There’s no denying that technology is a major part of football. Boots are being made lighter than ever before, moulded to a player’s feet trying to get those marginal gains. In the studio, we have Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher playing with camera angles never imagined a decade ago. In the pubs and stands, we have bookmakers at our fingertips.
So it seems a little bizarre that on the field football is just so far behind technologically when compared with other sports. Goal-line technology is relatively new to the beautiful game, yet Hawkeye has been a mainstay in cricket for 17 years tennis since 2005, while third umpires and officials have been in place for some time and, what’s more, they’ve improved decision making and created drama for spectators in equal measure.
Yet when introduced into football just over a week ago, it’s been met with widespread criticism. So much so, that if you were a decision maker at the FA currently you’d quite understandably be thinking twice about it.
Listen to any radio phone in and it’s a dross idea. Pundits are panning it at the same rate as managers. Give it time.
All technology within football takes time. The first days of football betting on your phone were slow, full of glitches. The same applies with football shirts. Brands were continuing to find gains, sometimes with unexpected results. Barcelona’s 2011/12 shirt famously absorbed too much water during rainfall, weighing down players in the early stages of the season. Puma’s all-in-one Cameroon kit was quickly banned by FIFA, as was the nation’s sleeveless kit by the same brand. Innovative thinking doesn’t always work immediately.
It’ll undoubtedly be a trial and error period for VAR, but there’s no doubt it will be of huge benefit to top flight football.
Currently VAR is set out to be used for four things; awarding goals, penalty decisions, red card decisions and cases of mistaken identity. The main fear is that it will slow the game down and one of the main complaints is that it’s confusing for fans who are at the ground.
In other sports this is far from the case and there would be a variety of ways to counter that, with clear communication being key. Adding a microphone to referees, just as they do in rugby would be a method, while clear communication with the fourth official and stadium announcer would have similar effect.
In terms of slowing games down, currently that simply wouldn’t be the case. Footballers spend far longer arguing with officials than they would if they were given a definitive decision from an official upstairs with the correct camera angles, a process which would comfortably take under a minute.
The frustrations have so far come from this. The Willian penalty decision against Norwich saw the VAR official not use the right angles and it will certainly be lesson learnt. Which is perhaps the key term, lesson learnt.
Lessons will continue to be learnt and it will improve decision making, but only on those decisions that have definitive answers.
Football is a game of opinions, it’s what makes it great. It’s what causes debate and why the pubs on a Saturday evening are full of chatter and why Match of the Day lasts an hour and a half. There are decisions which cannot be argued with though. Offside goals, violent conduct, anything that categorically breaks the letter of the laws. It’s these decisions that need VAR.
The problem comes when you end up in the murky waters where it could go either way. If we are going to see VAR used for these then we need to accept the decision won’t always go our way or the way we think it should go, just as we have to now.
In cricket some decisions are given as umpire’s call. In Rugby League VAR is used to essentially disprove a referees decision. If the Video Referee can’t do that, the on-field decision stands. That, unfortunately has to be the way.
Ultimately, we care far too much about refereeing decisions. They’re used as an excuse for a team losing far too much. VAR can finally counter that and teams can begin to accept they lost because they didn’t score enough goals. Not because they had a man sent off when they didn’t think it was a foul or that they fell foul to an offside goal. That is only a good thing for football.
For those fans at home, pundits will once again begin to talk about football instead of decisions that have such fine margins it would be almost impossible for a referee to get right. Replays of mazy runs and defensive solidarity instead of the offside flag going off when the defender’s toe was playing him on.
Naturally, for the time being it’ll be VAR being discussed by all those pundits, but once it’s been smoothed out, football will become football again and not just a game based on “bad” decisions and eternal moaning about them.