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The quarterfinal of the 2017 UEFA Champions League has come and gone with Real Madrid, Juventus, Athletico Madrid and AS Monaco triumphing over their respective opponents. The four matchups produced very interesting encounters but each match played was riddled with its fair share of controversy. From offside goals to wrong bookings, many of these costly errors by match officials proved to be very pivotal in deciding the tie winners.

In the first leg at Vincente Calderon, although replays showed otherwise, Atlhetico Madrid were handed a penalty when Marcus Albrighton fouled Antoinne Griezmann just on the edge of box. The penalty was subsequently converted and was the only goal in that encounter, setting Simeone’s boys on the path to semifinal qualification.

Bayern Munich didn’t have it nicely at all in both legs against Real Madrid as poor officiating seemed to favor the latter over the former, leaving Ancelotti’s hope of UCL redemption in tatters. Over the two legs, they benefitted maximally from poor refereeing decisions!

Refereeing decisions at Allianz Arena were not so good but at Santiago Bernabeu, it was a total washout! And from the moment when Arturo Vidal was wrongly sent off for a perfectly timed tackle on Marco Ascensio, Bayern’s fate was sealed! All the midfield coordination fizzled into thin air as the game wore on, leaving their defence for the taking.

How Casemiro managed to stay on the pitch when a fellow culprit, Arturo Vidal, was sent off still beats my imagination. But two record-breaking, quick-fire goals from offside positions? #BasedOnLogistics, I am not even understanding at all!

This is exactly why Video Assistant Referees (VARs) are being introduced.

Many offside decisions are hugely difficult for assistant referees. Not only do they need to run — and sometimes sprint — up the line to ensure they maintain the best possible position, they also need to be sure of where the players are at the precise moment a pass is made. And if they’re unsighted or it’s a long pass, it’s extremely difficult to look at two places at the same time.

Just like offside calls, the same goes for various types and degrees of fouls too. Many a time, the judgment of the referee is based on the whether or not he (or any of his assistants) sees the foul from the best angles possible and this cannot be so every time. A very horrendous tackle can look soft if viewed from a wrong angle, trust me. [See: Casemiro vs Messi – 23/04/2017]

The number of conmen-turned-footballers is on the increase at the moment. And almost every match features its own share of diving, play acting and other demonstrations. It is not very easy for referees and their assistants considering that many of these players are experts in the business of coning! [See: Suarez vs PSG, Costa vs Manchester United, Townsend vs Arsenal]

With VARs, match referees are still required to make a decision based on their view of an incident. If necessary, they can then stop play for an on-field review (OFR) by signalling the outline of a television screen. OFRs will usually be reserved for “subjective” decisions such as bad tackles, with real-time speed replays used for fouls and slow-motion replays reserved for “point of contact” offences such as handballs. The referee will indicate the outcome of the review on the basis of whether the decision was clearly wrong and then restart the game with the appropriate action.

During the match, the VAR – a current or former referee – and his assistant will also automatically check all potentially contentious incidents using broadcaster’s footage and have the power to alert the match referee if they perceive a major mistake has been made. In that case, the match referee will receive an alert to signify that he must stop the game when appropriate to view a replay, with the final decision resting with him.

A few weeks ago, at the Football Talks conference in Lisbon, Pierluigi Collina, the new head of the FIFA Referees Commission, said there were limits to how accurate human assistant referees could be. UEFA’s research showed that in the last few seasons of Champions League football, linesmen got around 95 percent of offside calls correct. When you consider the speed of the game and the difficulties faced, it’s a very good result. But 95% is an upper limit and at some point, technology has to save the day.

This innovation is long overdue in football, and it ought to be welcomed. At the same time, there are a number of issues we must be aware of. And we need to be realistic about what can be improved and the level of human error we’ll just need to continue to accept.

The first is that VAR, in its current form, will only cover major incidents. There are minor ones which can turn into major ones, and they won’t be covered. The most obvious situation is an incorrectly awarded throw-in or free kick that leads to a goal. Or, perhaps, an incorrectly awarded booking followed by a legitimate one that leads to a red.

Another is that referees will need to put their faith in the VAR. A referee may feel he had a perfect view of an incident. The VAR is only supposed to overrule him if the video evidence is clear. But what is clear to one official might be less clear to another. And sure, the referee can review the video himself at pitchside.

One major issue is that consulting with VARs usually takes a few seconds and play has to be stopped during this period. Depending on the importance of match and the clarity of offences, play might be stopped multiple times for issues to be settled. This would definitely affect the ‘flow’ and pace of play especially in high intensity matches.

Finally, much will depend on the replays and camera angles that the VAR is privy to. That makes a major difference. The feed for games is often broadcast from two different perspectives but only the best angles can enhance proper decision making.

Just for the record, VARs were used in the friendly match between France and Spain earlier this year. The match which ended 2-0 (in favor of Spain) would have ended 1-1 without VARs. These kinds of matches describe the great amount of influence that minor decisions can have on the final results of matches.

The future of the VAR technology looks very bright at the moment having been adopted by The Hyundai A-League. This technology will be moving to at least England (in the FA Cup) and Germany (Bundesliga) as it faces several tests runs ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

 

IN OTHER NEWS

  1. Ngolo Kante has deservedly won the 2017 PFA Award. He brushed aside Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Harry Kane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez to clinch the award. After a switch to Chelsea last summer, Kante has replicated his brilliant performances and is one of the best DMs in Europe at the moment. Congratulations, Ngolo!
  2. Tottenham Hotspur golden boy, Dele Alli, has also been awarded the PFA Young Player of the Year award. Despite a rough start to the season, Alli has stepped up his performances for his club and they currently sit at second position, threatening to win the league provided London rivals, Chelsea, step off the gas. Congratulations, Dele!

 

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