Saturday, May 21

I will not miss the ridiculous and intrusive VAR, the football equivalent of Brexit | Paul Wilson | Football

WWhen I joined the Observer in 1990, the country was rediscovering its love for the national game, thanks to Gazza’s tears and the BBC’s cultured coverage of Italy 90 drawing a line under the neglected 1980s, a decade in which One terrible disaster after another followed from the general assumption that soccer fans were a troublesome subspecies hardly deserving of anyone’s care and attention.

In a couple more years, the arrival of the Premier League would greatly increase the prosperity and visibility of the game, making the grounds safer and more attractive to a broader section of society. However encouraging as it has been to see fans and families return to the games, not all of the subsequent changes have been for the better.

In the early 1990s, no one had to worry about soccer becoming a showcase for nation states with big money but poor human rights records, for example. The idea of ​​playing a World Cup in Qatar would have been rightly dismissed as ridiculous, FIFA had yet to become an international disgrace and the notion of a Champions League elite, a small clique of clubs in every European league. that it would get richer and stronger. at the expense of everyone else, the majority would have seemed unfair and undesirable.

However, a personal opinion is that what would really have stopped the football observer from 30 years ago on his way would be the discovery that at some point in the future, games would be paused for minutes while a group of officials in a bunker Miles Away carefully studied minute measurements to decide whether to allow goals.

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Celebrating a goal is one of the delights of attending a live game. Depending on the type of goal, it may be necessary to take a judicious glance at the linesman’s flag before the joy can be limitless, but nothing more. Soccer is not cricket or tennis, which are stop-and-go activities that involve hundreds of line decisions per competition. It owes much of its popularity to being spontaneous and fluid.

In theory, at least, minutes can go by in a soccer game without the referee’s whistle or the ball leaving the game, just like, in the days of yore, most teams could get through most seasons. nothing more than a handful of genuine complaints about poor refereeing or poorly awarded goals.

The big screen in Bramall Lane shows why VAR ruled out Sheffield United's goal during the Premier League game against Southampton in September 2019

Bramall Lane’s big screen shows why VAR ruled out Sheffield United’s goal during the Premier League game against Southampton in September 2019. Photo: James Williamson / AMA / Getty Images

Admittedly, there have been a number of high-profile cases in which television cameras have picked up refereeing errors and highlighted them to the audience in the room while the paying fan at the stadium remained in the dark, but that unfortunate anomaly could and should. They have been eliminated for some time by a combination of goalline technology and by making the reviews via the field monitor available to the referees.

Instead we have VAR, the football equivalent of Brexit, self-inflicted damage that grows more ridiculous and intrusive by the week, with no one willing to stand up and say that this is not at all what was envisioned. Perhaps not exactly an emergency if a sport wants to make a fool of itself in that way, although gambling in England is a market leading product and is supposed to be part of the entertainment industry, not a subdivision of it. brotherhood that measures the earth.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester and an Everton fan, was ecstatic when he described VAR as a fussy statute. The whole principle, that each target must be retrospectively examined to see if there is any reason to reject it, it seems wrong, unsportsmanlike, cart before horse. Who decided that it was a good idea to give so much information to the referees, especially those who were not even in the game? Who decided that soccer was missing out on online decisions and should align with cricket and tennis?

For those who argue that it is important to be correct no matter how long it takes or that offside is a black and white issue for which half an inch is as guilty as half a yard, I would put the following points. Is a player offside because of an armpit or big toe cheating? Are they seeking or gaining an unfair advantage? And since the distances are so small and players will not always know the exact moment the ball is played, are they likely to have any idea if they are offside or not?

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If the answer to all three questions is no, as is often the case, do we really need the game to endlessly pause in a futile search for the absolute truth? Some attractive goals, as well as some crucial ones, have been chalked up due to petty and unintentional transgressions that no one in the stadium can see.

Because, unlike the important lines in cricket and tennis, the offside line is not painted on the ground. Opposing electronic lines being applied retrospectively is not necessarily a Luddite position. A sport can invent or modify its own rules, it is not governed by the laws of the universe. Innovations like the Sinclair C5 or Betamax cassette test technology don’t always mean progress anyway. The way VAR is used also feels like something we’ll end up laughing about in the future.

We are kept being told that initial problems are to be expected and that over time the VAR will get faster and more sophisticated, although I have a hunch that it will keep looking for the wrong things. As we’ve spent the last few seasons figuring out, it’s still humans doing the interpretations, so ultimately, what’s the point?

I will miss covering the games when I retire, but I won’t miss writing about VAR. This, I can promise, is my last word on the subject. Goodbye and thanks for reading.

Five favorite memories

Favorite target: Plenty to choose from, but Robin van Persie’s “Superman” header for the Netherlands against Spain at the 2014 World Cup remains a vivid memory. It came out of nowhere, unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and involved an almost unrepeatable combination of skill, luck, and opportunity. Gazza against Scotland in 1996 was pretty good for the same reasons.

Robin van Persie scores the Netherlands' first goal during their 2014 World Cup group match against Spain

Robin van Persie scores the Netherlands’ first goal during their 2014 World Cup match against Spain. Photograph: Jeff Gross / Getty Images

Favorite song: “You’re Welsh, and you know you are” – England fans in Cardiff in 2005. Special mention also for the chorus Liverpool fans reserve for the Merseyside derbies – “You haven’t won a trophy since 1995” – to the tune of He is an excellent boy. As hard as it is for an Everton to admit, you miss that sort of thing in empty stadiums.

The Luckiest Double: May 1999 was marked by two incredible last-minute dramas, Ole Gunnar Solskjær secured Manchester United’s hat-trick at the Camp Nou and on loan goalkeeper Jimmy Glass climbed into a considerably less glamorous corner at Brunton Park to score the goal he kept. Carlisle in the League. It was a privilege to be at both events.

Carlisle goalkeeper Jimmy Glass celebrates scoring the winning goal to keep them in the league in 1999.

Carlisle goalkeeper Jimmy Glass celebrates scoring the winning goal to keep them in the league in 1999. Photo: Alex Morton / Action Images

Higher languages: The time in a hotel in Poland when a group of us discussed the wisdom of the England captain’s tattoo fetish and speculated if he might end up with one on his head, not knowing that Ms Sandra Beckham was dining at the next table. , partly hidden by a bench seat. “Excuse me, it’s my son you’re talking about.”

The dearest memory: Palo Alto 1994, with the California sun in a stadium without a roof and Santana playing on the court before Brazil started against Russia. The guy I parted with in my quest to get to the seat for my first World Cup match turned out to be Pelé, causing an obstruction by signing autographs near the press box.

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