Sports Editor’s Blog: VAR revolution is here so let’s not look back

Football supporters, like players, managers and pundits are split on the use of VAR EMN-180118-122847002
Football supporters, like players, managers and pundits are split on the use of VAR EMN-180118-122847002
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A few centuries ago in merry old England, a chap called Ned Ludd, outraged by technological advances, hatched a plan to slow the relentless march of the Industrial Revolution.

With new machines and large-scale mills threatening the livelihoods of homespun artisans and craftsmen, Ludd encouraged like-minded workers to organise and smash the bedevilled machines of their doom.

History has not viewed his followers kindly in their destructive and ultimately futile crusade, and Luddite is now used to describe the backward-looking or those who cling to a romanticised past.

Now, even super-modern, too-slick-for-its-own-good football has its Luddites thanks to the FA’s trial of VAR, or Video Assistant Referee.

As someone whose industry has been sent into a terrifying tailspin by the internet and her associated delights, I do have a little empathy with Ned and his fearful followers.

And in terms of modern football’s business model and general cynical mindset, I too am a Luddite, unashamedly stuck in the past, when football meant different things to different people.

When people through gates meant more to clubs than global marketing strategies and trading your granny for the most ludicrously inflated TV deal.

But VAR’s opponents and their doom-laden prophecies of football’s inevitable ruin have left even me feeling remarkably in tune and on trend by comparison.

The decision to overturn the offside ruling on VAR review and give Kelechi Iheanacho his goal in Leicester’s FA Cup tie with Fleetwood was a perfect example of how useful this tool could be.

It was a marginal decision, almost impossible to call 100 per cent with absolute certainty by human eye.

But VAR gave us a definitive answer, overturning the understandable human error as well as crucially removing any potential for arguments of bias over the decision.

Unless you’re among the handful of managers who like starting arguments in empty rooms.

It’s likely many VAR opponents also growled on about goal-line technology which is now commonly employed without the raising of a single eyebrow.

It won’t iron out absolutely every doubtful decision, so lazy pundits up and down the land will still have something to talk about.

Subtly-executed dives in the penalty area, sparked by some pretty rough tickling, will still come down to human interpretation, but will be better judged by replaying the event.

Yet if every ref follows the hardline example of Chelsea’s new favourite official Graham Scott then maybe even the honesty of players may improve, removing another area of doubt from decisions.

VAR opponents also fear it will turn our perfectly fluid, free-flowing game into a staccato stop-start affair.

But if sensibly and efficiently policed, it need not interrupt the game anymore than it already is by time-wasting at throw-ins and goal-kicks, and stoppages for injuries and feigning thereof.

The interpretation of how the system can be used consistently and evenly does throw up questions, but maybe the example of cricket can help - limit the number of reviews, giving each manager a maximum of two or three per game?

In its first trial game in the FA Cup, Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson was partial enough to come out and agree with a review, even though its outcome knocked out his team.

How refreshing and strange was that?

Remove the excuses of players and managers, highlight poor refereeing and officiating, end the endless TV and social media debates over controversial moments.

But then maybe that is at the crux of this opposition. Perhaps deep down we like that.

Preferring human reaction, opinion and argument to a computer programme robotically defining the ‘truth’.

And if everything was so definitive and trusted, supporters could no longer partake in their favourite pastime of ref bashing.

If they couldn’t question the parentage of referees, what’s the alternative line against a state-of-the-art programme? “Your father was a toaster!”

But if you’re still in any doubt, ask yourself whether you’d prefer Robbie Savage to go on ranting, or a swift, no-nonsense video.

It’s not perfect, nothing is, but it seems better than the present, and that’s progress.