Author Jan Darkeespan.com
Darke, who voiced the network’s matches at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is the leading voice of ESPN soccer in the United States. He has been covering matches in the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League since 1982 and has one of the most recognizable soccer voices in the world.
Is soccer the best or the worst spectacle since the introduction of RVA? Is justice being done or are the fans turned off? These are important questions for FIFA.
What would a survey of professional players and managers look like if they gave the idea of being rejected a chance? I think I know. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has already said he’s “not a fan,” while Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne has said he’s not sure about the rules of the game after so many changes. It’s worrying.
Many former pros and experts I speak with increasingly feel that soccer is better as it is, apart from the flaws and inconsistencies that characterize the sports world. There is a sense that new technology is a dead giveaway, combing through the action like a know-it-all and finding reasons to set goals aside.
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As a television commentator, I was initially a big supporter of VAR. I thought it would help correct some egregious errors and make the job of referees in general easier. But it didn’t. I was wrong. So let’s go back to the beginning.
VAR was introduced to prevent serious mistakes, such as Diego Maradona’s God-given goal for Argentina against England at the 1986 World Cup or Thierry Henry’s unmarked ball in injury time that helped France end the Republic of Ireland’s hopes of participating in the 2010 tournament. These and a few other incidents – such as the red card of West German goalkeeper Tony Schumacher, who knocked down and seriously injured France’s Patrick Battiston in an epic 1982 World Cup match – were the main cries that video technology had to correct.
The original idea of VAR was a good one: prevent serious errors of judgment, increase pressure on referees and create a better game. But that laudable goal was lost. It has become too intrusive, and FIFA needs to seriously reconsider the way forward.
Realistically, the AVR will not be abolished. So how can we do better?
Should every goal be examined microscopically in detail to see if a foul was committed at some point, like Liverpool’s goal that Spurs were denied because of a hands ball at half-time, 10 seconds before the goal? A lot happened between that moment and the moment the ball hit the net – it must have been part of the game. The referee missed it, but how far did you go? The start?
How about a FIFA rule that only the attacker and assistant player are involved in checks after a goal? Or perhaps a five-second delay before the goal?
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Above all, fans abhor minor offside decisions, which is a fallacy, because if you want to work down to the millimeter, you need to know the exact moment the ball was last played, and with 50fps camera technology, that’s not possible. What used to be considered a perfect goal is now so excluded from decisions that it becomes grotesque in light of the misapplication of science. The funniest was against Leeds striker Patrick Bamford at Crystal Palace, when he indicated with his shoulder where he wanted the ball to be played, in an offside position.
Such moments – and there have been too many of them – go against the spirit of the game we love. They leave a bitter taste. As things stand, the difference between in and out may be the size of the boots you wear, or your short or long hair.
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Shaka Hislop has had his say on VAR’s controversial decision to disallow Jordan Henderson’s winning goal.
Another suggestion: use a still and a thick line to judge offside, but the decision should be made with the naked eye, so to speak. If you need those awful artificial lines to sort them out, just call them “flat” and “sideways”. The idea of “daylight” is also good. The benefit of the doubt should always have been given to the attacking team, and that would have restored them.
Handball has always been a complex field, and aside from the fact that there is a penalty every time the ball is handled on this field, accidentally or not, it is hard to see how the current enhanced interpretations can be clarified. However, the handball and penalty for Southampton’s Ryan Bertrand in Sunday’s lost match against the Wolves puzzled us. The ball was fired at Bertrand from close range, he turned and the ball hit his arm, which was hardly in a “sudden or unnatural” position given his evasive movement. It is difficult to understand how this game penalty was awarded, but it is another example of the confusion and complexity of laws and interpretations. Simplification and consistency are both necessary.
Actually, it’s been a bad season for VAR. The fans will say that better decisions have been made than in the past, but at what cost to the game and the entertainment value of the product? The spontaneous explosion of joy in front of the goal was devalued by the realization that an invisible private investigator from West London was about to dismiss it for reasons unknown to the fans.
The referees didn’t help themselves. Mike Dean’s retroactively cancelled red card for West Ham’s Tomas Soucek last week for an obviously unintentional use of an elbow was just embarrassing. Why did VAR Lee Mason intervene?
Perhaps the worst foul of the season was a neglected VAR, when Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford angrily brought down Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, ending his season in October. Oddly enough, there wasn’t even a retroactive red card for that!
VAR still has a long way to go to convince those who play and follow the game, not to mention the fans. FIFA should probably dismantle it and assure those responsible, “Don’t interfere unless there is a very serious miscarriage of justice.
It is clear that VAR can still be a useful tool, but things need to change radically if it is not to give the impression that soccer has become a scourge and that it is no longer fun to watch.