VAR was having a good tournament – until Monday night, when it was utter chaos. If you look at the Cristiano Ronaldo arm incident, I was absolutely baffled.
Obviously, it wasn’t a sending off, but why was it even referred? It certainly wasn’t a clear and obvious error, which VAR is supposed to be used for.
Then there’s the Iran penalty, which was an absolutely shambles. I just don’t get it – it’s not handball, the ref had a clear view, and made the right decision.
It shouldn’t have been reviewed or turned over. Nobody even appealed – I’m flabbergasted! It makes me wonder whether FIFA is changing the approach, and are asking for more reviews for the referees, because that incident shouldn’t have gone to VAR based on the pre-tournament directives.
Especially when you compare it to the two incidents in the England vs Tunisia game, which were really bad decisions that should’ve obviously been overturned.
It feels like going to VAR has become an over-reaction now. The tolerance for ‘clear and obvious’ error has changed.
Referees are subconsciously inclined to overturn decisions
The big issue with VAR is that referees will subconsciously think they’ve made a mistake as soon as they’re told in their ear to go to the review area. Therefore, it’s very likely that, 99% of the time, they’ll overturn the decision – because, to send him there, it is supposed to be a clear and obvious error.
So the referees are going to the review area, knowing that, but often it’s not the case at all – but it’s hard to make the same call twice if technology is arguing with you.
Additionally, when the officials are watching multiple replays and in slow motion, it’s easier to find a reason to give a decision. Really, they should only be using slow-motion replays if they’re looking for the point of contact – i.e. is the tackle above the ankle and therefore reckless and a red card?
If you’re looking at handball in slow-mo, you can see new, slight movements towards the ball which aren’t really there at full speed. And recent examples have shown us how human error is still a part of the game with VAR.
Offside calls are fine, it’s matter of fact. It’s either offside or it’s not. The problem with penalties is that it’s very subjective, even with the technology. I’ve been in the studio with ex-players and managers this tournament and no one agrees. In those cases, the VAR referral is subjective. Which means we can still have wrong decisions made.
The technology is supposed to, and will, avoid massive scandals – but, today, it’s the cause of the scandal, which isn’t right.
England will need to be sensible
England will need to be on their toes about VAR. It’s fine for the Belgium game – qualification is secured – but, because the process is a bit random at the moment, there’s always a concern that you might be the end of a call that affects your World Cup dream.
In those knockout games, one-off decisions can be so important, and anything going to review will have massive pressure on it. Gareth Southgate has done his homework on VAR, he’s told them what to expect, but I’d hope him and his coaching team are keeping an eye on its use during the tournament, and keeping the squad updated.
I’d certainly tell the players to stop appealing to referees to refer decisions to VAR. Technically, that should be a yellow card each time, but we’d end up with no players on the pitch if that was enforced!