VAR, Is it Good for the Game? 🇬🇧

On Friday evening in the closing seconds of the game, Real Mallorca fans got their first taste of VAR in action at Son Moix. After consulting the pitch side TV screen and a lengthy delay, the referee awarded a penalty against Real Mallorca in the 96th minute. Idrissu Baba was adjudged to have handled the ball as his clearance ricocheted back onto his hand from point blank range. The Son Moix faithful almost went away with a nasty taste left in the mouth, that was until Aritz Aduriz’s penalty was saved by Manolo Reina. The referee left the pitch to derision from the fans despite having upheld the laws of the game. In this week’s Wednesday words I ask; VAR, is it good for the game?

What can VAR be used for?

VAR might be new to RCD Mallorca fans but it it is in it’s second season in Spain, having been introduced to La Liga in 2018-19. For those of you who are also fans of the Premier League, it is important to know that the top division in England have chosen to use it differently to how it is used in Spain and the rest of the world. So just how does it work in Spain?

The referee is linked by earpiece and microphone to a team of officials who are based in Barcelona. These officials can advise, but the final decision lies with the on the field official. The official can consult a pitch side monitor should they wish in order to help them come to the correct decision. It is only permitted for the official to consult the VAR in cases of a possible red card, penalty, a case of mistaken identity or a goal.

Will VAR get Everything Right?

VAR will improve the amount of correct decisions, in fact it was proven to have done so in the analysis carried out by the Spanish Football Association. Last season it also led to a drop in player protests of 17.3%, while simulation dropped by 68%. Nobody would argue that these two statistics are hugely positive for the game.

However, VAR is not and never will be perfect. There have been high profile examples of errors by VAR. In England, where VAR had only been adopted this season, the chief of referees had admitted that the VAR has made 4 major errors this year, failing to intervene or even making an incorrect decision. Two of these could be said to have had a major impact on the result, including one where a goal should have been disallowed but wasn’t and the game finished 1-1.

In Spain, VAR also had teething problems last year. It seems that it takes the officials in any country adopting VAR some time to adapt to how it should best be used. What VAR will not do though is eliminate errors completely. It is an imperfect system run by imperfect people, as all humans are, which will inevitably continue to lead to errors. It is down to the RFEF to ensure that its’ officials are as well trained as possible to minimise the possible negative impact of VAR.

Baba ‘handles’, Reina Saves

On Friday night, play had continued and the referee not seen anything untoward. Then, play stopped and Son Moix took a collective sharp intake of breath. After what seemed like an eternity and a pitch side referral by the official, a penalty was finally awarded. In the 90th minute, the 4th official had indicated there would be 4 minutes stoppage time. The final whistle went in the 99th minute, a 5 minute delay in total. VAR must be a fast and timely intervention. If it requires 4 officials in Barcelona to consider it followed by a further pitch side viewing lasting almost 5 minutes in total then the error is not one that is clear and obvious.

Despite taking 5 minutes, 4 VAR officials and an on field referee, it may be the case that they still came to the wrong decision in the case of the penalty award against Baba on Friday evening. The law clarification states a penalty should not be awarded if «the ball touches a player’s hand/arm immediately from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player». The speed of ricochet off the Athletic Club player and only the arm of Baba from point blank range means that it surely must fit into this category.

Not Perfect

What we can say with certainty is that VAR is not perfect. The RFEF would admit as much and their official statistics are an admission of that. It is an imperfect solution to an imperfect situation. Do fans really want refereeing perfection and no mistakes from officials? That would lead to a sterilisation of the game and remove the many talking points to be had in the bars, cars and on the walk home after the game. However, what VAR must ensure is that it does not become the the talking point. Football is changing with the times and rightly so, but the governing bodies must ensure that VAR and the laws adapt to ensure that, in the quest for perfection, the television replays don’t suck the life out of the game.

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