Pat Nevin: My vote for video
column Tue 16 Jan 2018
Last week, one of our columnists Giles Smith gave a fan’s verdict on the trial of VAR at Stamford Bridge. Here in his latest column, Pat Nevin offers a contrasting view from a former professional…
I think the recent matches can be summed up in one word, frustrating. Obviously without being brilliant, all three of the recent 0-0 draws could easily have been wins with a bit of luck and just a little bit more assured finishing.
Defensively the numbers look very good indeed having conceded only seven goals in the past 17 domestic games. When you take injury time into consideration as well, that is one goal shipped every 235 minutes, nearly four hours football on average between defensive breaches! It is always good to know exactly where the work has to be done. If there were a myriad of problems it would be a much bigger concern, but all we need to do is tuck away a few chances.
There are plenty of players who can score goals in the team and I have the suspicion there will be a goal rush in a game very soon, maybe even tomorrow night. It is however infuriating that these chances seem to be slipping by when there is an opportunity to get some clear blue water for us inside the top four in the Premier League.
The biggest talking point of late other than the lack of goals was probably the trialling of VAR in the cup game against Arsenal at the Bridge last week. Now I will put my cards on the table right now and admit I have been an advocate of video reviewing for a long time. In fact even during my career I would have liked it to have been used but the cameras and the technology just weren’t up to scratch. Now they most emphatically are in the Premier League and the Champions League.
You will hopefully notice that I say I am in favour of the trials, but not yet the definite introduction of the system long-term. We need to see how it works, how many correct decisions are made that would not otherwise have been made, what unknown effects it has on the flow of the games, the reaction of the supporters and indeed any further errors by the officials. The nightmare scenario is that the VAR checks and a decision is changed only to find out afterwards it was wrong to do so. I however think this scenario is likely to be rare, going on non-existent.
Again being absolutely honest, I think it is almost a racing certainty that all problems can and will be overcome with constant use and a little finessing of the system. Against Arsenal, I spotted it being used four times and each time it only clarified and emphasised that the referee had made the right decision in the first place. The best use on the night was when we thought Cesc should have had a penalty even though the ref didn’t give it. I am pretty sure I would have pointed to the spot from my vantage point without the use of the technology to check it. It wasn’t a penalty after all but it showed how the entire game could have been changed had that tough call been made incorrectly by the referee in the heat and the speed of the moment.
It only took until this weekend to see how important moments are being missed, with that late hand-ball equaliser by Watford against Southampton being a perfect example. If clubs in such situations go down by a point at the end of the season then millions of pounds will be lost to them, clubs could go into freefall, their fans will feel cheated of their Premier League status and people could lose their jobs. That would be brutally unfair and this is exactly what I hate to see happening. We simply have to make the game as fair as we possibly can for everyone’s sake.
Every fan has a story from the past of the huge consequences following referee errors that could have been rectified quickly with VAR. Ask any Irishman about Thierry Henry and hand ball and you will see him fume to this day. Northern Ireland could have made it to the World Cup this year but for a penalty decision that could have and should have been reversed. As a player you may have spent your entire life building towards one tournament or cup final, only for it to be needlessly taken from you because we will not use whatever we can to get the correct decision.
There is another positive about using VAR, it could have a huge effect on cutting back diving in the modern game. Why dive in the box when the referee will just check it quickly and give you a yellow card? The perfect scenario for me is for one day soon, a player to get a second yellow for a blatant attempt at cheating and being sent off instead of getting the penalty he is trying to con the referee into giving. The joy of that moment will be like watching a great goal being scored for me. Diving has become so pervasive that modern players think it is perfectly legitimate to try it on. Actually, it is cheating and in any other sport it would be roundly condemned by everyone. That is not actually the case right now within the game because it is that common.
I will admit that there were obvious problems the other night. Certainly while the referee was allowing the VAR to check, it was not always obvious to the fans. That problem must be surmounted and eventually it will be by the correct angle being shown on the screens around the ground, when that begins to happen it will add to the excitement of the contest. In the meantime simply putting a message on the scoreboard saying that it has been referred will be useful as a stop-gap.
The reason why I think this will eventually be used in some format all the time in the Premier League and Champions League is that we will absolutely and definitely get more of those big errors removed from the game. Once that is in place it is almost unimaginable to go back.
Here is a final thought experiment for you. A being from outer space lands on earth and is interested to see that just about the entire planet is watching the World Cup final on TV. It has taken four years to produce this game; the tournament has involved thousands of players, millions of fans, billions of viewers and trillions of pounds. He then asks who will be arbitrating the big competition’s deciding moment? Someone has to sheepishly explain that the one person on our planet who will make that decision is the one person on the planet who is not allowed to view the evidence!
It doesn’t make sense and for those of you under the age of 40, try watching this YouTube video for an approximation of our visitor’s reaction…