I try not to waste MFW ‘airtime’ with moans and groans about referees.
As frustrating as they may seem at times, I tend to agree with Mick D when, in defence of referees, he cites the fact that often our ire is directed at them because often we’re simply looking for someone to blame when our team has played badly and/or a result goes against us.
I also agree with Mick’s assertion that referees are neither corrupt nor deliberately biased and that mistakes made are always inadvertent. Referees are human though and will make mistakes, in the exact same way as players and coaches make mistakes.
You obviously know where this is going, at least you will if you were watching Manchester United v Wolves last night,
VAR was devised as a mechanism to help smooth out the obvious errors made by referees and to ensure that in today’s high-stakes game, errors are kept to an absolute minimum. It was an acknowledgement that mistakes are made and was seen as a way to help referees address them with the aid of technology.
The debate around the success, or otherwise, of VAR rumbles on, and will probably rumble on forever, and, personally, I loathe the way it quashes the spontaneity of goal celebrations, but its raison d’etre is sound.
Yet VAR isn’t magic. It doesn’t take decision-making out of the hands of human beings. It relies on those operating it to do so competently. It relies on those operating it to use the tools available to assist the referee who has a split-second to make any decision; to take away the errors caused by those split-second decisions when a referee has a tricky angle from which to view an incident or, for example, has his or her vision completely obscured by a player.
The referee gets that split-second to make a decision based on a single view. The VAR official has as long as he or she needs, based on umpteen different angles, and can view the incident in slow-mo, super slow-mo and, if they chose, frame by frame.
The referee can be forgiven for making a wrong decision for all the reasons above. The VAR official, also for the reasons above, is there to ensure any clear and obvious errors are acted upon.
So, while we all have our view on Simon Hooper based on a decision he gave at around 4:30 pm on August 8, 2015 (not that it’s etched in my mind), I offer him the benefit of the doubt for not awarding a penalty when United keeper Andre Onana virtually decapitated Wolves’ substitute Sasa Kalajdzic.
Let’s assume Hooper may have thought that, in real-time, Onana and Kalajdzic arrived at the ball at the same time or, as above, may have had an imperfect view of the clash – hence him waving play on – but always in the knowledge that had he made a howler the VAR process would be there to correct it.
What the system doesn’t allow for – and why would it? – is for the VAR official, in this case Michael Salisbury, to still conclude, after numerous replays, that one of the most obvious penalties you’ll ever see is not even worthy of a second look from Mr Hooper.
As we all know, the basis of any referral from VAR back to the official are errors that are deemed “clear and obvious”.
So quite why, when armed with some of the finest technology known to Man, Mr Salisbury didn’t conclude that Hooper had made an error that fell into that category, I have no idea.
To rub salt into the Wolverhampton wound, what most of us thought was a march pitchside to study the incident on the VAR screen was, in fact, Simon Hooper marching pitchside to book Gary O’Neil, who clearly and obviously had the temerity to question Salisbury’s decision with the fourth official.
I have not the foggiest how Salisbury reached the conclusion he did but many have suggested it’s the Manchester United/Old Trafford factor; one that could just as easily be renamed the ‘Big Six’ factor given, statistically, how many of these types of decisions favour that group of teams.
But I struggle with that. I don’t want it to be so obvious that those with wealth and power benefit from the decision-making of officialdom. That it’s become so open and obvious in public life in the last four years is bad enough, but for it to be a thing in football is stomach-churning.
So, for now, in my own naïve little way, I’ll settle for incompetence and hope that the words of Jon Moss – general manager of the PGMOL – and Howard Webb, head honcho of the PGMOL, are backed up by actions after both admitted to O’Neil that he’d been on the receiving end of a shocker.
Ultimately – and I can barely believe I’m sympathising with Wolverhampton fricking Wanderers – none of the above is of any consolation to them. They were the better side on the night and were deserving of at least a point but were stitched up.
VAR eh? Bloody hell.