Part 2 of this week’s VAR Review. Click here for Part 1.
Many of the big hitters in the ref world seem to be out in Poland for the U20 world cup tournament. I’ve recognised the referee from nearly every game, including our own Michael Oliver. Of the games I have seen, ref standards have been high, with VAR working excellently.
Uruguay vs Ecuador
Oliver delivered an exceptional performance in a tough game. Feisty South Americans, ready to pounce on any weakness from the ref. He appeared to have a near perfect approach to that. Tough but not demonstrative. Sure footed. Most importantly he got the big calls right. Disallowed a headed goal for a push on marker. Pen at other end for a push from defender. Both pushes, as a reference, were a few notches down from the push Fellaini did on Gibbs a few years back in an Arsenal-United game to open the scoring for the Reds. That was a foul, as were these.
Alas, I was denied the sight of Oliver using the pitch side monitor, but I believe, by a slight margin, that was fine. VAR checked both decisions and concurred; not enough doubt to require a further check. Clearly, Oliver has all the tools to be a fantastic referee. But his decision-making at home is often questionable. One wonders why?
One further incident of note in the game was when a player ran through, saw his shot saved, and then a teammate got ball, and was wiped out by keeper. Pen. But hold on, linesman flagged at that point. VAR checks, yep, first man was offside.
By the book, perfect call in this tournament. But not by the book used throughout the trials in England where confusion reigns, as linesmen are often flagging immediately on reasonably close calls. Ironically, it was an English linesman making the right call abroad, proving they play it differently when on FIFA/UEFA duty, as opposed to when doing work at home in the Prem.
Colombia Ukraine; Quarter final
Late on, chasing game, a Colombian player charging forward makes heavy contact with Ukranian defender. Stoppage. Player is hurt, genuinely. First view was that the Colombian got some sort of touch, then heavy contact. I wait, thinking nothing of it. Hang on, some VAR action afoot. Whoa, ref is heading off for a pitch-side check. I hadn’t noticed any signs of him believing a foul had occurred, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the case. He goes. He looks.
By this stage I am aware a red card is being considered and so study the replays keenly. The Colombian was moving at speed, seems to get a slight touch on ball, with a regulation kicking movement; swish of leg, studs down, contact with top of foot. Oh, oh. He made heavy contact with the opponent, ankle height, with his studs. Clearly not in control. I smell a red and hope for one. It’s given.
What are the chances of a red for a similar foul in the Prem? In nearly all circumstances, for a ref to even consider a foul would provoke howls of indignation. Out would come the classic; ‘well where is his leg supposed to go, it can’t disappear’. The idea being that when the player touched the ball, studs down, all was fine and what happened afterwards is… simply momentum. No foul. Right, Mr. Riley?
None of that fits with the laws as written, which clearly focus on force, recklessness, and being out of control. Many pundits have no interest in understanding, nor, seemingly, the capacity to understand these basic, essential facts. You could say they are not helped by the refs in the league frequently seeming to not know the laws either.
These laws and there enforcement by the referees is key to bringing down the risk of injury through foul play. As a fan of modern, progressive football, I have a lot of skin in the injury game and so it grieves me that PGMOL seems expressly intent on avoiding the utilization of VAR in such a fashion.
The PGMOL’s refusal to use pitch-side monitors guarantees that the refs will never be able to review a similar incident at home, if he/she suspected foul play. Only the VAR in Stockley Park can rule whether it is a foul or not, whether red, yellow, or no card; the on-pitch ref will never make that final decision. Unlike the U20 world cup, the referee in England is merely rubber-stamping a decision from the booth.
The Emasculation of English Referees
The rules from IFAB do not permit this emasculation of the referees. In order to not highlight this too often, I believe Mike Riley’s VAR will simply…not do anything. If a ref misses a red entirely, or gives a yellow for what should really be a red, only very rarely will the VAR intervene, much less than when the system is being used as intended and the VAR can advise the ref to use an OFR (on-field review). If that scenario pertained for a number of years, the disparity between Prem reffing and all other high-level reffing would likely grow.
On field reviews, used appropriately, massively diminish a player’s chances of getting away with red card challenges and fouls. Think of how often, during a premier league season, you hear a commentator, after looking at replays of an incident of foul play, express the opinion: ‘oh, he got lucky there’, ‘that could easily have been a red’, or ‘that should have been a red’.
Well, with VAR operating optimally, guess what? On a high percentage of such replays the VAR official should feel the same way, and a fair proportion of them will advise the ref to review the incident at the first opportunity. That is very bad news for those who indulge in reckless challenges, operate on or past the borderlines, or are just simply dirty b***ards. Advantage justice.
It would also be bad news for a refereeing body, and their partners, who quite like the current state of play, which leans decisively towards leniency in matters of foul play. Fast and furious. Greatest spectacle in the world. They undoubtedly know that VAR, if used properly, presents a grave threat to keeping things as they are. If refs have a chance “to look at it again” the number of reds would rise significantly. Sooner or later it would force teams to rid themselves of the fast and furious tactic/players and play a more technical, controlled game.
So, I believe, they have done away with the OFR aspect. They don’t want those extra reds, don’t want to become more punitive, and most of all don’t want the knock-on effect of a more modern, progressive Premier League.
Meanwhile English refs excel abroad and suck at home. How long can this contradiction persist?