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Robbery in Salzburg highlights the need for VAR

Saturday 5th May 2018

One of the big topics of conversation throughout this season has been the implementation of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). The new technology has been used on a trial basis in certain competitions and it allows referees to go and watch replays of contentious issues to make sure they get them right during the game. The technology has admirers and opposition, depending on who you talk to but during this weeks Champions League and Europa League semi-finals there were a few great adverts for the technology to come into the game.

Both Champions League ties had controversial moments which led to former Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona and Spain striker, Julio Salinas saying that if VAR was in operation then the Champions League final would be between Bayern Munich and Roma. While both games had moments that may have changed the tie the biggest and clearest mistake came in the latter stages of the Europa League semi-final between Red Bull Salzburg and Olympique de Marseille.

Marseille had come into the game holding a 2-0 first-leg lead but two second-half goals from Salzburg sent the game into extra-time and it looked as though a penalty shootout would be required to separate the sides. However, with four minutes remaining, Marseille was awarded a corner much to the horror of the home defenders. On further inspection, a shot from Marseille’s, Andre-Frank Zambo took a deflection off one of his own teammates but the referee, wrongly, awarded a corner. The Salzburg players were disgusted and it was clearly still working on their minds as they gave Rolando a free run in the box to side-foot home the corner to send Marseille through to the final in Lyon against Atletico Madrid.

If VAR had been available then there’s every chance that the referee takes a look at the corner award and overturns it and the game goes to penalties which would give Salzburg a 50% chance of becoming the first Austrian team to play in a European final since their predecessors, Austria Salzburg were defeated by Inter Milan in the 1994 UEFA Cup final.

However, another interesting viewpoint is whether the referee would have used the VAR if he had the option to do so. Although we now know that the decision was wrong and in hindsight, we can see just how vital a mistake it turned out to be but would he have even looked at it for a corner decision? We’ll never know for certain but in the future, I am sure there will be a debate about what VAR can be used for to make sure it isn’t abused and also doesn’t take away from the beauty of watching a free-flowing game.

The fact is VAR is long overdue and there are thousands of decisions that have been made over the years that video evidence has shown to be wrong. Would Northern Ireland have qualified for the World Cup this summer if VAR had been used in their playoff against Switzerland when the Swiss were wrongly awarded a penalty? Would Ireland have made the 2010 World Cup if Thierry Henry’s handball been spotted by the VAR on that Paris night in late 2009? Again, we’ll never know the answers but we have all heard the fairy tales of people going back in time and stepping on a butterfly which meant the entire future of the world changed. How many managers would still be in a job? How many teams would have won titles, avoided relegation? How many players careers would have been changed by this? There are no correct answers but what we can do is use the technology that exists and is available to try to get more decisions right in what is a multi-million-pound industry.

Introducing VAR now won’t mean anything to Red Bull Salzburg, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or the thousands of players and teams who have had decisions wrongfully given against them but we can stop it happening again.

In England, the technology was tested in the FA Cup with mixed results but in Serie A it has been used all season and after a slow start the referees are using it well and it led to big calls last weekend in games involving Juventus and Napoli which may well have decided the destination of the Scudetto. In real time, the referee got both decisions wrong but VAR overturned them and in the end, the right decisions were made.  We owe it to the players, fans and everyone who is involved to get these big calls right and VAR should be brought in for every major competition and quite frankly the sooner it happens, the better for all involved.

Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.

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