Let’s talk about VAR, let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.
We all remember when Henry used his hand to help him assist the winning goal against Ireland. France qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and Ireland was eliminated. This was the moment we realized we can’t go on like this, we need some kind of video regulation.
It’s Sunday morning at 8:32, you are standing on a pitch where there is more mud than grass. You are still pretty drunk from last night and not sure why you are not still in bed. It’s the second minute of the game and you get the ball from the keeper. You decide to make a run across the left flank of the field, because, why not? You take on the first player fairly easily and the next one you play between the legs with an Elastico, you are shocked by yourself, how did I just do that? Before you are able to answer that question, Johnny the tank, the right-back from the opponent and the ex of the girl you are currently dating, kicks you so hard that you fly into the dugout. You are screaming, everyone is screaming but the ref saw nothing, you stand up. You could try to fight Johnny, but that would mean you will actually break a leg. You decide to make the VAR gesture with your hands, everyone laughs, and you scream: Where is the f…… VAR when you need him!?
We all remember when Henry used his hand to help him assist the winning goal against Ireland. France qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and Ireland was eliminated. This was the moment we realized we can’t go on like this, we need some kind of video regulation. The idea of the VAR was born, the biggest technological contribution and revolution in Football. A crucial development we all thought was indispensable and which we have been fighting for. Nonetheless, now that it’s finally here we despite it. Mourinho, current Tottenham Hotspur manager said in a post-match press conference: “I love football and I thought I was going to Love VAR, but VAR has too many mistakes”. What went wrong?
Everyone has an outspoken opinion on the technology, numerous articles have been written on the newborn villain/hero in football. Let’s discuss the frustrations and a few possible solutions.
Firstly, from the fans’ point of view, the implementation right now is far perfect. According to many, the VAR is messing with the authenticity of the game as a whole. Numerous watching spectators won’t scream out of pure joy when their team scores anymore. This is because they have the thought in the back of their head that the goal can be disallowed due to someone being offside with his little toe. We have seen in several cases that the imaginable line that is being used is not 100% trustable, also because we have to determine the exact moment when the ball leaves the foot from the assist giver. When the guys at the screens are analyzing an offside situation for minutes long we should perhaps conclude that there is no “clear and obvious mistake” made by the referees on the pitch. A solution could be to have a margin of a few centimeters when it comes to offside.
Furthermore, the VAR is not consistent across the different national and European Leagues. When we compare the way it’s being implemented in the Premier League as opposed to the other big leagues we see a crucial difference. The referee never goes to look on the screen on the side of the pitch to review a decision. One may ask why is there a screen if it’s never been looked at? Just like Frank Lampard, the current coach of Chelsea stated: “I think the idea that the referee can go look again has to be a good one. It was going to be used sparingly, but it’s been used not at all”. In the Premier League, as opposed to the other prominent leagues, the VAR has the final and crucial say in a review situation. Another evident inconsistent element is the way that tackles, and handballs are being perceived differently across different competitions. For example, for a tackle in the German Bundesliga that is been reviewed and proportionally punished by the VAR with a red card. A similar tackle in the Europa or Champions league could be not even looked at by the VAR. This is even the case with two different VAR’s in two different matches in the same league. Players, coaches, and fans are confused as to when the VAR is being used and how it’s being used. To resolve this issue, we should aim for a situation where the regulation is as consistent as possible across the whole football infrastructure.
Apart from being inconsistent, there is also an undeniable inequality when it comes to when and where the VAR being implemented at all. The Emirates FA cup has a policy that until the quarter-finals VAR is only implemented in games where the hosting team is a current Premier League team. Think about a matchup in the third round of the FA cup between Arsenal and League two’s Swindon Town. When Arsenal plays at home there will be a VAR available and functioning as normal. If the opposite is true and Swindon town hosts Arsenal at their Country Ground stadium there will be no VAR at all. This can lead to unfair and unequal situations. One would think that everyone in competition must have the same rights, no matter how big or (especially) small a club is. There are a few companies that are making much cheaper options for the usage of VAR technology. Every team can implement a VAR and every fan will be able to look at the footage live, no matter where you are and which team you support. This will result in much more accessible technology and will give the FA no more reason to maintain the current inequality.
Another big frustration and maybe the biggest one of all amongst the fans in the lack of transparency. When sitting in the stadium and cheering your team only to suddenly see the game being stopped without having a clear view of why this is the case. Sometimes for minutes long you are looking at the screens that say possible penalty/goal/offside without seeing any footage on the situation can be highly infuriating. Especially in the middle of a high tempo and exciting game. Sky sports held a survey with 10 of their pundits to grasp their views by presenting them with different statements on VAR. Two of the statements included: “Being able to see the video footage the referees are being shown” and “Being able to hear the conversation the referees are having regarding the decision” 7/10 supported the first and 9/10 the second statement, amongst them legends Harry Redknapp, Garry Neville, and Jamie Carragher. It seems that transparency is key in these kinds of technological changes in Football. We all remember the implementation of goal-line technology. Where we saw on the big screens in the stadiums and smaller screens at home a close up on the goal line. Everyone was included and could actually see what was going on, transparency was key to the success of the applied technology. VOGO, a sports tech company that is known for the way they enhance the in-venue experience for the spectators could bring the solution. An app can be downloaded on the smartphones of the fans in the stadium, where everyone will be able to see the footage being looked at with accompanied the conversation of the refs. In this way the people will feel included and taken more seriously, they will actually be able to see what is going on, instead of being stunned the rest of the game as to what happened.
To conclude, we can state that there is much work to be done. But with the right innovative adjustments and transparency, it could be a much more accepted phenomenon overall. Perhaps even one day the referee on Sunday morning will be able to give the deserved red card to Johnny the tank.
By: Itay Ingber – VP Innovation at HYPE Sports Innovation