Football has invested considerably in VAR and fans had better get used to it

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.

Staff Writer
Soccerscene is committed to promoting, enhancing and growing the soccer industry in Australia. We believe soccer news has captured the attention of grassroots soccer clubs, apparel and equipment suppliers – which extends to governing bodies, club administrators and industry decision makers. Many of the auxiliary products and services support the growth of the soccer industry in Australia and Asia, a passion we also share and want to express through our work.

ReSpo.Vision: AI and AR/VR that revolutionises data tracking

ReSpo.Vision is an AI & Computer Vision-based optical tracking system which automatically collects player skeletal tracking data from any single camera recording of a sporting event.

Using immersive 3D visuals, the system allows the audience to unlock performance data and insights that weren’t before available like tactical or scouting insights with AR/VR.

Respo.Vision – a Polish-based start-up founded in early 2020 started by four founders – Pawel Osterreicher, Mateusz Szala, Wojciech Rosiński, and Łukasz Grad.

These four individuals have had combined experiences in data science, consulting and machine learning engineering, and believe AI can unlock a wealth of possibilities by capturing previously uncapturable player tracking data.

The company’s mission is to bring a new depth of analytics to sports using Computer Vision.

The product merges the immersive AR/VR world with the deep analytical environment that sports is, and the company specifically specialises in football.

They leverage bleeding-edge deep learning algorithms to automatically generate 3D skeletal tracking data from sporting events and analyse it with an unprecedented level of insight.

The technology system detects 3D positions of the ball and 50+ body parts of every player, in every video frame, using a single-camera video input (which can be any recording, present or past, a TV broadcast, or a training session recording). Fully automatically, for any game, with accuracy measured in centimetres, and without any wearable sensors or expensive pre-installed cameras.

The company are scaling up their clientele (among them clubs, leagues, federations, media, or sports data companies) and are doing so by offering an unmatched depth of knowledge in a scalable, and cost-effective way.

ReSpo.Vision Head of Product Mateusz Dłużniewski presenting at the GSIC powered by Microsoft Summit APAC in Singapore.

The technology is split into two different products: Data & Stats as well as Visuals which allow the audience a chance to choose how they want to experience the game.

This is how each work:

Data and Stats

– 2D & 3D Tracking data: Uses coordinates of players’ body parts & the ball generated from any match recording, even TV broadcasts with the option to view the game in either 2D or 3D.

– Physical data: Tracks accurate physical measurements, including speed, acceleration, body orientation, or motion types

– Game reports: 3D tracking-derived analytical summary of any game. Revealing unique metrics, including player zones of control, Team Compactness, Open Passing Lanes, Pressing performance, and more – all to power better tactical decisions

Visuals

3D Digital twin of football: Recreate any real-life game in a realistic, VR-ready 3D environment with unlimited camera perspectives and full immersion.

Matchday in the metaverse: Open the gates to the virtual stadium and use VR technology to teleport fans directly into the heart of the action for an incredible immersive experience.

Data visualisations & AR Add-Ons: Enhance the fan experience or aid the player coaching process with visualized stats & insights (e.g. tactical view, pitch control overlay).

ReSpo.Vision Body Keypoints Detection.

How this technology can be used in Australia

Specifically in Australia, technology like this is severely underutilised at the top level and will be part of football in the near future, where Australia can get ahead of other Asian countries in this field.

An example to look upon is Melbourne Knights and their recent partnership with advanced data tracking system ProTrainUp who aren’t currently connected to any other club in the country.

More clubs in the country should follow in these footsteps and invest in immersive and analytical systems that give them a deeper understanding of the game, where the top European clubs first flagged as a big importance on improving on the pitch.

The founders in a recent interview with SportsPro also suggested that the system can be used by broadcast media companies to give their audience an enhanced viewing experience by allowing them to view advanced metrics, a feature that Australian football also lacks on its A-League broadcasts.

The company is truly revolutionising the AI sports realm with fans, clubs and the media being the target audience for this technology to shape the way we view and analyse football.

Melbourne Knights confirm innovative alliance with ProTrainUp

Melbourne Knights Football Club has confirmed a new partnership with leading football management software company, ProTrainUp.

This collaboration is set to enhance communication and streamline operations with the Club, marking a significant step forward in the commitment to excellence and growth.

Founded in 2013, ProTrainUp is a club management system fuelled by data driven technology, created by and for the football community. ProTrainUp combines quantitative and qualitative data to enhance club operations for both staff and participants, enabling the Club to:

  1. Enhance communication between club staff and players with built-in public and private messaging services.
  2. Simplify the organization and delivery of training sessions using plans and sessions provided by top international federations and clubs, available only through ProTrainUp.
  3. Maintain an up-to-date calendar of training sessions and matches.
  4. Gather data and statistics on players to create detailed reports on individual player development and overall team progress.

ProTrainUp is a system used by clubs around the world including European clubs such as Dinamo Zagreb FC and FC Porto, highlighting its importance in modern football.

The main objective of this partnership is to enhance communication among club staff, players, and parents.

ProTrainUp’s advanced software will deliver a centralised platform for efficient and effective communication, guaranteeing that all members of the Melbourne Knights community stay well-informed and engaged.

The system is accessible both online and through the app, allowing players and parents to enable push notifications so they never miss important Club updates.

The partnership will play a huge role in upskilling the juniors program in 2025, a huge focus that President Simon Pincic spoke about in length in his exclusive interview with Soccerscene.

The Knights will leverage ProTrainUp’s comprehensive tools for training management, performance tracking, and development planning to ‘provide the juniors with the best possible environment to grow and succeed’ as per their statement.

This will help more than just the junior players however with ProTrainUp, the coaches will benefit from this technology with seamless tracking of player progress, and enhanced training experiences, all contributing to the overall development of the junior players.

The club spoke about the future of their management through this advanced technology system.

“We look forward to a successful partnership and are excited about the positive impact it will have on our Club and community. Together with ProTrainUp, we are committed to building a stronger, more connected, and highly effective football club,” Knights said in a club statement.

This is an excellent and innovative partnership by the Knights that sees them advance forward in the development of technology.

The Knights have been vocal about the importance of junior development and have historically been one of Australia’s most successful clubs at creating stars from their system, with ProTrainUp only advancing that cause.

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