The 2019/20 season is back! Football! It’s here! Look at it! Look at all the football! Friday night! Saturday afternoon! Saturday evening! Sunday afternoon! Sunday evening! Monday night! It’s absolutely everywhere! You can’t escape the football! Watch it! Look at the analysis! Tweet about it! Retweet about it! Let it envelop your life! Let it wash over you! Let it become you! You are the football! It is you now! You are football all the time! You can’t escape the football! Football! FOOTBALL! FOOTBALL!
That’s right, football is back with an almighty and relentless bang. Dedicating your life to finding scathing tweets about Liverpool to like and retweet, before then complaining about Liverpool fans being obsessed with City because they mention a City player when talking about one of their best players is back on the cards, baby.
But this season there’s a twist. There’s a new baddie in town. Like Moriarty, stepping out of the shadows to confront Sherlock despite having kind of always having been there, hiding in plain sight, is the true enemy of the 2019/20 season.
That enemy is the PGMOL.
Let’s just say that the opening to the season has not been uneventful and that’s largely down to the newly implemented technology which, like Skynet, is probably going to be the downfall of humanity as we know it.
VAR has been used in the top leagues around Europe for a couple of years now and has been in place in the Champions League since the start of last season (oh, but we know that all too well) after a reasonably successful run of the technology in the World Cup. Finally, the Premier League has caught up and decided we should probably start implementing the technology that the rest of Europe is fast becoming accustomed to, technology which left English clubs on the backfoot slightly when it came to continental competition.
Only we’re not doing it the same as everybody else.
Whereas the rest of the world is giving the referees the option to use a pitch-side monitor to review their own decisions, effectively using the booth of officials who have their eye on the game to determine whether or not something is worth looking at, PGMOL (the Professional Game Match Officials Board) have decided they know best. No doubt under a bit of pressure from the Premier League themselves, who don’t want to see the game be reduced to frequent 2-3 minute pauses while the referee runs back and forth to the screen at the touchline to check if he’s made the correct decision or not, the onus to point out any mistakes has been left entirely in the hands of the officials in the booth.
This is a problem for multiple reasons which have become very obvious over the past few weeks. The first problem is that the people who are in the booth, overlooking the game, are best mates with the people who are on the pitch and are therefore not very keen to overturn decisions if they aren’t absolutely stonewall as it A) undermines the man on the pitch and B) makes referees look bad generally because they’re missing obvious errors.
PGMOL have laid out the very clear and specific rules of what can be overturned and it is as follows:
“It must be a clear and obvious error.”
See? Totally clear. Don’t we all know exactly what that means? No? What do you mean you don’t know what clear and obvious means? You philistine. How can you not determine concrete rules based on two entirely subjective adjectives, the severity of which depends entirely on the interpretation of the person looking at the incident? How can you not see that, you moron. You’re an idiot.
So PGMOL have also stated they have a “high bar” for what can be turned over. What is that high bar, I hear you ask? Well it’s time for a game of higher or lower!
Is the bar higher than David Silva clearly having his foot trodden on against Bournemouth, bringing him down inside the penalty area for a potential penalty?
Is the bar higher than Harry Kane being brought to ground after Jamaal Lascelles falls over in front of him, causing Kane to fall and denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity while Lascelles gets none of the ball?
Is the bar higher than Sebastien Haller being side-swiped in the penalty area, again with none of the ball being taken, for a penalty?
Is the bar higher than the ball swinging in from a corner and Laporte having his arm pulled by Oliver Skipp, causing the ball to then lightly graze Laporte’s arm, ultimately not affecting the trajectory of the ball at all, before falling to Jesus and allowing him to score?
Oh no, no it’s lower than that. That’s not acceptable.
The introduction of VAR has destroyed the implementation of the handball rule, as anything and everything is being scrutinised to see whether the ball ever came into contact with a hand, no matter how slight (unless you’re Newcastle, then it’s fine). The rule, whilst stupid and separate to VAR’s failings, has been somewhat informed by the introduction of this technology and especially after some of last season’s Champions League penalties, not least of which including a very generous penalty in the final for Liverpool, has almost sought to massively favour the defending team. It gives the defenders almost a free pass, allowing them to touch the ball where attackers may not.
VAR is also ruining the offside rule. Long gone are the (ancient and probably never really accounted for anyway) rules of giving the attacker the benefit of the doubt. It’s all about whether your toenail is 1cm offside now, as the people in the booth use freeze frames on a camera which operates at 24fps to try and determine whether a player travelling at least 20mph is offside from the second they think is when the ball left the passing player’s foot. The mathematical probability of getting the decision right based on the technology which, at its current state, is massively unfit for purpose is almost impossible, as @Dakeb_MCFC proves below.
And yet the worst thing about VAR, and by far the funniest thing about it, is that it’s actually making referees look worse. Stupid decisions are being made and, rather than simply being talked about during and after the game and then ultimately being forgotten, they’re just being added to a catalogue of terrible mistakes which are being made both on the pitch and in the booth.
A referee on the pitch missing Haller being clattered to the ground is one thing but then for a group of his peers in a booth, given the benefit of replays from all angles, to not deem the error severe enough to overturn (despite a penalty being a game-changing event) is absolutely laughable and quite frankly it makes every single one of them look ridiculous. For a weekend of crap decisions to come together (I haven’t even mentioned Jack Grealish’s ridiculous “dive”) and for PGMOL to double-down on their errors, reportedly briefing that they’re “happy” with the current implementation of the technology, rather than own up and say they’ve made some errors, is pathetic. It’s early days in the technology, people will understand if you’re just willing to accept that you’ve been wrong.
The responsibility for making these decisions is like a game of hot-potato, as referees on the pitch think “I don’t want to make the wrong decision, if it’s a penalty it’ll get given by VAR” and don’t make the call, only for his mates in the booth to go “we don’t want to make our man on the pitch look like a mug and we don’t want to referee the game for him, we’ll let this one go”.
The worst part about this, for me, is that I was a supporter of VAR. After the sickening result in the Champions League against Spurs, I was annoyed but I could accept it. This is the technology we asked for, we just happen to have had the worst instance of it happen to us. Surely it won’t happen again? Anyway, four months later to the day and it happened again and I was done. If you ignore all of the logistical issues and the rules and the terrible refereeing, it just kills the game for the fans. Celebrating a goal shouldn’t be something you do tentatively and that’s what the technology is doing to the game.
I’m now on the side of Andy Grey and that’s the most damning statement of all.
You can follow the author here: @joebutters
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