D3D4 correspondent and columnist Darren Young looks at the introduction of VAR into the FA Cup…
Will Video Kill The Game With VAR?
Did they have a Video Assisted Referee at the Brighton v Crystal Palace match on Monday to spot errors by the officials or to help count the Brighton team changes?
Or maybe even to assist with counting the crowd? I thought it was supposed to be a derby.
Actually, my bad; it is but it’s the Alan Mullery derby. Which isn’t quite the same as a local one is it? I think nigh on 32 miles (according to AA route planner although that could take you anywhere) is stretching it a bit.
I’m informed this name is related to a 1970s spat between Mullers and El Tel Venables before the El bit, when some unsavoury comments lingered a bit longer than they perhaps should.
Hence, it’s since been called the Alan Mullery derby, then renamed the VAR derby this week, hot on the heels of the Jamie Vardy derby between Fleetwood and Leicester City.
It’s one of these modern football things. Call me a killjoy but how tenuous does the link have to be to make it a derby?
Will we start to have a derby because of things that happened even longer ago – should Bolton v West Ham (next time they meet) be the White Horse derby? What about if teams share the same sponsor? Or kit manufacturer?
And on links with current or former players, what about the Robbie Keane derby which must be so commonplace you could almost have a cup just for those teams. And don’t get me started on the Trevor Benjamin derby.
Footballs certainly changing that’s for sure. A decade ago, there’d have been no team changes when the Seagulls clipped the Eagles’ wings, let alone a video referee. What is the FA Cup becoming? An opportunity to give injured players a run out before the weekend? Wasn’t that what ‘behind closed doors friendlies’ were for? If they aren’t careful, the crowds will become very similar.
But while wholesale team changes are nothing new, last night’s VAR match was, for domestic football in Britain at least. And for eighty-odd minutes it seemed it would remain as unnecessary as it was when they trialled it at Wembley for the last two England games. Then, as inevitable as a Teresa May reshuffling her reshuffle, Glenn Murray popped up with not just the winner that most Palace fans were predicting and dreading, but a goal that also caused the VAR to come into play – or not as it worked out.
The video ref would have adjudged the goal to be perfectly legitimate but didn’t need to intervene or make the on-pitch ref draw a rectangle with his fingers. If Murray had – ahem – used his hand, that would have been picked up and the VAR would have told the referee via his earpiece to disallow it. See, it doesn’t have to make the game to stop/start as some have said it might. That didn’t stop fans on social media, like any men with instruction manuals, from being be up in arms about the system BEFORE they’d bothered to read how it worked first.
Also predictable last night was that Roy Hodgson would be magnanimous in defeat, even finding time to commend the VAR for getting to the right decision while he had a growing injury crisis to contend with. Maybe, as I heard one fan say, he was actually thanking it for saving him and his stricken troops from a trip to Middlesbrough.
On the Five Live commentary, Jonathon Pearce said at one stage let’s hope they are talking about the match and not the VAR afterwards; which would have been a relief because they didn’t stop talking about it for even a second before kick-off.
But it is an interesting, and strangely divisive subject. At first look, I just thought we’d all want the same thing – the correct decisions – but now it’s been used, I’m not so sure we do.
Not only were there complaints about it, but it also threw up questions about fairness. A move intended to level the playing field has given us, for now, a Sunday League pitch with a slope form corner to corner.
For example, Brighton went through after the VAR ruled their goal was OK, but what about the teams who went out, and missed a potentially lucrative cup run, in matches not including VAR?
But surely the overriding factor has to be fair play.
I read a very interesting comment from a – I presume – parent saying that kids looked up to ‘these managers’ who make a living from blaming referees and bad decisions, and that the video ref would remove some of that and hopefully bring back some humility to the game.
It’s a good point. One tempting hiding place for managers will be taken away. And for fans too. The ‘we wuz robbed’ element of Sunday/Monday mornings wouldn’t hold quite so much weight if we were saying ‘we wuz proved wrong by the very latest technology’.
Of course, where there is technology, there is the possibility of problems. What if the signal went down between the stadium and the ‘man in the van’ or studio? What if he fell asleep?
And where does all this end. Or begin?
The guidelines for VAR say it can only be used for match-changing moments when a clear error has been made.
But what about season-changing moments? I checked and my club, Walsall, for instance, can’t go back to 2003 and reverse the decision to appoint Paul Merson as manager. The powers that be (and Mark Halsey) all unanimously agreed a clear error had been made but apparently, they can only go back one passage of play.
The actual incidents VAR can be used for are goals, penalties, straight reds and mistaken identity.
Which brings me back to the earlier subject; weakened sides. Because I could swear that there was a case of mistaken identity in most of the weekend’s games, as the TV said it was the team, but the line- ups suggested it was a mixture of kids and reserves getting knocked out of the cup yet again so they could ‘concentrate on the league’.
But as Pep Guardiola and three quarters of the managers in England will tell you; there are too many games and too many injuries as a result. The stats seem to back it up, and call a winter break back into question, and it’s a problem VAR isn’t going to help with. Although, maybe they should put TV match scheduling in the hands of technology?
Because, if they keep putting the FA Cup third round and League Cup semi-finals in the same week, then they have to accept that the once biggest cup competition ever, is going to become second, third or fourth choice for some teams.
Arguably, fixture congestion is something the lower league clubs have more to complain about, despite Pep saying its putting a tremendous strain on his players’ welfare.
I’d say that his Carabao Cup opponents, Bristol City, with a full Christmas and New Year programme, plus a trip to Watford in the cup on Saturday, are prone to more fatigue issues than a squad with two strong XIs and worth squillions of pounds will ever have.
Pep should try managing outside of three of the richest clubs in Europe and see what it’s like a bit further down the ladder, with forty-six games and a much thinner playing staff. It would be an amazing experiment wouldn’t it, seeing him trying to navigate the fixture list of a crap team? Walsall might be available soon.
On that note, I have one final complaint re the February fixtures, which I’ve just looked at more closely whilst writing this.
Walsall play a home match versus Milton Keynes Dons on 3 February followed by Blackpool away just seven days later.
That’s two Errea derbies in a week.
It’s killing the players.