“Video Assistant Refereeing is the future of modern football” – the words of FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Do you know what? He’s bloody right but the key is in the word ‘future’, as anyone who has been watching the Confederations Cup will know that the current VAR system is not quite ready for use.
I used to be dead set against VAR. I even used the line about how football needs controversy to stimulate the conversation. Then I thought about it: football is an ever-evolving game. The sport we love changes season by season – the equipment, the venues, the styles of play, how we watch football, how we interact with football. I’ve learned to embrace change… when it’s right and ready.
There are three instances of VAR that have been criticised (I should emphasise so far) at the 2018 Confederations Cup: one in a match between Mexico and New Zealand, another in a match between Germany and Cameroon and in the semi-final between Portugal and Chile.
In the dying embers of the Mexico-New Zealand fixture VAR was called upon when a particularly nasty challenge – after the whistle had been blown in New Zealand’s favour – from the Kiwi’s Michael Boxall incited an almost 22-man brawl. The referee on the pitch awarded New Zealand the free kick before finally deciding to check with the VAR officials. Upon review, the referee handed out a solitary yellow card. Play was indicated to resume and the All Whites took their freekick – only for the referee to call it back as he was hearing word in his ear that he should dish out another two bookings. It was an incident that led to a five-minute delay in the match and you could argue that even then, the officials didn’t make the correct decision as 22 men remained on the pitch.
So, to Germany-Cameroon. With the World Champions 1-0 up, Cameroon’s Ernest Mbouka connected with Emre Can with a high boot – somewhere mid-range between Nigel De Jong and Roy Keane. The referee initially decided the challenge was worthy of a booking… but for the wrong player, Sebastian Siani. Upon reviewing the video replay the referee changed his mind and quite rightly decided the challenge was worthy of a red card but he still flashed the card at the wrong player! After reviewing the footage AGAIN, the referee finally sent off the correct player for the offence.
The final instance (again, so far) came in extra time of the Portugal-Chile semi-final. A challenge from Jose Fonte on a Chilean attacker was overlooked by the referee but replays perhaps proved that there was clear contact on the player and not the ball. There was no decision made to review the challenge via the Video Assistant Referee. Total madness!
I want to make it clear again that my position is not that we should pack up and run away from Video Reviews in football. The idea is sound… in theory! It’s just that I don’t feel the system is ready for widespread implementation at the highest level of football yet. Perhaps the Bundesliga can prove me wrong in the coming season…