LIKE Brexit and the Coronavirus, VAR is one of those things that slips our consciousness for long periods but then suddenly consumes our every waking moment when it crashes onto the news once again.
This week’s edition of the controversial Video Assistant Referee saw Liverpool come out second best on four VAR decisions during their game against Brighton on Saturday afternoon. The Merseysiders and their boss Jurgen Klopp were already a disgruntled lot at having to play early on Saturday after a Champions League match three days earlier. That they then went on to be denied a valuable away victory due to the video analysis rather than any great feat by Brighton really only antagonised the whole situation for the Reds.
I like the idea of VAR. For long enough we have, as fans and pundits, moaned about the human fallibility of referee’s decisions. And rightly so. Electronic supervision over the man in the middle has worked very well in the case of goal-line technology. It has been of mixed benefit when it comes to the offside rule and has been outright bizarre when it comes to deciding penalties.
To be fair to VAR on Saturday, I would agree with three of the four calls against Liverpool made by the virtual adjudicator. The first penalty for Brighton was an awkward tackle by Neco Williams on Brighton’s Irish striker Aaron Connolly. The resulting spot-kick was put wide by Neal Maupay. The offside call for Mané’s goal was close but correct, and the decision to give Brighton the late penalty for the equaliser did see defender Andy Robertson kick the bottom of Danny Welbeck’s foot. Even though it could be argued that Welbeck was attempting to kick the ball too and it was simply a collision of kicks. The theatrical stages of Welbeck’s descent to the pitch makes me think it was more a coming together than a penalty. But you can see why it was given.
The big problem of the day, regarding VAR, was the decision to cancel Mo Salah’s opener, as a lovely worked goal was struck out by the electronic eye that decided that a fraction of Salah’s toe was ahead of the last defender. Fair enough you might say. But with VAR using a digital image to decide a millimetre of a difference on a piece of Salah's shoe leather cannot be definitively correct when it likely the pixelation of the image that is over the line rather than any real physical piece of Salah's person or equipment. Any rational mind would agree that there could not be any possible advantage to be gained from the striker's position as the pass was launched, as opposed to a millimetre to his right.
Once again, the match became a debate on the pros and cons of an administrative tool rather than the skill involved in the goals.
A solution has been offered on many occasions before now, that instead of drawing a line to find a part of the anatomy ahead of the defender that it would be better if the technology was used to find a part of the anatomy level with the defender. So if any part of the attacker is in line with the defender then he is onside. It seems a perfectly fine accommodation that doesn't adversely discriminate against either the attacker or the defender.
As for penalty decisions, judgement should always be based on the merits of the foul or tackle and not on the crazy idea that it is 'understandable that the referee didn't see any infringement.' This, even more than the offside rule, needs resolving but we are now moving into our third year after the introduction of a technology that promised the removal of controversy and speculation.
Of course, it's not really the technology's fault. In general, it has done its job as it is designed. The problem is the arcane and subjective decisions authorities have placed on interpreting the technology.
The inability to progressively change the interpretation of a rule when there are obvious flaws with it, and more concerning, when there are solutions, seems to be a problem for the FA as an organisation and maybe for institutional England as a whole. As their myopic dealings with Brexit and Covid-19 has shown, an inability to quickly address circumstances on the move just so there is a blind adherence to a rule or decision is a troubling flaw in any organisation's culture.