180 Minutes of Football Overshadowed by the Machine; The Future is Here
Manchester United had a corner. Going into stoppage, the Red Devils had what was just about a last chance to score a third goal at the Parc des Princes, and get to the last eight of the Champions League at Paris St. Germain’s expense. United had managed to stay in this tie despite injuries and suspensions to key personnel and a two-goal deficit from the first leg and a goal from this corner would compl…oh hang on. Referee Damir Skomina looks to be going to VAR, he checks the screen and sees the clear and obvious debatable error of Presnel Kimpembe’s arm coming into contact with Diogo Dalot shot. Penalty! Marcus Rashford takes, and scores. United are heading to the next round, with the most improbable of comebacks.
Also the most controversial of comebacks. The most debatable, most tainted of comebacks – through no fault of their own, of course. That’s the issue with our beloved machine, the great and powerful and Video Assistant Referee. A game that left PSG feeling bitter, ‘frustration’ and ‘disappointment’, Juan Bernat called it, a game in which however the discussion and feeling will be about le Parisiens blowing it, that argument will be tainted because you could easily see it as one debatable decision costing them a tie from which they probably merited qualification.
That’s what happens with VAR. Rather, that’s one of things that happens with VAR, the flawed technology that FIFA says has been a success, because they’re apparently a footballing body that don’t watch football. A flawed system that was designed to alleviate errors and debate, but instead has only moved the debate to being about it.
Again, it’s a case of looking at the fundamentals. VAR is supposedly meant to intervene over clear and obvious errors, which means – I’ll sound like a broken record here, but no matter – errors that are not subject to debate, decisions that everyone knows the referee made or didn’t make and was a definite mistake, or does clear and obvious mean something else? Hence, when that shot struck Kimpembe on the arm, that decision was clearly and obviously not a clear and obvious error.
Then there’s the consistency issue. Talk post-match in some areas was that some referees would give it and some referees wouldn’t, which is understandable, ultimately interpretations of the law will continue to differ according to various officials. But that won’t erase debate, will it? If there will be different interpretations, hence inconsistency, then the addition of video assistant referees is rather unnecessary. If Kimpembe’s incident was deemed a penalty by VAR, why is a similar incident like Marcos Rojo’s for Argentina against Nigeria not also deemed a penalty? Because in the end, the referee at the centre has the final say, meaning VAR is still subject to human interpretation and verdict, meaning it’s not perfect. You could say there’s nothing wrong with it not being perfect, that it shouldn’t be, but why introduce it then, if one of the selling points prior to introduction was that referees are not perfect?
And therein lies the end product of VAR, nobody wins. No matter how you see it, nobody wins. Not the fans, because on the pitch they’re kept in the dark and completely oblivious to whatever’s happening. Not the referees, because they can no longer say they’re making decisions in a split second. Not the players or the game, because spontaneity has suddenly become a dying.
Not that this should deter from what was a momentous night for Manchester United. A night they showed why their caretaker boss deserves the job. A night they showed that their famous never-say-die spirit still lives. This shouldn’t take the shine away from a glorious occasion for the Red Devils.
But it will. A night of a memorable comeback and gut-wrenching collapse will be overshadowed by talk of the machine and what the machine did. As if we need any more proof that football is no longer the most important thing about football. Step into the future; we asked for this.