The Good, The Bad and The V.A.R.
So, this weekend was all about an FA Cup Fourth Round Fixture list, full of action and incident, but this has suddenly become all about the Video Assistant Referee. It’s incredible how a referee sat in his office in Central London looking at a bank of screens, the like of which was last seen in the film “Sliver”, advising referees over decisions has had such an impact on the weekends play.
Now before you all start, let me make one thing clear as a Liverpool fan, I have no issues with the result at Anfield on Saturday night. We got what we deserved, and the result is a fair reflection of the game. Defence was atrocious, the midfield non-existent and the attack lacked the fluidity we have become used to and frankly they appeared livid at how the hard work was so easily undone by the rest of the team. Even Klopp himself looked frustrated and bereft of ideas.
But this isn’t about the game itself but the impact the VAR had on the actual game. I was at Anfield for the 19:45 Kick off full of expectation, aware that VAR was in place but not clear of the impact.
OK, let’s look at the VAR decisions one at a time, there were four, yes four incidents in total throughout the 90 minutes, and should have been five.
The first incident came in the 20th minute when Dawson had looked to have put WBA 1-3 up from a headed goal, two yards out from a corner. Mignolet wanted it disallowed for offside and possibly impeding the goalkeeper. The referee puts his hand to his ear piece and after 1 minute the goal is disallowed.
The second incident is the penalty appeal from Mo Salah in the 24th minute. In this incident Mo Salah actually asks for the VAR to be used, which isn’t meant to happen, and the referee does just that. Now, again in the ground all you see is the referee with a finger to his ear and the minutes later, having been hounded by players from all sides, walk to the tunnel to watch on the screen. Eventually, some 4 minutes later he awards a penalty. Which we promptly miss, Firmino hitting the woodwork.
The third incident is in the 45+2 minute when Dawson scores just before half time as they looked to see if the goal was in fact offside. It wasn’t, and the goal stood… an own goal by Joel Matip. This took another minute to decide the outcome.
The Fourth was in the 49th minute Dawson again heads the ball into the net and quite possibly fouled Mignolet in the box. This went again to the VAR to confirm that no fewer than SIX WBA players were offside.
Now all the pundits after the game have all said something along the lines of… “VAR worked well, it got all of the decisions right”, but I have to challenge this analysis. Yes, VAR meant all the decisions were correct, but as a spectacle, inside Anfield on Saturday night it FAIL in epic style. Here is why…
There is nothing, NOTHING inside the ground to let the fans know what its going on. I was 6 rows from the front in the Lower Kenny and therefore I could see the referee with his hand on his earpiece. Good luck seeing that from the Upper Main Stand, Upper Annie Road or the Kop!
So, for many the game has stopped, the players are standing around, as the others are celebrating, and the ref is stood waiting sending players away. It feels like an age and in the case of the penalty decision it was an age. They can say the average time for a decision is 2mins 35 secs till they are blue in the face it feels like an age. Christ, we moan at the time it takes for WBA to take a goal kick, free kick or throw in so…
Watching the game back home the following day on TV, its not so bad. You have the replays, commentators explaining what’s happening and you can see the decision. Inside the ground again you have nothing! So, you can forgive the travelling Baggies chanting “you jammy bastards, it should have been four” (when it was 1-3) because they didn’t see what the TV audience had seen.
I mentioned at the start of this piece it should have been FIVE incidents involving VAR, so let me explain why. In the 2nd half as six WBA players were caught offside, you can clearly see referee Craig Pawson says, “I am checking everything ok?”. So, if that’s the case why was the VAR not used for the Baggies second goal as BEINSports suggest it was offside? But you then must balance that by saying, if the Linesman isn’t being trusted to spot six players offside (as in the incident in the second half), what is the job of the linesman now? Is it just to award throw in’s and be abused by fans for 90 mins?
Should we just get rid of them?
The game is becoming more aimed at the TV Audience at the expense of the fans inside the ground paying anything up to £60+ per ticket to see the game. One pundit suggested it was like paying to see a film and every time a big scene came on the screen was turned off, and that’s how it felt.
For VAR to work they need to make it work inside the ground as much as they do for the home audience. The referee needs to be mic’d up as in Rugby or Cricket, so we can here the conversation between the VAR and the referee. We need to know what he wants to be reviewed and why.
We need screens inside the ground to show the footage that is being reviewed so the crowd can see if it is being called right. Not left to trust the decision that’s given as we have already had a bad call made by the VAR in the previous round.
And finally, we need a clock in the grounds that STOPS whilst VAR is being used. In the first half against WBA we had four goals, two lengthy treatment breaks for Gibbs & Robson-Kanu and three VAR reviews which took over six minutes alone. So what was the thought process behind only playing four minutes of stoppage time? If you are going to halt play you have to halt the clock.
Klopp said after the game that “it will become a little bit smoother I think in the future”. Pardew said, “I don’t think this is what you want to see going forward if you’re a Liverpool fan or a West Brom fan”. And for once I agree with him.
I didn’t enjoy the spectacle at all, the atmosphere was one of confusion and frustration from the fans. I don’t want to see players ready to kick a game off as others stand around having celebrated waiting to see if it stands… and then celebrating again.
If it was over-ruled, then what? We wait for everyone to rush back to their positions?
I also don’t want to see players calling for VAR, Surrounding the referee once the ref goes to the VAR, having to watch the screen next to the two dugouts. I don’t want players surrounding a referee once the decision has been made. Yet all of this was what we saw at Anfield, the good, the bad and the ugly side of bring technology into the beautiful game.
This whole situation needs to be thought through properly with everyone’s experience considered, and yes that includes the referee too. We need to learn from other sports who do it so well and then implement it properly instead of rushing it into the game.
And if we can’t, the leave it alone and let us debate it in our homes, offices, pub and Twittersphere like we always used too.