best of times, called for “some sort of technology to be brought into world football, following the Henry controversy”. He also believed at the time that other sports all had decent technology to stop errors.
Speaking in 2015 Dunphy said:
What all the other sports have demonstrated is that you can have this technology, it can deliver justice instantaneously and the longer cheating becomes embedded in the culture of soccer and it is embedded now, then the worse it will get.
It can be argued the introduction of VAR has taken away our love of the game, with controversial decisions occurring almost weekly. It is proving a frustrating phenomenon. The problem with VAR is how it is being used and implemented.
There have been numerous situations where technology is seen as faulty and inconsistent. One such example were two key decisions we saw in the recent Merseyside derby between Everton and Liverpool at Goodison Park. The first example was the challenge by goalkeeper Jordan Pickford on Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk. VAR firstly points out that Van Dijk was offside when this is not 100 per cent clear. Secondly, the tackle on Van Dijk is seen as irrelevant because of the tackle occurring on the player offside.
The referee Michael Oliver did what VAR recommended him to do. Speaking on Match of the Day, former Newcastle United striker and current match of the day pundit Alan Shearer remarked
Michael Oliver should have been told by VAR to go and check the accident due to it being a clear and obvious incident. He also believes that Jordan Pickford should have received a straight red card explaining the tackle on Van Dijk was both horrendous and awful.’
The second example was the goal ruled out by VAR by Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson which highlighted the frailties of this VAR technology furthermore. Henderson speaking afterwards to BT sport explained:
For Mane to be offside they must have bent the lines.
These lines show if a player is on or offside. It seems to show that you can no longer be level with the last defender. Those celebrations we see from players repeatedly seem to be short-lived. As a fan you almost expect the technology to chalk off a goal. It is an extremely complicated system.
Last season Sheffield United, despite having a top-half finish, had the joint-most goals ruled out by VAR in the premier league. Speaking after their 1-1 draw with Spurs, manager Chris Wilder said that “his team had to accept VAR for what it is while admitting he is not a fan”.
This game saw VAR rule out two goals by Sheffield and Blades fans were left frustrated with these decisions. Football fans do not want to see the game being controlled by these harsh calls from video technology. These examples are only a handful of high-profile cases which have occurred in the modern game.
If anything, how do we keep our game intact, while still getting the decisions correct in football? VAR has also sent players off in games and the decisions have been overturned by referees. Should referees constantly have a second look themselves or do we have the time and patience to allow for that in our game?
You could draft a book on it, but to get a more professional view, former English referee Mark Clattenburg talks about a five-point plan on how to improve the technology, while keeping the flow of the game. Clattenburg firstly points out, “that VAR was meant to eliminate problems in football but has only created more problems.”
The five points he discusses are.
- Remove offside decisions from the VAR process.
- Clear and obvious needs to be defined more.
- Allow the captains two challenges per match.
- Referees must start using pitch-side monitors.
- Get the referees wearing microphones and make the audio available to all inside the stadium and watching at home.
Each of Clattenburg’s points will give everyone peace of mind and keep them involved with what is going on with decisions.
The fact that Clattenburg has officiated at the top level shows if anything his views may get us back to a healthier place going forward. If VAR is left as it is, we may lose interest and the result will leave football in a dark place.