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Equal time: VAR removes football's biggest talking points

Friday 19th January 2018

This is purely an emotional argument. I don't care. Emotions are important too.

The 1966 World Cup Final is being debated to this day, the legitimacy of Sir Geoff Hurst’s strike still being mooted a half-century after it was ruled good. The Final at Wembley was a contest between two of the best teams at the tournament. Many people who weren't even born at the time now discuss the controversy. Uncertainty can grow into wonderful myths and legends. VAR kills those legends.

Maradona’s famous Hand Of God against England at the 1986 World Cup was karma delivered to English fans. Like it, Luis Garcia’s ghost goal against Chelsea in the 2005 Champions League semifinals, Thierry Henry's Hand of God II that crushed Ireland's World Cup hopes, and Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany at the 2010 World Cup, were costly decisions that have had fans asking 'what if' ever since. 'What if' is a wonderful question to ask. It takes people places they otherwise may never go. VAR refuses to stamp their passport.

Just this week Nigerian international Kelechi Iheanacho made history as the first player in England to have a goal awarded by the Video Assistant Referee. His second goal was initially ruled out for offside. Video review allowed officials to determine he was onside. Given a few years, Kelechi Iheanacho will just be the answer to a trivial question that stumps punters at the local pub.

VAR is expected to be used at this summer’s World Cup after being trialed at last year’s Confederation Cup in Russia. The process drew criticism for extensive delays, especially in the final game between Chile and Germany. The technology is used in virtually every sport from tennis to NFL football. Most have frequent stoppages during play, however. Football does not. Even in NFL, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League, people still object to the time taken to deliver what may or may not be an accurate call.

 Everyone wants the game to be fair but we're also comfortable in the game's continual motion. We've become accustomed to the controversial moments, accepted their inevitability. They give us a chance to express our love for the game. Poor refereeing decisions can and do alter outcomes. They change fortunes. But those injustices become as legendary as Darth Vader, Jason Voorhies, and Freddie Kreuger. We love to revile them. No hero is worthy without a good villain. No title is memorable unless hardship and injustice are overcome. And, of course, sometimes the villain must win.

VAR disrupts the flow of the game, kills the intensity, and removes the human condition from the game. For now, video review can only be used to resolve four different questions. Was it a goal? Was it a penalty? Was it a red card? Did we send off the correct player? Yet there are already cries for the technology to decide offsides even though the NHL has struggled mightily with this aspect of review. Next, it will be whether the ball was out of bounds, precisely how much time was wasted, and whether Jose Mourinho kicked the water bottle or it took a dive.

Fans of the Bundesliga and Serie A have complained bitterly about the technology. It has delivered more confusion rather than clarity to fans in attendance. There has allegedly been behind-the-scenes discussion about ending its use. Too much technology sanitises the game. There's something to be said for getting dirty now and then.

Eventually VAR will be almost seamless. The NHL allows play to continue while the review process occurs under certain conditions. Those with a financial interest in outcomes will want to see this occur in football to protect their investment. For the fans, however, the game will become more mechanised, much as almost every other aspect of life has. Sometimes, however, we need something that reminds us we're still human.  

Aje Omolayo

I like to think of myself as an easy going lover of all things football, however, I do class myself as a die-hard Arsenal fan but I'm not biased enough to view life at the Emirates through rose-tinted spectacles and can appreciate when we are beaten by the better team on the day.


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