On April 26, FIFA President Gianni Infantino officially announced that video assistant referees will be used in the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia next year, the introduction of video replay into the game may be one of the most significant news in the world of soccer in a long time.
For many years, fans have been calling for the implementation of technology in soccer as it has become more difficult for match officials to keep up with the speed of the game.
This development is an enormous step for the sport of soccer, which will now offer referees an additional tool to help them make complicated decisions within the game.
However, I suggest being cautious with optimism. The VAR will definitely make the games fairer and will help decrease human error but under no circumstance, will end the controversy of decisions that are made by the referees.
First, keep in mind when VAR can be used. At the time the intention is to allow the referees to get assistance from the VAR under four different circumstances: Goals (which includes offside calls), penalties, straight red cards decisions and mistaken identity.
So, just like all other sports that use video replay, the technology itself has its limits.
In order for all of us to start getting familiar with what sort of aid the VAR can bring to the game, I came up with a few well known controversial plays.
Here are some examples of plays the VAR won’t even take a look at:
During the Copa America Centenario group stage game between the U.S. and Paraguay, DeAndre Yedlin committed back-to-back fouls both which the referee judged to merit a yellow card which resulted in Yedlin being sent off early in the second half. The second foul is a clear yellow card, but the foul he committed 90 seconds earlier was a hard decision to make. Although Yedlin slide from behind he appeared to win the ball clearly although his momentum caused him to bring down a Paraguayan midfielder, although that ended up being an important play because it became of two yellows, it wouldn’t have merited a review because the VAR only takes a second look at straight red card infractions.
Another good example could be the recent Real Madrid-Bayern Munich second leg match in which Bayern’s midfielder Arturo Vidal was given a second yellow card for a challenge in which he won the ball fairly.
Something else to keep in mind is that the VAR will only overturn a bad or missed call made by the referee in the game if it is indisputable. That means that even if there is a situation in which the referee likely made the wrong the decision but the different television angles do not provide sufficient evidence to the contrary, then the call will likely stand, just the same way as it does in football.
The best example that comes to mind is the penalty kick that was called in favor of the Netherlands against Mexico in a round of 16 game at 2014 FIFA World Cup in which Rafael Marquez was called for a foul on Arjen Robben inside the box in stoppage time of a tied game.
That play was very controversial at the time and is likely one of those 50/50 calls that can go either way and if the VAR were to take another look the call made in the field would’ve stood.
Most important of all are the situations in which the VAR will intervene, so that William Gallas goal against Ireland in the European World Cup qualifiers would be called back due to a flagrant handball by Thierry Henry in the build-up, that goal helped France secure their spot in the 2010 World Cup at the expense of the Irish.
That infamous play in November of 2009 became one of the biggest examples used by fans to call for the implementation of technology into the sport. A few months later during the 2010 World Cup Round of 16, two very poor decisions added more fuel to the fire. In the Germany-England game with the Germans leading 2-1, Frank Lampard took a shot from distance that hit the crossbar and dipped inside the goal at least 3-4 feet past the goal line but the goal was never given. That play eventually forced FIFA to implement goal-line technology a few years later. During the next world cup in Brazil such technology correctly awarded a goal to France against Honduras and a goal to Costa Rica against Italy.
The two biggest concerns that I have about the implementation of the VAR have to do with speed and procedure.
During the past Club World Cup in Japan, the Kashima Antlers were awarded a penalty after the VAR discovered a foul by an Atletico Nacional defender which the referee missed. The problem is that play continued and was stopped when Atletico Nacional had earned a throw-in in the opposite half and took the officials two minutes to determine to go back and call the missed foul.
Although the decision was the correct one, I can foresee a lot of outrage in certain scenarios.
Imagine you are watching the World Cup Final, the game between Team A and Team B is tied and the game is stoppage time, as Team A is on the attack, one of its wingers tries to send a cross into the box but the ball is blocked by a defender’s arm inside the 18-yard box, however the officials miss it and allow play to continue, then Team B takes advantage of the situation and go on the counter and score, the goal-scorer takes off his shirt as he rushes into the stands to celebrate with the fans but as he comes back realizes that his goal has been disallowed by the VAR because they are now retroactively calling the previous handball that had not been called. That would create a devastating swing of emotions.
To me that is the toughest challenge ahead for the VAR, to be able to identify a play worth reviewing and communication promptly with the game official to try to prevent such situations when possible.
It is also worth noting that neither team will have the ability to ask for a certain play to be reviewed and that responsibility falls strictly to the VAR, who has to be focused during the entire match and promptly and effectively communicate with the match official to let him know that a particular play needs further review.
Despite the potential issues that may need to be addressed the VAR just like goal-line technology will become a huge asset for the referees and the game itself to take out as many officiating mistakes as possible.
So far the only experience with this technology is from the Club World Cup this past December. The tournament only has seven games and making assessments on such small sample size is premature, but one as a fan can’t help to smile knowing the VAR has been recently implemented in the Australia A-League, and will be used for the second half of the 2017 MLS season, the next Bundesliga season, the 2018-19 premier league season, the 2017 Under-20 World Cup, 2017 Confederations Cup and at last during the 2018 World Cup.
So even it it doesn’t completely eliminate mistakes, who cares? controversy will always be part of any sport and it adds another layer of intrigue to the discussion. After all, we all enjoy a little drama.