VAR for the Loss

Article by Rob Pegley

“Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” happens to be a well-known phrase in psychology.

Is Technology Ruining Sports?

For some, the pursuit of perfectionism comes with a need to exert control and an inability to let things go. They may be correct, but it comes across as hairsplitting pettiness. Many English soccer fans would describe the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) as an annoying control freak.

In soccer, a few terrible decisions over the years — or great ones, depending on who you support — have caused huge controversy. The recently deceased Diego Maradona’s Hand of God is arguably the biggest. Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal for England at the 2010 South Africa World Cup is another doozy. Truth is there have been some shocking decisions over the years — but not that many.

And surely not enough to have led to the stop-start culture currently pervading the Premier League? Stilted celebrations and strange decisions — where a last-minute winner leads to an ecstatic reaction on hold, while an accurate decision is made.

The greatest moments in soccer have been those moments — sheer, unbridled, Oh-my-God-ness as the ball hits the back of the net. Imagine Manchester United’s comeback celebrations in the 1999 Champions League Final being paused while they checked the monitor in the last minute. In fact, twice in the last two minutes.

Ruining those moments is surely worse than getting a few decisions wrong?

Belgian soccer star Kevin De Bruyne is arguably the greatest footballer in the world after the Messi/Ronaldo double act. He recently said: “I don’t know the rules anymore, honestly. I’ve been playing professional football for 12 years, and in the first nine years there were no rule changes. Now, there are a lot of rule changes. I don’t know why. Football is a nice game. The people making the rule changes need to be in the game.”

Ex-Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino went further, saying, “I am for technology, but be careful not to change the game and kill the emotion. My worry is we are talking about a machine and not football.”

Bizarrely, the really big decisions that sparked the technological revolution of football are quickly solved. Goal-line technology is pretty seamless; the referee instantly gets a bleep on his phone to say whether the ball has crossed the line and can make a decision. Liverpool’s experienced midfielder James Milner is a fan: “Goal-line technology is incredible. Instant decision. Black and white.”

But he’s not a fan of VAR.

“It’s very hard to use VAR when you’ve still got opinions on the decisions and the atmosphere in football is being ruined,” Milner says.

Especially when the resulting decisions seem worse than the referee’s original. Patrick Bamford’s goal, which was disallowed for Leeds against Crystal Palace, was described by Former Premier League star-turned-pundit Robbie Savage as “the worst decision I’ve ever seen in the history of football.”

Bamford’s hand was judged offside — his fingers deemed ahead of the defender as he pointed where he wanted the ball.

Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?