Friday 24 May 2019

Stephen Hunt: VAR proving to be more trouble than it's worth

The LED screen alerts the crowd to a VAR review during Wednesday’s FA Cup replay between Tottenham and Rochdale at Wembley. Photo: Nick Potts/PA
The LED screen alerts the crowd to a VAR review during Wednesday’s FA Cup replay between Tottenham and Rochdale at Wembley. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Stephen Hunt

VAR - Video Assisting Referee - is not working in its current format and I cannot see how it can be improved and quickened up to engage with supporters at a game and assist referees to make the right decisions.

I am not a fan of the system. It is a step too far and it adds unnecessary delays to matches. We like controversy and bad decisions and giving out about it. It is part of the game that referees will make mistakes, whether it is the World Cup final or a Sunday morning over-40s kickabout.

The version of VAR that is being tested out in cup games at the moment is causing more trouble than it is worth. And if the Germans can't get it right and have given up on it, what chance have we got? They do everything by the book and their game does not have as much hustle and bustle as the Premier League.

I was at the Tottenham-Rochdale FA Cup replay at Wembley last week and poor Paul Tierney, the referee, had a nightmare with the system. But he was so reliant on it that he forgot about the crowd and was scared to make basic decisions. Rather than helping referees like him, VAR is threatening to undermine them.

We went in to the Wembley hospitality area at half-time and rather than talking about how well Rochdale had done to keep the score level until that stage, everyone was laughing and joking about the farce surrounding VAR. It was entertaining, but for all the wrong reasons.

Two days after the game, ex-players and ex-referees were still talking about the VAR decisions and the lengthy delays in reaching them. They should have been talking about Fernando Llorente's first Spurs hat-trick after months of waiting for his chance. Unfortunately for him, that was completely overshadowed.

It was not just fans, players and both sets of management and coaching staff who didn't have a clue what was going on - it was the referee and his officials too. Tierney put his hand up to his ear because he clearly couldn't hear what was being said, and it is not a good look. He just looked lost.

Of course everyone knows he is on to the VAR operators (is there more than one?) and seeking clarification, but he looks like someone who does not really know what he is doing. Referees are getting all the stick, and they have a bad enough image as it is without adding to the abuse.

Unless we can all hear what is being said, and we can all see the incident again from the same angles as the VAR operators, it is pointless and it is going to create even more animosity with the supporters.

Tierney's confidence was shot as the game went on. By the time the fourth and fifth goals were flying in, he was stood at the edge of the 18-yard area waiting for confirmation that the goals could be awarded via VAR. That is no way to referee a football match.

It is taking away the celebrations and the spontaneity of the game and the goals. The players are the theatre and the drama and they should be the centre of attention. If someone wants to slide on his knees to the corner flag or do a daft rehearsed dance to celebrate a goal, why not? But how can you do that if you have to wait 90 seconds for a goal to be confirmed?

In rugby these decisions are quick and decisive and the lead-up to them is part and parcel of the game. I love the Six Nations and I've been to the Rugby World Cup, but I prefer to watch the game on television because I will have a better understanding of everything that is going on.

In football, the delay takes away from the atmosphere of the game.

Referees are well paid now and pretty much full-time. If they are daft enough to go into the profession, I think they can handle some stick and controversy and having their decisions scrutinised. I suspect they don't go into refereeing to have decisions made in a TV studio.

And who are the VAR operators anyway? Is it an ex-player or an ex-referee? They can both have different interpretations of incidents such as the early Erik Lamela goal which was ruled out on Wednesday. That was not a clear decision and the referee should have been allowed to come to his own verdict without interference.

I was at Wembley to see one of my players, Rochdale defender Ryan Delaney, who joined the League One club in January and is already having a run in the team. He has played half a dozen games now and two of them were against Spurs in the FA Cup.

It was a hugely disappointing result in the replay, although probably what most people would have expected against such a good Premier League team and on a vast pitch. And then to cap it all for Ryan, his travelling party from Ireland didn't even make it to the game because of the severe weather conditions.

His mum, grandparents and a couple of friends set off from Wexford on Wednesday morning but were turned back from Dublin airport and returned home. It is a great shame for Ryan, who may never get the opportunity to play at Wembley again, but he is only a young man and has plenty of time to create many memories for himself and his family.

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