VAR can cut er­rors, but is no sil­ver bul­let

The Football League Paper - - CHRIS DUNLAVY - Chris Dunlavy

VAR this, VAR that – just help the of­fi­cials out. So ranted Char­lie Austin in that gem of a post-match in­ter­view. The is­sue of video as­sis­tance – rarely far from any­one’s lips now – screeched back into the lime­light on Satur­day af­ter a host of top-flight blun­ders.

Austin’s ‘goal’ for Southamp­ton, dis­al­lowed for off­side af­ter a non-ex­is­tent de­flec­tion re­ported by a lines­man 30 yards away.

A trip on Wat­ford’s Jose Hole­bas in the same game that should have re­sulted in a penalty. A sim­i­lar incident in­volv­ing Bournemouth striker David Brooks, cleaned out dur­ing the Cher­ries’ 2-1 de­feat at New­cas­tle.

Later, on Match of the Day, Gary and the gang de­clared there would have been “no de­bate” if VAR was in use. In other words, no mis­takes.

Prin­ci­ple

That’s the prin­ci­ple be­hind VAR of course; a sys­tem that erad­i­cates match-chang­ing er­rors com­pletely.

Yet as the World Cup proved, any sys­tem is only as fool­proof as the men at the yoke. A prime ex­am­ple is the now in­fa­mous incident in Ser­bia’s sec­ond group game against Switzer­land.

Vic­to­ri­ous in their opener, the Serbs were level at 1-1 when Alek­san­dar Mitro­vic was ab­surdly tag-teamed to earth by Switzer­land’s an­swer to the Le­gion of Doom.

A suc­cess­ful penalty would al­most cer­tainly have killed off the Swiss and as­sured Ser­bian qual­i­fi­ca­tion with a game to spare.

That ref­eree Felix Brych pe­nalised Mitro­vic for a foul was in­cred­i­ble. That none of the four qual­i­fied of­fi­cials in the VAR booth saw fit to in­form him that the Ful­ham striker had been as­saulted de­fied be­lief.

“It’s just… out­ra­geous,” said Kevin Kil­bane in com­men­tary, re­flect­ing the in­cre- dulity of all and sundry. That army of full-kit­ted nump­ties must have been the only peo­ple on the planet who watched those re­plays and didn’t see a stonewall pen.

It proved costly for the Serbs. Switzer­land hit a last-minute win­ner, Ser­bia lost to Brazil in the fi­nal game and – in the bit­ter­est of blinks – their World Cup was over. It was a rank in­jus­tice, and com­pletely at odds with the stated in­ten­tion of VAR, as ex­plained by Howard Webb.

“We’re try­ing to go for the ones where the ref­eree clearly gets it wrong,” he said. “Where there’s no de­bate, re­ally. Ev­ery­body would say, ‘Yep, that’s a clearly wrong de­ci­sion’. We are just try­ing to give our of­fi­cials a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to avoid mak­ing clear er­rors – the kind of er­rors that can change the re­sult of games.”

In the af­ter­math, Ser­bia filed an of­fi­cial com­plaint to FIFA, ac­cus­ing Brych of be­ing bi­ased and even ac­cus­ing the gov­ern­ing body of or­ches­trat­ing their elim­i­na­tion.

“I do not ex­pect FIFA to take ac­tion in or­der for this bru­tal rob­bery not to hap­pen again, be­cause it was all di­rected,” sniffed Slav­isa Kokeza, head of the Ser­bian FA.

An­gry

No de­bate? Hardly. It’s the ex­act sort of an­gry ex­change and ugly al­le­ga­tions that VAR – with its sup­posed im­per­vi­ous­ness to hu­man er­ror – was de­signed to wipe out.

Had VAR been in­stalled at St Mary’s on Satur­day, there’s no guar­an­tee that the men in the booth would have given a goal. One of them might have ad­judged that Maya Yoshida – he of the non-ex­is­tent de­flec­tion – was stand­ing in the Wat­ford keeper’s eye­line. And Austin would still have been stood there, yam­mer­ing away like an ex­tra from a Guy Ritchie film.

That’s not to say VAR is a dud. In the round, it will re­duce poor de­ci­sions. But if the sys­tem is to be em­braced and suc­cess­ful it must not be bur­dened with un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions, or viewed as some kind of sil­ver bul­let.

Be­cause a ref­eree, whether he is on the pitch or in a glass booth, is as fal­li­ble and sub­jec­tive as any­one else.

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