12 Days of Football 2018: Four Calls Blown
Happy Christmas! Welcome to It's Round and It's White's second annual celebration of the year in football. From 22 December through 2 January, we'll be gifting you a dozen features from a dozen IRAIW writers on uniquely memorable events in 2018. On Day 4, Aje Omolayo looks at four controversial calls that shaped matches during the calendar year. Video-assisted review isn't implemented throughout the game, but even where it was, there was controversy. Here are Aje's four most egregious.
VAR was a major talking point in football during 2018. The Video Assistant Referee is locked in a dark closet but still divides opinion.
Some believe getting the calls right will improve the game. Others think obsessing over human error bogs down proceedings and removes the human element to an excessive degree. The technology has been tested in many major leagues across Europe while others, like the Premier League, remain reluctant to implement it. La Liga is fully onboard.
Ironic then that the first controversial call we'll recall came in a clash between Premier League and La Liga clubs. In the Champions League final no less.
The 2018 final will be remembered for two things. Loris Karius' howlers will be first recalled, then Sergio Ramos judo takedown that separated Mo Salah's shoulder and forced the Egyptian from the game.
Merseysiders were disgusted by both. It even turned out Karius was concussed by an undetected Ramos elbow. But the Salah incident induced more outrage. The winger flirted on 50 goals in what might have been his last season, thanks to Ramos' dirty tactics. A VAR review might have resulted in Ramos being sent off, changing the match's tenor in Liverpool's favour. That didn't happen, though, because VAR was not present.
UEFA recently announced VAR's inception beginning with the knockout rounds in this season's Champions League. It's too late for Salah and Liverpool and too early to say if it's a good thing. Following the growing pains experienced during its use at the World Cup, there's no guarantee video will help match officials get every crucial decision right.
Ramos v Salah wasn't the first Champions League decision that might have benefitted from VAR. The quarter-final second leg between Real Madrid and Juventus ended in controversy when Michael Oliver called a penalty against Medhi Benatia for attempting to win the ball from behind Lucas Vazquez directly in front of Gianluigi Buffon's goal. Television replays clearly showed Benatia piggybacking the young Madrid forward and kicking him in the ribs with his attempt to reach the ball. Oliver awarded the Merengues a penalty kick which Cristiano Ronaldo dispatched what seemed like several days later.
The delay was caused when Buffon lost his mind, confronted Oliver, chest-bumped him and sprayed him with several litres of saliva while venting his disapproval. Before heading to the sidelines for a towel, the English referee showed the legendary keeper a card of the colour that best matched his mood. Following the match, Buffon continued his rant in press interviews, not disputing the foul, but suggesting that referees are supposed to adhere to a different standard late in matches, especially ones where the stakes are so high, and bringing Oliver's wife into the discussion.
VAR, of course, takes high-running emotions and the game clock less into consideration than Michael Oliver, which may hasten the retirement Gigi has put off to chase an elusive Champions League title with Paris Saint-Germain.
Southampton is a team struggling in the Premier League relegation waters. Wins and goals are extremely rare to the Saints, these days. Every single one is dear.
Charlie Austin was denied a goal when teammate Maya Yoshida was ruled offside in a match against Watford. Referee Simon Hooper ruled the Japanese had deflected the ball. Replays revealed Hooper was incorrect. Nor had Yoshida interfered with the keeper's ability to play the ball.
The decision cost Southampton valuable points. VAR almost certainly would have allowed Hooper to correct his call and remain on Austin's Christmas card list.
Mo Salah is Muslim and a teetotaller but it's still fun to imagine him in a pub with Gylfi Sigurdsson discussing who was more roughly treated by the opposition.
The Icelander was cleared out by a two-footed studs-raised tackle from Chelsea midfielder Jorginho when the Blues and Toffees hooked up earlier this season. Had Kevin Friend been afforded a clear view of the play, the Brazilian-born Italian international would have been issued a red card and subsequent three-match ban to consider the gravity of his action. VAR affords the referee clear views when the run of play does not.
As it stood, Friend only cautioned Maurizio Sarri's personal playmaker, furthering the traditional stereotype that referees, as dispensers of justice, are blind.
Enjoy your holiday.