VAR – The end of the ‘Beautiful Game’?

The latest addition to football, VAR, was introduced to English football for an Emirates FA Cup tie between Brighton and Crystal Palace in early January. But the innovative technology has received more criticism than praise in recent weeks.

There had been no previous need in the Third Round tie to refer to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) but when it was needed it, it concluded with a decisive outcome.

Enduring a trouble free start to life in English football, referee Andre Marriner questioned the eligibility of Glenn Murray’s goal. His assistants, Neil Swarbrick and Peter Kirkup, were sat positioned in-front of a screen of televisions providing dozens of angles in order to provide an accurate reply.

The assistants had to consider two things when analysing Murray’s strike. Was he offside? No. Had the ball touched his arm after deflecting off his knee? The angles available to Swarbrick and Kirkup were inconclusive and showed no obvious reason as to why Murray’s goal should be disallowed.

It had been a confident and impressive start for VAR, things were looking positive. And then it went downhill…

As VAR was introduced to Emirates FA Cup Third Round ties, it’s use was required for the meeting of Huddersfield Town and Manchester United at the John Smiths Stadium.

The Red Devils looked as though they had increased their lead to 2-0 when Juan Mata fired home moments before half-time. But, was Mata offside when he received Ashley Young’s pass?

With the goal coming at a key time, referee Kevin Friend opted to ask for assistance from the VAR. He needed to receive a definitive answer as to whether Mata was offside. BT Sport showed an straight line that appeared to display Mata in a marginally offside position to the viewers at home, however the graphics produced by the Hawk-Eye technology appeared to be wobbly – displaying Mata in an offside position.

The final decision was to chalk off the goal, albeit this was the correct decision, the technology received vast amounts of criticism in response. BT Pundit Robbie Savage labelled it a “shambles” while United manager Jose Mourinho said: “The feeling is amazing when the truth comes but there are also problems.”

Arguably the most exasperating factor would be the lack of communication to supporters at the Stadium. For those watching from home, they can see live graphics of what the television referee can see. But those watching from the stand are left clueless.

All they are able to see – if they pay enough attention – is the referee point to his ear before then heading to a pitch-side monitor.

Unlike other sports – such as Rugby Union and Cricket – their is no clear signal that a decision is under review. For larger football stadiums, as seen in the game between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, a large graphic displayed that German referee Deniz Aytekin would refer to VAR.

Jamie Vardy’s first goal for England, in just over a year, on Tuesday evening was cancelled out by Lorenzo Insigne’s penalty – only after debutant James Tarkowski was penalised following a review by VAR. For many it seemed that Federico Chiesa was already on his way to the floor when he received contact from Tarkowski, but VAR deemed the tackle worthy of awarding a penalty and the visitors levelled.

In the future we may see further technology implemented so that supporters are able to understand what process the VAR team are going through, but until then it will remain a grey area for both fans and officials.


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