Rarely a weekend of football goes by these days without a monumental kerfuffle around everyone’s favourite technological official VAR.
The weekend just passed saw Liverpool FC the beneficiary against Manchester City, when a supposedly qualified and experienced referee waved play on despite the ball appearing to strike the Red’s Trent Alexander-Arnold’s arm whilst defending in his own area.
The mysterious individuals in control of the VAR system reviewed the incident. They confirmed the on-field officials’ version of events and before City fans could hit the keyboard to let rip at the most hated aspect of modern football, Liverpool had scored at the other end.
If it wasn’t so serious, it would be comical.
Was it an important decision? Of course it was. Did it alter the outcome of the match? Who knows? What is certain is the fact that governing bodies appear to be backing the technology and their investment in it, at the expense of the integrity of the game.
The official explanation from Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) read as follows.
“The VAR checked the penalty appeal for handball against Trent Alexander-Arnold and confirmed the on-field decision that it did not meet the considerations for a deliberate handball.”
Whilst it is always comforting for fans to receive open and transparent responses from the powers at be, this particular example borders on the absurd. Alexander-Arnold’s arm is in the most unusual of positions. In fact, try walking down the street with your arm held out in the manner in which his was and you will receive some very odd looks.
The PGMOL may wish to placate disgruntled fans with a united front that aims to quell discussion, however only the gullible will be falling for their lip service. The unnerving reality remains that the events that played out soon after kick off at Anfield on Sunday afternoon would have led to a penalty on every other day.
On this occasion, a blunder was made. Another referee, at another ground, in another country and in another league, may well have awarded the spot kick. Just a fortnight ago, Louis Fenton of the Wellington Phoenix was adjudged to have hand balled in the area and the referee pointed directly to the penalty spot.
Wellington play in the A-League, Australia’s top tier of professional football. Fenton appeased his team mates immediately, suggesting that once the footage was viewed by VAR, the decision would be reversed, as the ball had made clear contact with his chest before glancing the arm.
Whilst the footage supported Fenton’s version of events, once again, the decision stood and the player proceeded to use some rather blue and poorly chosen words in his post-game interview.
The facial expressions of those sitting on the Phoenix bench said it all, as did Pep Guardiola’s rather comical hand shaking of the officials at the completion of Liverpool’s 3-1 victory over the English champions.
Both reactions lie at the core of the issue when it comes to VAR; the perception that it is a farce and has the potential to harm football from within.
Contentious handball decisions have always brought much debate and conjecture in the game. Yet the inconsistent application of the rules that exists when the extra layer of officialdom is called upon does nothing more than breed distrust in the fans and potential illegitimacy in results.
When the Hawkeye technology currently being used in the Premier League to rule on-offside play is added to the mix, it is little wonder fans are roaring their anger from the rooftops.
It is not just the furious, one eyed supporter calling for change, despite many feeling as though their club has indeed felt the wrath of VAR. Respected players, commentators and pundits right across the globe have had enough of the trivialities of off-sides being awarded based on what appear to be the most minute of margins.
They have grown tired of incidents being reviewed for sometimes up to three or four minutes before a decision is confirmed and, like all of us, are completely bamboozled by many of the adjudications made.
Whilst it is easy for the official post-game statement to be drafted in such a way as to artificially confirm the decisions made by on-field officials, the footballing world sees well through that façade.
What chance a governing body concedes a little ground, admits to an over reliance on technology and shows the courage to downsize its role in the game? Very little I would say and that could be a dangerous path to tread.