What a week this has been for VAR and the game of football. A gigantic call in every respect in the PSG-MANU game, an equally momentous decision for Porto vs Roma, and a similarly controversial number in Madrid to boot. To close out the week, at home there was the significant admission of something that’s been obvious and hugely controversial, for a very long time.
But, first, to foreign lands. In that PSG-United game, a decision was made that turned the match from an honourable effort on United’s part to a sensational, historic victory. Dalot strikes the ball into the box, a defender blocks it. Corner given. Dalot protests about something. Then the moment.
VAR believes there may have been a handball. The conversation is a mystery. ‘Hold on, there could be a handball’. ‘Wait, there is a handball’. ‘It looks like handball; you need to look at it’. Reasons unknown but UEFA have subsequently made clear that the subsequent talk along the lines of ‘clear and obvious error’ is in this case erroneous. Instead, this is an example of a ‘missed incident’.
The years to come will elaborate on the boundaries of this, i.e. it is eminently possible to miss an incident even with a good view of it. But for now it matters not. We should assume it was not a case of the ref seeing the ball hit the arm and deciding against the pen, but rather him being unaware that this even happened.
The dynamics and protocol are of course different in cases of a missed incident. They do not allow a ref to say ‘no, I’m confident in my decision and sticking with it’. Effectively, it is only a matter of the VAR establishing there’s been a missed incident (‘did you see it?’, ‘no’) and the ref is then compelled to head to the monitors if advised to do so. Though in reality there is surely scope for the VAR to ask ref to pause while they check, then advise to carry on, no check necessary. In this case they advised him he should look.
Aw f**k, he gave it
Look he did, including a final step back for another look after he had begun moving away. Again, no way of knowing if this was part of a back and forth communication between him and his colleagues, with, potentially, his decision veering one way then another. Logically, this can and will happen. Sometimes the VAR will make clear they feel strongly one way, other times they won’t. All happening while this tv watcher had the fear: no, no, no, he’s gonna give it, he shouldn’t give it, he’s gonna give it, aw f**k, he gave it.
Personally, I really disliked the call. In the same way the Kane controversy of last weekend hinged on the definition of what challenging for the ball is:
- Making a run to meet the ball, occupying defenders as you do, getting within a few feet of said ball? OR
- Literally only the moment you touch ball or initiate contact with a defender?
Hmm. This one appears to have been decided exclusively on whether or not the arms were extended from body to try make the player bigger and gain an advantage. I do not share the opinion of ref on the night or UEFA’s subsequent declaration that this was the case. Regardless, that was the decision, the transformation from a very decent effort in the circumstances to glory, glory, Man United.
Over in Porto meanwhile, the big call came even later (extra time), but with a bit more rescue time for the team VAR intervened against with another penalty. I’ll confess, I even found this intervention jarring at the time, though I have since come to consider it as simply the right call after the right process. Again, VAR looked, advised ref to look, and again he concluded penalty. It was a good call. A defender grabbed the attacker’s shirt as a low cross was fired in close to goal. I had my doubts about whether attacker could reach cross, didn’t think it was that bad a grab, and probably thought attacker could easily stay upright- hence my initial doubts. On reflection, defender had no business at all grabbing the attacker’s shirt, clearly did so to try gain a very big advantage, and just maybe succeeded in gaining that advantage. Pen. VAR delivering a justice not possible without it.
The Ajax call (whether a ball fully crossed line for throw prior to a goal) I can’t comment on, having not seen it, though I have read UEFA’s explanation, in which they say that none of the various replays the VAR looked at showed conclusively it crossed the line.
Avoiding the pitchside monitor
And now, to home, England, the Premier League, the PGMOL. For reasons not fully clear, this week’s action appears to have directly prompted the admission from PGMOL quarters that, as has been obvious for a long time now, they believe it is better to avoid bringing the pitch-side monitors into use at all.
They will be there (possibly because it is a requirement from elsewhere that they must be) but the PGMOL do not believe they should be used. This is, to put it mildly, would be a gigantic decision. Supposedly, it will still meet the obligation set out by the game’s lawmakers of the on-pitch referee making the final decision but only in the most technical of senses or by stretching this definition to absurdity.
It will be the VAR alone who gets to see additional camera angles and enjoy the extra time and information the absence of which justified the need for VAR in the first place. The VAR will review, form a decision, communicate it with a referee who has only his original impression and decision, which can include having not seen an incident (or seen but not seen). The VAR will, in the PGMOL explanation, then merely advise, though it is hard to dispute that in reality, instead of the on-pitch referee, the VAR shall giveth and….
(Rich is a resident of the UK and has been a longtime student of and advocate for VAR. He has promised Part 2 of this review.)