As human beings, we exist in an immoral and imperfect universe.
Don’t fear, a philosophy essay hasn’t accidentally surfaced on MFW, although I accept it is an unusually deep position from which to begin a football piece.
Some offer their opinion pieces in the form of fact but, often, the answer lies in being transparent and telling people that sometimes having no response is the best position to hold.
VAR is pertinent in this regard because it exposes a lot of football’s self-imposed flaws while also resolving a problem. It may settle decisions, but it satisfies nobody on either side of the debate. There’s a political similarity which could be drawn here, but this is neither the time nor the place.
On the surface, there is no quandary with the impact of technology within elite football.
Controversy is being eradicated, and the success rate for critical decisions is higher than when left with the ‘human’ referees, but yet the discontent continues.
VAR is a product of the blame game deployed by numerous high-profile coaches and players in recent years. Rightly or wrongly, the same people have scrutinised impartial officials for decisions that affect their team.
Supporters are equally as guilty, as are writers, pundits and broadcasters.
Given the tribalism of the game, naturally, fixation over the penalty that never was, or the soft red card dominates discussion, sometimes as a deflection tactic by coaches and supporters and sometimes because of a searing sense of injustice.
But football is defined by small margins and that’s why these decisions are so pivotal to the game. And that’s why delving into statistics is such a necessity when beginning a discussion on refereeing.
Elite referees average just five wrong decisions per game in the Premier League, with a 98% correct decision percentage according to the Professional Game Match Officials. With all of the scrutiny, complexity and intensity that the game has to offer, those statistics are impressive.
Pure mathematics means that sometimes those wrong decisions will impact the outcome of a game, and as such, the birth of VAR is understandable and logical.
Consider the attention a referee receives if they make a wrong decision and compare that to a Premier League striker missing an absolute sitter. One is forgiven, but both influence games.
Football, because of its popularity, is dissected in such detail and everything goes under the microscope and VAR will be a discussion point in the same way refereeing decisions already are
And it won’t stop games being impacted; it won’t alter whether teams get relegated or promoted because it could give a penalty that sends an outfit up or give an offside that sends a team down.
But it’s how it affects, and perhaps detracts from, the emotion of the game that is a concern.
Technology in football is very much a personal thing… some see it as eroding the spirit of the game, others as a necessary addition that improves the morality and accuracy of the decision-making.
But as a supporter, losing control emotionally when a last-minute winner is bundled in is a moment, a memory created, but that effect is being lost given the nature of checking every goal to ensure it’s legal.
Celebrating is one of the most joyous things of sport. That’s for everyone, the players, the staff and the supporters, because so much graft goes in that without those celebration and moments of joy, what is the point?
The robotic nature of VAR creates the unease, so it begs the question: is the accuracy worth the lack of emotion?
To try and arrive at an answer would be futile. There is no right or wrong answer – with this debate there never will be.
Football is an emotional game – it’s one of its major pulling factors. As a child, getting taken on to the terraces is an emotional experience; a feeling of belonging that’s indescribable. And scoring a goal is the pinnacle of a game of football – placing jeopardy on that dilutes it somewhat.
For as long as decisions get scrutinised, VAR will have a role to play. Football isn’t a perfect game, but this technology seems to be trying to make it so. Life isn’t perfect either but, equally, we always look to make improvements where possible.
For every VAR pro, there’s a con and for every referee who argues for its inclusion, there is a supporter who will argue against its implementation. The pantomime villain role referees have been given has created this and, for now, its something that needs to be embraced.
Anything new is naturally met with caution, and the technology is still in its infancy. Goals were being ruled out for offside long before VAR was introduced and there is always that doubt around an over-zealous celebration leaving you with egg on your face.
I’m sure this article will be laughed at in the future for its dinosaur-ish arguments but, hopefully, that will mean the technology will have been integrated successfully.
Nobody can pretend to have the answer. Sometimes saying ‘I don’t know’ is more potent than pretending to know the answer.
And that’s where the VAR debate is.
Those who like it are on the right side of it, those who don’t seem to be on the receiving end. So, for a per cent or two more, it doesn’t really answer any of the questions it was designed to solve.
The debate will continue, and referees will always be placed under the microscope, but perhaps not quite to the extent they were previously.
Football is evolving at a rate of knots and it feels as though something has to give, yet VAR in its current form will continue to divide opinion. Equally, perfection in terms of decision-making will never be reached whether technology is a mainstay or not.
It seems we’re still searching for an answer.