It had to happen. The relatively new VAR video referee system awarded its first goal on Tuesday night in the Leicester v Fleetwood FA Cup tie.
When Leicester’s Iheanacho put the ball in the net for the second time, the goal was disallowed by referee Jonathan Moss after an offside flag from a linesman. A few seconds later, TV cameras picked up that Moss was speaking to the video assistant, whose job is to intervene when incorrect decisions are made. 67 seconds after the ball first hit the back of the net, the referee awarded it.
Asked for their opinions after the ‘historic’ game, Leicester manager Claude Puel, whose side benefitted from the goal, approved of the system. Fleetwood manager Uwe Rosler wasn’t so keen. He said “I don’t like it.”
You might assume Rosler’s comments were nothing more than sour grapes, but the German, whose home league has introduced VAR into the top flight this season, said: “In general in Germany there are split opinions. Some situations you can’t be 100% on VAR – is the decision right or wrong? My opinion is don’t complicate the game – it’s beautiful as it is. People try to make it different for some reason. I don’t like it, it interrupts the flow. Today we were on the wrong side but in general I don’t like it.”
Palace manager Roy Hodgson praised the officials and the system, which was employed during his side’s defeat to Brighton, while both Chelsea boss Antonio Conte and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger felt “positive”, with Conte adding “everyone wants less mistakes”.
When speaking to the BBC, referees chief Mike Riley warned that fans in the stadiums might struggle to understand what was going on, and that referees will review how to communicate what is happening.
Managers will never stop moaning
After all the debates over the years about outright cheats like Maradonna, ghost goals and blind referees in general, you’d imagine everybody would be happy to see VAR knocking at the door, but there are still some who prefer having a good old fashioned referee to moan about.
After Chelsea’s rather fortunate home win against Norwich on Wednesday night, in which two of his players were sent off and the team only scraped by after penalty kicks, Antonio Conte preferred to concentrate on what he percieved as refereeing mistakes. Conte felt referee Graham Scott should have been told by the video official to watch a replay of Timm Klose’s tackle on Willian, who was instead booked for diving. “If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” Conte said.
Video referees have the choice of telling the match official he has made a clear and obvious error, which in this instance Mike Jones, in a studio in London, did not feel was the case. Had he ruled differently, Scott could have overturned the decision based on his word – or watched it on a screen himself.
Still, in an age where arrogance and entitlement rule, and where football players are paid more per week than most people will earn in a decade, it’s hardly surprising that Managers have difficulty associating with reality.
It’s not perfect; get over it
We already know from watching inconclusive replays on TV that the camera doesn’t always show you the full truth, so Uwe Rosler is right in saying it cannot be perfect, but until we have human referees who see all and never make mistakes, it has to be a positive step forward.
The difference between holding a team to a 1-1 draw and losing 4-1 can be the scoring or conceding one single goal. Just one goal that knocks the stuffing out of a team, distracts or upsets them and forces them to play in a different way. If that goal was given (or not given) in error we’re talking about a referee deciding the outcome of a football match and not the players.
So, if VAR helps reduce the risk of that sort of mistake and makes the game a little fairer, it should be unconditionally welcomed. It has been a long time coming and it’s here to stay.