Not Everyone Likes VAR, But Punditry Around It Isn’t Helping Anyone

It’s rare for me to write about something that’s happened in anything other and a Liverpool match. Whilst I obviously understand that what happens to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur is likely to impact on our ability to win the biggest trophy in English football, I usually try my best to ignore what’s happening elsewhere. I might mention it in passing, but generally speaking I try as hard as possible not to pay another team’s results any mind because the club that I support has no way of influencing them. This piece isn’t about the result or the match at the Etihad, of course. Whilst I watched the game, I did so with only half an eye, also using my iPad and checking Twitter at the same time. Indeed, I’d taken to the social media platform to determine that City’s ‘winning’ goal was predictable, thanks in no small part to Spurs’ weak mentality.

Then, as we now know, the Video Assistant Referee spotted a handball in the buildup to the goal and it was overruled. It was, in many ways, harsh on City. Pep Guardiola’s side had been about as dominant as you’d expect. I was surprised about how little Tottenham were in the game, only really having a foot in it because, unlike most other teams in the Premier League, they realised that if you actually had a shot or two at City’s holographic goalkeeper then there’s a decent chance that you’ll score. Ederson might be brilliant with his feet but his actually goalkeeping ability leaves a lot to be desired and it’s not hard to see why Alisson Becker is ahead of him in the Brazilian pecking order. City thought they’d won it, therefore, when Gabriel Jesus’s shot hit the back of the net, only for the VAR to rule it out. Cue absolutely uproar and think pieces all over the show. Was the uproar justified, though?

Pundits Seem To Want VAR To Fail

There are many arguments against the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee that I can understand. Whilst I don’t totally agree with the idea of it stopping supporters from celebrating, at least no more than a quick look down to the assistant referee when you suspect a goal may have been offside, it is true that the more often goals are overruled the more likely it is that supporters will wait until matches kick off again before properly accepting that a goal has stood. Yet the argument that I’ll never be able to understand is the one that says arguments are part of the game and the use of the VAR is taking away that side of things. Apart from the fact that that’s a fairly moronic viewpoint to take, I also think there are many things you can accuse the VAR of, but stopping arguments definitely isn’t one of them. Yet that is the only reason I can think of the determination of some pundits and journalists to undermine the VAR at every possible opportunity.

Let’s be absolutely clear about something: the Video Assistant Referee is in no way responsible for the change to the handball room that has been introduced for this season. Yes, it’s clear that the rule couldn’t have been introduced without the use of the VAR, but all the assistant is doing is seeing things that the referee can’t see in real time. It’s the same with the way offside is being used now. I don’t agree with it, personally, believing that if you’ve got to zoom in to within millimetres then it’s not really sticking within the spirit of the game, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the VAR hasn’t made up the rule but is simply enforcing it. The desire of some journalists and pundits to do it down when all the VAR system is doing is making sure that the binary rules are being enforced is, frankly, bizarre. I also think it’s massively unhelpful for a system that is here whether people like it or not.

How It’s Talked About Matters

You don’t have to like the Video Assistant Referee system that FIFA has introduced. You can spend the rest of your life being against it. I can well imagine that plenty of people are stubborn enough to do just that. Yet how the system is talked about by pundits and journalists matters. If people are going to have a problem with it then that’s absolutely fine, but I think it’s important that they have a problem with it for the right reasons. The phrase ‘clear and obvious error’ is one that people seem to getting confused over every time the VAR makes a decision. The new handball rule and the way that offside is being interpreted isn’t about clear and obvious errors as they are binary things, just as whether the ball has crossed the line or not is binary. It really doesn’t matter that no players on the pitch appealed the handball on Saturday evening because it struck the player’s arm, his team gained an attacking advantage and therefore the goal is ruled out according to the new rules.

Clear and obvious errors are only relevant for incorrectly awarded cards because of mistaken identity and the way that fouls are interpreted. The City game actually contained the perfect example in the form of the penalty claim in the first-half. Michael Oliver decided not to give a penalty and the VAR team obviously decided that that wasn’t a clear and obvious error, so chose not to overrule it. I can absolutely see how they reached that conclusion, too. I think if you show every referee that incident then half of them give the penalty and half of them don’t, so it is very much not a clear and obvious error not to give it. Yet Gary Neville went on about it as if it was the most blatant foul that’s ever been seen, with the Match Of The Day panel choosing to go down a similar route in how they talked about it. It then leads to supporters being annoyed about how VAR is being used, as we saw in our match against Chelsea last week.

The VAR system is here, it’s being used, it’s not going anywhere. It’s time that the people that are paid a huge amount of money to talk about it learned how it actually works.

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