It’s been a few weeks since this front page carried a guest blog, but the re-triggering of the VAR debate following Liverpool’s ‘ghost’ goal at the weekend has prompted Alex Bain to put fingertip to keyboard.
All yours, Alex.
Over the last few days, much of the talk in the media has been around the mess VAR made of the decision in the Spurs v Liverpool game, with most ex-Liverpool players who work in the media (and there are lots) screaming the Anfield roof off.
Goal-line technology was a step forward we were told and over the time it’s been in use it hasn’t caused too many controversial decisions, so FIFA took the next step and deployed the Video Assistant Referee technology, along similar lines to that developed for cricket.
But cricket is very different. The wickets and batters are stationary, not continuously running and/or getting tackled, so the VAR in football represents a very different challenge. Also in cricket, the captain has three golden bullets to challenge any on-field decisions.
On Saturday, the VAR team and the refereeing team had an extremely poor day and everyone could see that, but since then Sky Sports and its pundits have forgotten a simple rule: you can’t change a result or replay a game once it has completed the full 90 minutes.
One pundit, who also played for Blackburn and Aston Villa after leaving Liverpool, said live on Sky Sports that once the error was confirmed no matter how long after the restart the referee should have called both managers and captains together and allowed Liverpool to walk the ball into the net, thereby breaking FA, UEFA and FIFA rules.
That would set a dangerous precedent. The rules would need to be changed in order for errors to be corrected in this way.
Having said that, there are many problems with VAR and the debates will never cease. Offsides and handball will always trigger controversy.
Trying to nail offsides down to millimetres was destined never to work. Shouldn’t an offside be when giving an unfair advantage to the opposition player or maybe when the whole body is in an offside position? Only a few millimetres of a player’s foot just doesn’t do it for me.
And the handballs: once upon a time this was ruled as a movement of the hand or forearm towards the ball, but now it is taken as mid/upper arm to fingertips. Then came the controversial phrase, ‘if the arm is in an unnatural position’ but that in itself is open to interpretation. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint so can move in many natural positions – if it moves in an unnatural position it could possibly break!
So let’s return to the original rule: a deliberate movement towards the ball. When a player is adjudged to handle the ball when it’s deliberately kicked at his hand, that’s ball to hand – not a penalty or an offence. Spurs and Wolves are just two teams to have fallen foul of this rule in the opening weeks of the season, and we know that City have in the past.
But the hounding of officials by certain pundits after Saturday’s just shows an alarming lack of respect and flies in the face of the FA’s Respect campaign.
The request for the audio of the VAR officials (at the Spurs/Liverpool game) to be released has now been met but that, for me, is overstepping the line. As the rules currently stand, that’s a private conversation between the officials and should remain so unless all parties agree – not just the PGMOL and/or the FA.
The fallout from Saturday has begged three questions:
- Are we now seeing the thin edge of the wedge where if teams in the top echelons of English football are hard done by they try and get results overturned or replayed so it goes in their favour?
- Would all this media hype have happened if it was any other team but Liverpool?
- How many times have officials at Anfield given 50/50 decisions in Liverpool’s favour to the detriment of other teams?
Match officials, both on the field and off, are human. They have families and feelings, and what is being forgotten is that it’s a game of football. Once the final whistle is blown it should be over and done and we move on to the next game, but the keyboard cowards of today will abuse not only the officials but their families too.
For me, it’s about time that the media who cover these controversies take a good look at themselves.
Sport is to be enjoyed by all but some people have forgotten this and the entitlement brigade should just get off the bus.