Thursday 17 October 2019

Controversial night for VAR blurs benefits of new technology - when clarity is the ultimate goal

 

Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester City's Nicolas Otamendi. Photo: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Luke Edwards

It has always seemed like the logical thing to do, to use technology to help referees make the right decision, but if something you have introduced to clear up controversies ends up causing more of them, something has gone horribly wrong.

Last night was a terrible night for video assistant referees (VAR), exposing all the problems its critics warned about.

It was a night for the luddites to rejoice, allowing them to argue that they were right all along to resist the introduction of this new technology.

They will use this in the months to come to support their argument, because, in the end, nothing has changed.

Errors will still occur, it will just take even longer for them to be made and the spectacle will be ruined as a result.

Despite the misgivings of a few, the majority have welcomed the use of VAR.

It made sense to try and remove the tiresome controversies caused by poor decision-making by match officials.

Too many games have been ruined by them, too many managers and players have been able to use them as excuses.

It was time for football to move into a new era, it was the moment for technology to take over.

But the problem with new things is there is always resistance. People do not like change and although VAR has generally worked as it was envisaged, this is not how things are supposed to unfold.

With Manchester City in control of their Champions League round-of-16 tie, Schalke looked feeble in comparison.

This was going to be a stroll for the champions of England in their ongoing quest to become the champions of Europe.

But then came the moment that swung the game back in the German team's favour, a controversy that will be talked about for far longer than the match itself.

Daniel Caligiuri cut inside off the right flank, making room for a shot which he caught sweetly. Nicolas Otamendi had got his angles right, though, positioning himself in front of the goal he needed to defend.

The ball hit the City defender, as he would have intended. In real time it was difficult to see what part of his body it had deflected off, but referee Carlos Del Cerro awarded a corner kick.

Schalke's players were angry, rushing around him, while manager Domenico Tedesco gesticulated wildly on the touchline, hitting his arm repeatedly with his other hand.

We have seen this countless times before, but the game used to move on, the action continued.

This time, though, the referee received a message in his ear. The video assistants wanted to review the replays.

Minutes passed, the players continued to crowd around the referee who, strangely, did not run over to the side of the pitch to look at the replays himself.

He had, remember, seen the incident in real time and decided it was merely a corner.

He should have been allowed to review the footage himself and normally would have done so, but inexplicably, and shamefully for UEFA, his pitch-side monitors were not working.

With more than four minutes passing with nothing happening on the pitch, as the players grew colder and the supporters became bored and confused, the replays were slowed down as the ball hit the City player's hand.

Otamendi's arm was out-stretched, it was in an unnatural position, but he had looked as though he was trying to lower it when it was shown at full speed.

Frame by frame it looked worse than it was. The video referee decided it was a clear and deliberate handball, that an obvious mistake had been made by the on-pitch referee and over ruled him, forcing a penalty and a yellow card to be shown.

Except, nobody who had seen the replays could agree that was the right outcome. The debate raged on and on. Four and a half minutes after the ball had hit Otamendi, Nabil Bentaleb converted the spot kick. It had caused more of the controversy it was supposed to prevent.

Around 1,000 miles away, VAR was making its presence felt in Madrid as Diego Costa firstly had a penalty awarded for him, then had it altered - correctly - to show that contact had taken place outside the box but a third option, whether it had been a foul in the first place, didn't appear to have been explored.

Later in the game, Alvaro Morata found the net to put Atletico in front only for VAR to deem that Giorgio Chiellini had been pushed and rule out the goal, even though, again, it was far closer to "debatable" than "clear and obvious".

Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone were accepting of the decisions but the fact that neither cost them a victory is probably significant.

The first manager to have a win taken from them via video referee is unlikely to be so magnanimous. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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