David Freezer: Let’s hope it’s not all about VAR at the final whistle as City take on Liverpool
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Let’s hope we’re talking about a great football match and not a VAR controversy once the final whistle is blown at Anfield this evening.
You can already imagine the Match of the Day pundits rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of some fresh refereeing controversy to over-analyse and, typically, Norwich City find themselves in the thick of it.
The first ever Premier League match to feature a video assistant referee is sure to be as smooth as sand paper, with so many eagerly waiting for the technology to fail and write it off as a disaster.
Personally, I'm an advocate of VAR and have been looking forward to its arrival since it proved successful at the World Cup last year. It's clearly going to have teething problems though.
The big issue for me is that the Premier League and the Football Association roll with the punches and tweak the laws as required. For example, offside, do we want to see goals ruled out because an attacker is centimetres ahead of defenders?
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That strict judgement has been in place because officials have such a difficult job in judging offside during the breakneck speed of the game. Yet when you have VAR to freeze-frame the very moment that the ball was passed, is it good for the flow of the game for goals to then be ruled out because an arm or a foot is just in front of the final man?
When such a precise decision can be made, should offside be judged by a player's torso clearly being ahead of the last man, or a similar type of description? I'm not sure yet, until we've really seen VAR in use in every game over the course of a weekend, but it's the type of issue where is clearly going to be debated.
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So if such an aspect becomes obvious and there's wide approval that something needs to be done to prevent VAR affecting the flow of games, fans are not going to be happy if told they've got to lump it until the end of the season.
The powers that be are going to need to be reactive, streamlining the process as much as possible and ensure that this season doesn't become one long, angry discussion about VAR.
Tonight's 'honour' of becoming the first VAR goes to Andre Marriner, who will be based in the control room at Stockley Park in London, supporting referee Michael Oliver via an earpiece.
He will be checking for 'clear and obvious' errors in the four key areas, which I'm using the acronym GDPM as an easy reminder of: goals, direct red card offences, penalty decisions and mistaken identity incidents.
The league-wide system of communicating the decisions via big screens, or using PA announcements for the clubs which don't have big screens, are in place to ensure that fans inside the stadium know what is happening beyond the referee just putting his finger to his earpiece.
Helpfully, Anfield is one of the stadiums which doesn't have big screens, with the Liverpool Echo reporting that a combination of the two scoreboards and PA announcements will be used.
That is so important, as from my experience of VAR so far, it adds a really interesting dimension for the TV audience but leaves those actually at the stadium in the dark. When City were at Chelsea in the FA Cup in January 2018, VAR was being trialled at Stamford Bridge, but in the press box we had no idea when it was being used.
So I'm bracing myself for teething problems and hoping that supporters will at least allow a degree of patience in the short term. That's easier said than done of course, should VAR rule out a late winner for the Canaries at Anfield tonight because of a marginal call on an objective issue.
Very few supporters of any club will be able to hold their tongue in that scenario, so good luck Mr Marriner, no pressure! If there is a major decision given via VAR this weekend which the general population do not agree with, all hell is going to break loose.
It adds a new element of intrigue and will change the behaviour of players, hopefully in a positive way. Fewer fouls in the box, less of the faux macho aggression and a general acceptance that any serious foul play will be picked up, should benefit the game as a whole and give attacking talents added protection.
The biggest fear is seeing goal celebrations ruined though, as we saw for one of Atalanta's goals during the VAR trial at Carrow Road during City's friendly last week, when arms were in the air celebrating only to drop for 45 seconds as offside was checked.
It's going to be a major part of this season - for good or for bad - but let's just hope for no major controversy as VAR makes its debut tonight.
- AVOID THE PRESSURE
Bringing in Ibrahim Amadou could prove to be a hugely important bit of business for City - but I won't be getting too carried away just yet.
The strapping midfielder looks to have the calibre to make a real impression, once he's up to speed with Daniel Farke's methods and in sync with his new team-mates.
As Alex Tettey soon found under Farke, a defensive midfielder has to be able to hold their own on the passing front and there were plenty of people praising the former Norway midfielder for some of the best form of his City career last season.
Better players than Amadou have failed to adjust to the Premier League intensity though, so it would seem sensible not to pile too much expectation on his shoulders because of a reported £9m fee which could make him a club-record transfer next year.
City look to have signed a player with top-level potential but I wouldn't write off Tettey just yet, at 33 years old. His experience and defensive nous could still prove really helpful when the going gets tough.
- SOCIAL CLUB EVENT
Three Canaries players are due to make an appearance at the next event organised by the Norwich City Fans Social Club, being held later this month.
The NCFSC have raised £21,500 for the Community Sports Foundation through their events during the last four seasons and their 'player forum' is among the most popular of their events.
It's being held in the Top of the Terrace lounge at Carrow road on Tuesday, August 20, starting from 7.30pm and hosted by City legend Darren Eadie. Entry is £3 for adults and £1 for under-16s, with a raffle also being held for CSF.
The players who will be appearing will be confirmed closer to the time, head to NCFSC.co.uk for full details.
- I'd also like to give a mention to Roger Smith's stats bible the Canary Companion, a book I often use.
Roger has had an updated fifth edition printed, up to date for the new season, and copies are available for £10 for those interested in the facts and figures of NCFC life, from firstname.lastname@example.org.