It was a big talking point going into the World Cup, so after 48 games, how is VAR doing?
Before we open that can of worms, lets look at why VAR has been brought in.
The game is much quicker and more intense and the idea was to help the referees get more decisions correct.
My first question is, how good are the referees to start with? We all have our views on that. Our biggest moan, as fans, is the lack of consistency.
So, when you bring together referees from all around the world, from different footballing cultures, with different interpretations and different experiences, then you can see there is potential for problems.
As we have seen with hosting the World Cup being given to South Korea, South Africa and Qatar, FIFA is more about inclusion and expansion rather than the best fit.
So it is with the appointment of referees. Without being disrespectful, I would ask how much exposure to regular, top class football referees from Tahiti, Iran, Uzbekistan, UAE, Bahrain, Ethiopia, Gambia, USA and New Zealand really have. All of those are in the 36 nominated referees for this competition.
My guess is that organisations in those countries represent the major sponsors, major TV companies and ‘friendly’ voters within FIFA. Has anything changed since Blatter?
The difference in footballing culture was evident to see in last night’s round of 16 game between England and Colombia. One a robust, athletic and physical game, the other a skilful, temperamental, bordering on cheating game. I’ll leave you to decide which team was which!
The referee, USA’s Mark Geiger, had to call on all his MLS experience, but still seemed like a rabbit in the headlights. Geiger who courted controversy earlier in the competition by allegedly asking for Christiano Ronaldo’s shirt during the game with Morocco, had Dutch referee Danny Makkelie for support in the VAR booth.
I watched a Colombia team, niggle, play-act and intimidate throughout. The Colombians claim the played their game within the rules and that the referee favoured England. That is the difference in culture the referee had to deal with.
Digressing slightly, but nevertheless highlighting the same issue, I would point to Neymar. Most Brazilian’s grow up playing street football, developing their skills to avoid or ride the rough challenges. Neymar, however, played Futsal. This is a sort of five-a-side, but highly regulated. Referees are appointed and the focus is on the technical and skill side of the game. The problem comes when the futsal players progress to football. They encounter physical challenges and more tolerant referees. Neymar spent his formative and development years highly protected and able to show off his skills. So, its no wonder he goes down easily and rolls around. He is not used to and has never been taught to deal with the physicality.
That doesn’t make him wrong. Just different.
No amount of VAR will protect him, if the official has a different cultural take from Neymar.
But the Colombian’s took to a whole new level. Even their coaching staff got in on the act. Maybe the Hispanic and Latino influences in the MLS made Mr. Geiger less inclined to clamp down on the behaviour. He’s become accustomed to being harassed and harangued.
Could VAR have helped him more?
Let’s look at what VAR is supposed to be there for.
According to FIFA, VAR should only be used in 4 match changing situations:
Red Card situations and
The VAR team will look for any offence in the build up to a goal, including offside. Assistant referees were briefed pre-tournament and told not to flag for any close offside calls. Leave that up to VAR. With VAR, offside is black and white. There’s no room for doubt, you are either on or offside, no matter how close it is. Other offences are still subjective. It’s up to the VAR official to judge whether an offence has occurred and whether to notify the referee to review it on the monitor.
VAR will check for any indiscretions inside the box. Once again this can be subjective, but for any debatable decisions they will refer it back to the referee to view on the monitor. As with all decisions, the referee has the final call.
VAR will check for red card offences. If, in their opinion, a referee has issued a yellow card and they deem it more serious they shall alert him. Similarly, if the referee has produced a red card and they feel it less serious, they shall notify him. If the referee has missed an offence and, only if the VAR official deems it a red card i.e. violent conduct, then they shall notify him. VAR should NOT involve themselves with just yellow card decisions.
FIFA further stipulate that if the latter occurs during play, the referee shall be notified and CAN issue a retrospective red card at half or full time.
This is quite a straightforward one for VAR. Has the referee penalised the correct person. If not, notify him.
According to FIFA, at this World Cup, they are the only 4 permissible times when VAR should be involved.
You often hear the commentators or pundits talk about VAR righting ‘clear and obvious errors’. Under FIFA rules at this tournament, that is NOT the case.
Apart from the retrospective red card, which up to present has not occurred, all other decisions must be made before play is re-started.
So, could VAR have helped him more?
Well, under the FIFA rules that exist, probably not.
He gave the Colombia goal and they did not question it.
He gave England the penalty and they did not challenge his decision.
VAR must have highlighted the Barrios/Henderson incident to him as a red card offence. As he presumably missed the offence (he did not initially give a warning or issue a card) and did not refer to the off-field monitor, it’s hard to see how he concluded it was a yellow card. Under the tournament rules, we must conclude that VAR got it right but Mr. Geiger chose to ignore them.
He, being the appointed referee, has that right also.
There were no incidents of mistaken identity.
All other decisions were outside the jurisdiction of VAR, so they helped him all they could. Everything else was down to him.
Not just in this game, but generally throughout the tournament, VAR seems to be getting things right.
The South Korea goal against Germany initially flagged for off-side, but overruled by VAR instantly springs to mind as a key decision at a key time.
There have been a few seemingly harsh penalties for hand balls given, but again these are subjective. Once again, we should take with a pinch of salt, the views of commentators and pundits as they use phrases like ‘unnatural position of the arm’ and ‘the hand moved towards the ball’. The law states that the act of handball MUST be deliberate and there must be clear intent.
Those aside, plus a couple of wrestling matches with Harry Kane vs Tunisia and one on Aleksandar Mitrovic by the Swiss, VAR is doing its job.
Could it be improved? Certainly it could. Better communication to the fans would be good. Maybe we are not quite ready for referees and VAR officials to be miked up, especially at a World Cup, with multiple languages. But the whole process could be a bit more transparent.
Overall I’d say a solid 7/10 for VAR