Close Your Eyes and Imagine
Imagine that it is a semi-final game of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Spain and Brazil are the two teams set to go head-to-head. Both teams, despite creating several clear-cut scoring chances, have failed to find the back of the net. Both goalkeepers, David de Gea and Ederson have been magnificent!
Diego Costa and David Luiz have both been cautioned. Sergio Ramos is on a yellow because of a rash challenge on Neymar Jr. in the first few minutes of the game.
After exactly 45 minutes, – there’s no added time because the ball was in play most of the time – the referee calls time on the first half of the game. Some of the players are strolling towards the tunnel while some others have raced towards it, in a bit to hit the showers as quickly as possible.
Some of the players have barely made it down the tunnel when they hear the referee repeatedly blowing his whistle. Then several officials rush into the different dressing rooms to call out the players. The coaches are dumbfounded. The players are stunned. The energy in the stadium almost disappears as the fans, confused, can’t seem to understand why the players are returning onto the pitch so soon.
Then it all becomes clear.
The Virtual Assistant Referees (VAR) assigned to the game has spotted a handball incident involving Sergio Ramos; an incident that happened earlier in the game but went unnoticed by the officials. He has then called the attention of the referee to it.
The centre ref, in bizarre fashion, decides that it’s a penalty against Spain and that since it happened in the first half, the penalty must be taken in the first half! Of course, being a deliberate handball, Sergio Ramos gets a second yellow card.
The Real Madrid captain gets sent off. Neymar Jr. steps up and sends the spot-kick past De Gea. The Brazilians are jubilant. The Spaniards are furious. It’s 10 vs 11 now and their chances just got slimmer… no thanks to a weird decision aided by technology, same technology that was supposed to make life better for all.
A couple of days later, Brazil go on ahead to win the World Cup. The debate lives on forever.
The scene you just imagined was what happened somewhere in the world on Monday, 16th April, 2018 – except that no player got red carded in this scene. The set was a German Bundesliga game between Mainz and Freiburg, two relegation-threatened teams. A Freiburg player, earlier in the game, handled the ball in his own 18-yard area.
The incident went unnoticed until after the referee blew the half-time whistle and the VAR brought the incident to the attention of the referee. The players who had gone into their respective dressing rooms were called out.
Mainz, the home side, was awarded a penalty. The penalty was converted. They scored another goal in the second half, eventually won the game, moved out of the relegation waters and were replaced by… you guessed right, Freiburg.
VAR: The Good Guy or The Bad Guy?
The VAR was introduced to make the game better. It was supposed to rid the beautiful game of those controversies and controversial moments. Technology was always going to be a part of the game anyway, especially with its rate of development. So, VAR, sooner or later, was always going to be a part of the game.
But, as with all things tech (and even non-tech), the package, no matter how helpful, always comes along with both its advantages and also its disadvantages. Whoever introduced VAR must have meant well but Virtual Assistant Referees are doing more harm than good… and they will eventually ruin the beautiful game.
As a fan, I may be writing from the perspective of one who is afraid of innovation upsetting what seems to be the norm. I may be viewed as another football fan who says, “the game is beautiful enough and it doesn’t need any more additions.”
Whatever helps me to enjoy and understand better a game that I love is most welcome. But what happens to my love for the game when innovation takes the form of technology, and tries to manipulate the game in such a way that makes it confusing for me to understand?
It’s still hard to phantom how the players felt after being called out the dressing room after the referee signaled the end of the first half. Freiburg sporting director Jochen Saier told Eurosport at half-time: “We thought that, when the whistle goes for half-time, the first 45 minutes are ticked off. That wasn’t the case in this scene. We have to accept that with heavy hearts. Things are getting stranger.”
Things are getting stranger.
VAR and the World Cup
It seems like controversy follows the VAR everywhere it goes. In the MLS, it was Kaka who got sent off for “a playful act.” In the same league, the VAR overturned a red card decision and changed it to yellow. The VAR Incident List is a long one. I could go on and on.
With the technology set to be used in the FIFA World Cup in Russia, here’ s my prediction:
It’s not unlikely that the VAR will stir up controversy in more than one game. Head will roll and arguments will heat up. Fans will get even more confused. The time taken to watch replays of incidents will take life away from the games. It will be a weird World Cup; a first one where technology will decide which team gets a penalty and when the penalty is played.
VAR may as well play a vital role in producing the next winner of one of the biggest and most-watched sports tournament in the world.
That being said, the move by the Premier League clubs to vote against the introduction of VAR is beginning to look reasonable – although Pep Guardiola thinks otherwise. And maybe he’s right. The VAR is not entirely bad. In the game between France and Spain, Antoine Griezmann saw a goal correctly ruled out for offside.
But this double-edged sword, will, in the long run, ruin the beautiful game of football.
Do you agree with me? Do you have a contrary view? Please leave me a comment and share your thoughts with me.
Author: Rotimi “Papi the Great” Daramola
Rotimi Daramola aka Papi the Great is the owner of ForTheGoal.
A freelance sports writer who focuses on football, Rotimi is also a freelance writer, a copywriter and a football analyst who regularly appears on radio and television to talk football. You can follow him on twitter @papi_thegreat to keep up with his writings, engage him and also find out about how you can secure his writing services.