The VAR debate: Essential technology or a waste of time?

It’s been a less than straight-forward introduction to English football for VAR. It was thought that the technology would end all discussion on refereeing decisions, but after a couple of high-profile incidents of controversy there is more debate than ever before. Now, two of our ENRG Sport writers have their say. By Luke Barry and Gregor Kerr

Referee Jon Moss consults VAR during Leicester’s match against Fleetwood in the FA Cup

“VAR needs more time, fans need to be patient”, by Luke Barry 

Ironic isn’t it, that we should be having a debate about a piece of technology intended to eradicate all debate. The video assistant referee – or VAR – has been introduced into English football, with Kalechi Iheanacho becoming the first man to score a goal after the system was deployed in the British game.

Ever since, there have been outcries of disgust and anger at the system, and quite frankly, I don’t get it.

VAR was deployed in Leicester’s FA Cup replay against Fleetwood after Iheanacho slotted home the host’s second. Riyad Mahrez played the Nigerian forward through, with the striker looking to be offside.

The referee checked the cameras, and the goal was given with the evidence proving that, albeit marginal, Iheanacho had remained onside.

You’d think Leicester fans would be happy with that. Two goals to the good, tie well and truly put to bed. But football fans are a fickle bunch. Instead, complaints have come in from all quarters complaining that the moment of celebration was lost in checking the cameras, and that the system isn’t being used properly.

This, to me, is a catch-22 situation: fans would be equally unhappy if not more aggrieved had the goal been disallowed and they go home to find that it should have stood. Sometimes in life there are by-products to situations and solutions; rarely is anything 100% perfect.

VAR may be new to the English game, but it is already in full effect in mainland Europe.

I had the pleasure of attending Roma vs Cagliari in the Italian Serie A last month, where VAR ended up playing an instrumental role.

After a cagey opening half, the match began to hot up. On 50 minutes Edin Dzeko was brought down in the box, but the referee was unconvinced by his penalty claims.

VAR was on hand, and a penalty was awarded. However, Diego Perotti’s pathetic stroke of the ball from the spot was comfortably saved.

The Roma fans became frustrated. Chance after chance was squandered; it was looking like it would be an agonising 0-0 draw for La Magica.

As the clock hit 90 minutes, Aleksandar Kolarov took a free-kick on the edge of the box. The ball arrived, the keeper fumbled for it and Federico Fazio stabbed it home.

Or so he thought. VAR was called into action again as the referee was sceptical. But for the second time, the video replay proved Roma’s innocence and they won the game 1-0.

Now I can tell you, these fans were not annoyed about having to wait two minutes for that decision to come in. Justice had been done. Their team had won and rightfully so. There was no walking home blasting the referee for robbing them of two points.

Fans just need to be patient. Of course there will be teething issues as this is a period of adjustment, but that doesn’t mean we should immediately dismiss this incredible technology just because we aren’t used to it the very first time it gets used.

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“VAR flatters to deceive”, by Gregor Kerr. 

In an ideal footballing world, everyone thought the game would be perfect with VAR. Diving would be punished, fans wouldn’t feel hard-done by, conspiracy theorists would stop believing in a campaign against their clubs.

Video-assisted refereeing would help to eliminate error completely. The reality, based on what has already been seen, is way off the mark.

There appears to be little consistency when using VAR. Take, for example, the Confederations Cup last year, when Chile defender Gonzalo Jara went unpunished for a blatant elbow on Germany’s Timo Werner, in what would have been a red-card offence. Is it not the job of somebody using VAR to highlight incidents such as this?

Or, for example, in the recent FA Cup replay between Chelsea and Norwich City, in which referee Graeme Scott hit the headlines with his performance.

He correctly opted not to use VAR to send off Alvaro Morata for simulation. But the second time he chose not to use the assistance, Chelsea’s Willian was denied what appeared an obvious penalty.

This caused much confusion about the consistency of using VAR. Should referees use it for every major decision? If not, then what if they then get a decision wrong, such as on Wednesday night?

Even for those watching at home on television, it can be difficult to understand what exactly is going on and what decisions are being made. For most punters in the stand, the atmosphere would be one of mostly confusion.

If a referee does choose to use if for every major decision, how often can that happen in a game? Five or six times? The stop-start nature that this could bring would become very irritating, very quickly.

Having a game that flows is one of the things that makes football the unique sport that it is, and that’s something that shouldn’t be put at risk. We don’t want to see football become robotic.

One problem is that it can’t be compared to goal-line technology in terms of clearing up controversy. It doesn’t have the clear-cut decision-making ability like goal-line technology, where it is a simple choice of whether or not a ball crosses the line, where almost no decision is required.

VAR will still mean that decisions made can still be down to interpretation. In some instances where a referee might feel that a challenge warrants a penalty, another referee may disagree.

While it may reduce the amount of “soft” penalties, it can’t eliminate the chance of a contentious decision being given. It won’t help to bring weekly debates to a halt.

I’m not completely against VAR. If it can be tweaked, and more clarification is made clear, then it can be a unique contribution to the game. As time goes on, and referees become more familiar to the system, the process can become more streamlined, efficient and understandable.

However, if people are expecting perfect decisions all the time, and referees decisions to never be questioned again, they are mistaken. In football, just as in life, it will never be perfect. As for now, it flatters to deceive at times.


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