VAR humbug: please just take this toy back to the shop
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The football that our team played on Saturday was joyful – and not the performance of a side sent to the bottom of the table by the festive season’s results so far.
There seemed to be a sheer delight in simply playing, as if one of the lads had a new ball for Christmas and they were kicking about in the park; no pressure, lots of flair and a sense of belonging. And how spirited was the teamwork and determination when they didn't have the ball? The crowd were amazing too - Carrow Road was as full as it can be, virtually everyone singing, supporting and staying until the end (enduring the bizarre seven minutes added on).
I had no great hopes for this season but if that attitude and atmosphere are replicated often enough before May then there's a chance the Canaries will stay in the Prem.
My first of these columns as a fan ahead of the season start was pretty enthusiastic about the introduction of VAR - my feeling was that the technology would benefit smaller clubs like our own, perhaps disadvantaged more frequently by wrong calls in the past. Obviously since then we've had the video review delays in the Manchester United game and the sight of Tim Krul being denied (twice!) of his claims to superb penalty saves against the world's best strikers - leaving me with little faith in the decision vetting system for handballs and penalty taking.
But I've always believed in the use of video and computer analysis to check for offside where goals have been scored. Even flawed software must be more accurate than the standalone assistant flagging of old - a system that ran the risk of (and often fell foul of) human error...
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...and then there was the Pukki offside on Saturday.
It was a brilliant goal, a superbly timed and delivered pass from Mario Vrancic, exquisite control from Teemu, and disallowed for a fractional armpit infringement. Even the Spurs fans on Twitter were outraged.
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Many fans - including those holding the 'Clearly and Obviously Isn't Working' banner in the Lower Barclay, following absurdly pedantic decisions so far this season (there were more to follow in Sunday's games for Wolves and Blades) - are now anti-VAR and some players too are saying it's confusing.
Any system needs judgments to a) be clear and consistent b) be delivered promptly and c) make sense to people on the pitch and in the stands. It seems to me that in an effort to achieve a) the refereeing body PGMOL have sacrificed b) and c).
Trying to make the process uniform the VAR team have become obsessed with measurements: calculating offside distances from any part of a player's anatomy to the nth degree. And I think that's what we all find frustrating. During the Women's World Cup in the summer, the over-zealous measurement of goalies' feet moving off the line for penalties was abandoned as too forensic; there was no intent to trick or deceive and little if any edge. So why is the millimetre accurate technique still used for offsides? The players involved are clearly not trying to cheat, have not strayed beyond the defender carelessly and they have no evident advantage. They, as Pukki was, are trying to play within the laws of the game. I'm worried that if the system isn't adapted then the dynamics of playing as a forward will change; players' confidence may well take a hit, their physicality may be affected as they worry about protruding elbows, knees... or armpits!
I can understand why the Stockley Park tech crew have invested so much faith in data; they want the decision to be yes or no as it is for Goal Line Technology. And to an extent I agree. We can't go backwards (I definitely don't hold with the nebulous concept of 'daylight' that obsesses Danny Murphy) so we need a better version. If VAR was a Christmas present we'd take it back to the shop (and hide the batteries in the meantime).
So here's my proposal: the index points for checking for offside should be the front foot of forward and defender (it is football after all). The attacking player is allowed some advantage and will not be penalised unless more than half of their boot (and that may measured to the millimetre) is ahead of the defender's toe.
Of course, fans whose teams lost out would still be disappointed but there would be latitude as well as logic in the process. And measuring from feet only should speed things up.
There you go Premier League - Happy New Year!