Tottenham-Liverpool controversy proves one thing
Spurs and Liverpool played out a phenomenally enthralling match on Sunday afternoon. In front of a raucous crowd, the top-four hopefuls punched and counterpunched their way to one of the season's most exciting, unpredictable, thrilling games. But after the affair, there was only one topic discussed: refereeing controversy.
As is ever the case in important games, the big decisions had big consequences. Brief instances were excruciatingly, painfully, and, above all, unfairly scrutinised. A 20-second period was lifted into a stratosphere far above everything else that occurred in a 90-minute football match. That moment in this particular match was parsed more so than normal. Specifically, I am referring to the clearly mandated absence of VAR, and the apparent use nonetheless.
Harry Kane had just been felled by Loris Karius. John Moss had correctly pointed to the penalty spot. The contact may have been minimal. Kane may have done his best to ensure it was present and noticed. But it was there regardlessless. It was a foul.
The problem was what preceded Karius' misguided, sprawling leap. Kane was close to being offside as he scampered to meet the loose ball. Moss, given the speed at which the play unfolded and the ball's unpredictable trajectory, missed it. Like many watching, he didn't know whether the Spurs talisman was in an illegal position. Neither did the linesman.
So Moss, in a desperate, what has now been described as 'misguided', attempt, very much like Karius' dive, chose to turn to the safety of VAR.
Except VAR wasn't in operation.
Or so everyone thought.
Everyone was wrong.
Then, apparently, VAR wasn't used.
And then the penalty was given.
And Kane missed anyway.
Confusion. Panic. Chaos. Utter disarray. The darkest of comedies. Those terms best delineate Moss' unwise decision to use a tool that wasn't officially in his box.
There are many things that can be learned. Moss will inevitably by vilified. As will Martin Atkinson, the fourth official whom Moss asked to check the TV. That is neither right nor wrong. Certainly, criticism is necessary. Protocol must be clearly defined. Still, the abuse Moss and Atkinson suffer will be insatiably fanatic, as is ever the case with the modern-day football fan.
The key lesson, for me, lies with what was 'not there' but so clearly needed to be, that which the men involved desperately wanted: VAR.
If ever there was a case to warrant VAR's implementation throughout the Premier League, English football, and the continent, this was it. Moss himself wanted the help TV coverage could provide. This is a referee, in a high-pressure situation, needing help to make an extremely tight and contentious decision. He wanted to get it right. As so many football fans claim a referee should have done, he sought help. He did not get it.
There are certainly issues with VAR. There will most definitely be serious growing pains in the early periods of its installation. For what decisions will it be used? How quickly will fans in the stadium know it is in use? Will the referee use a screen to review the incident? Will it be a fifth official in a remote booth making the decision? These are all complications and tendencies that must be defined and fine-tuned. There is still much work to be done.
That does not detract from the basic issue. Is VAR good for the game? I believe Moss' precipitate, ultimately spurned desire to rely on it Sunday proves the answer is yes.