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VAR - Has it worked?

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To say that VAR - Video Assistant Referees, has split opinions in the footballing world is an understatement. Since its introduction to English football in Brighton's 3rd round FA Cup tie against Crystal Palace, the technology has divided fans, pundits and players alike.

When Kelechi Iheanacho became the first player to score a goal awarded by a video assistant referee in the UK as Leicester beat Fleetwood in an FA Cup third-round replay, Michael Owen said on Twitter: “VAR at its best. Such a tight call for the naked eye. History made.”

His sentiment was echoed by The Times’ chief football writer Henry Winter who added: "VAR worked perfectly there. Still issues to be ironed out, speeding up/informing fans better, but that historic Iheanacho goal will quell many of the doubts."

But those praising expressions were contrasted a day later during the FA Cup replay between Chelsea and Norwich. On this occasion, Willian was brought down by Timm Klose’s outstretched leg inside the penalty area shortly after the start of extra time, and instead of pointing to the spot the referee booked the Brazilian and gave the visitors a free-kick. When the VAR failed to overturn the decision the mood shifted and pundits were apoplectic.

“I was very doubtful about it and now it’s a shambles,” said Alan Shearer who was covering the game for BBC Sport. “We all think it’s a clear and obvious penalty. That’s why it’s all wrong, because it’s someone else’s opinion and that’s why it’s a shambles.”

And here lies VAR’s first, fundamental problem. It's subjectiveness. Goal-line technology is rightly universally backed because there’s no grey area. It’s either crossed the line or hasn’t. Fouls in the penalty area or red card decisions are open to interpretation; ultimately decisions will still vary amongst officials regardless of technology.

Furthermore, it’s interrupting the flow of games. In West Brom’s 3-2 win away to Liverpool in the fourth round, referee Craig Pawson called on VAR three times in an opening half that ended up lasting 50 minutes.

"It was strange.” said Baggies boss Alan Pardew after the fixture, “It wasn't what I would like to see going forward. Is it going to take away goals? It was just weird. We waited so long to wait for the decisions, the stadium went flat and every goal was a bit of a mockery because we were waiting for the decision!”

Additionally, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believed the tie was cut short by six minutes as a direct consequence of the technology.

"What I heard was that the actual extra time in the first half should have been 10 minutes," said the German.

"It was only four minutes. Of course, that's not possible, you can't cut match time. It was 10 minutes and so you need to play 10 minutes longer."

One solution, suggested by former referee Keith Hackett, would be for football to echo Rugby Union’s approach with their system TMO - television match official. Here the referee asks an official to look at the replays to the build-up of a try on his or her behalf. The television official makes the final call rather than the referee watching the incident themselves like the system currently implemented in football.

“I have always had my concerns about the referee going to the side of the pitch to examine something,” said Hackett.

“The big screen at a stadium, if there is one, also has to be used in these situations. The public has the right to be kept informed as to what is happening.

“I do not see why we should be reinventing the wheel when we have seen rugby put it to the test and have years of experience of using it.

“Just follow what rugby union does, where it is part of the entertainment process and there is not this pregnant pause and a long delay in the game."

Image Credit - Flickr Commons, Ben Sutherland. Wikipedia Commons 

The use of the above referee images in no way suggests that these individuals are relevant to the discussion of the above topic.




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