Daily Mail

Pity the poor referees… every single player is out to deceive them

- Matt Barlow @Matt_Barlow_DM matt.barlow@dailymail.co.uk

CONTACT was always likely to be the hardest judgment call for remote officials in a contact sport in the VAR age.

how much contact is too much? And what feel can you possibly have for the beat of a physical contest from a windowless room near heathrow, poring over replays in super slow-motion?

You can forgive Wolves boss Gary O’Neil for being confused. One impercepti­ble nudge from Fabio silva’s shin on the back of George Baldock’s leg and it’s a penalty. One running leap by Andre Onana to crash into sasa Kalajdzic and it isn’t.

Go back to the introducti­on of VAR in 2019 and the overarchin­g desire, especially when it came to contract, was to leave as much as possible to those on the pitch, but this was soon pulled out of shape.

if that’s not clear and obvious what is, demanded TV pundits, in their impossible quest for consistenc­y, and the best intentions quickly unravelled.

More interventi­on. More looking at the monitors. Less interventi­on. More power back to those on the pitch.

We have now reached the point where officials seem a little lost, devoid of confidence, even.

They are making decisions, or not making them in some cases, in the hope VAR will come to the rescue if they are wrong.

Profession­al footballer­s are competitiv­e animals. if there is an advantage to steal they steal it, whether it be a quick free-kick or a throw-in from the wrong place in a training game, or falling over for a penalty in the last minute of a cup final.

if they detect uncertaint­y, if they think referees are weak, lost in the maze of technology, they will be looking to make that work in their favour.

On saturday, sheffield United won their first game of the season and overall were probably worth the win, but they actually won because Baldock had the presence of mind to stick a boot down in front of silva as he tried to kick the ball.

silva detected the risk and pulled out of the kick, but a fraction too late, touched Baldock and over he went. Oliver Norwood scored the penalty and Wolves lost the point they thought they had.

O’Neil’s fury was understand­able as a week earlier, a very similar falling down routine by Fabian schar helped Newcastle turn defeat into a draw at Molineux.

it is as if at certain stages of the game, or in certain areas of the

Foul or sly? Baldock hits the deck for a penalty

SHUTTERSTO­CK pitch, football has become entirely non-contact and players can draw fouls as they do in basketball. how are you supposed to defend properly without making contact?

i’ve never had more sympathy with the officials. We seem to have reached a stage where every player on the pitch is out to deceive them.

Wolves were at it at Bramall Lane, too. Kalajdzic spent most of the first half falling over in search of what other sports might call better field position. hwang hee-chan was the same. sheffield United did it to waste time at Tottenham this season.

Full backs defending in their own corner will regularly fall down to win a free-kick rather than play their way out. it is noticeable this season how referees in UEFA competitio­ns refuse to award cheap free-kicks like these.

Feigning head injuries has become part of the repertoire for those trying to stop a dangerous counter-attack. Referees must err on the side of caution and the players know it.

When spurs were down to 10 men and defending a 1-0 lead at Luton, Pedro Porro played a poor pass out of defence, straight to an opponent. his reaction was to pretend he had pulled a hamstring. When his team won the ball back he got straight up and carried on.

This is not another attack on VAR, but this is football in the VAR age — and frankly it is becoming quite unpalatabl­e.

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