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Teething problems intensify the VAR debate

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It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of VAR or you aren’t. It’s going to happen. Get used to it.

With Video Assistant Referees trialed in English soccer for the first time over the past few weeks during both FA Cup and League Cup games, the debate has intensified around its value and how it should be used.

First off, let’s define exactly when VAR will be used. According to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) guidelines, VAR will only be used to “correct clear errors and for missed serious incidents” which have “match changing” outcomes.

The four areas VAR can be used for are:

  • Goals
  • Penalty kicks
  • Red cards
  • Mistaken identity

It is important to remember that the referee on the pitch is the only one who can sanction whether a video review is necessary after consulting with VAR officials who are watching on monitors and recommend, via an ear piece, if certain instances are worth a second look. The referee can then go and take a look at the incident on a TV monitor on the side of the pitch himself, if necessary, before either keeping his original decision or changing his mind.

So, with all that in mind, why are we still having problems? Number one: fans, players and even managers still seem to be unsure as to exactly how this technology will be used.

Hand gestures making a square TV symbol are now happening in grounds across the UK, trying to suggest to the referee that he needs to go to VAR. Extra pressure is being placed on officials and despite the system being trialed in Major League Soccer, Serie A and the Bundesliga with limited issues over the past 12 months, it seems like the English game is struggling to adapt to the concept even though it will make the life of referees much easier in the long run.

All in all, VAR can slow down the flow of the game but that’s only if huge game changing moments occur multiple times. How often does that really happen? Once or twice, on average, in a single game, if that?

I was one of those so-called purists who wasn’t in favor of the technology to start with, but seeing how easy it can be to rectify mistakes over the past few weeks, I’m all for it now. Kelechi Iheanacho‘s second goal for Leicester in their FA Cup replay win against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday proved how great this can be. Replays showed he was clearly onside and the goal was awarded after initially being ruled out. It took 10-15 seconds without the referee even going to a pitch-side monitor to check it out.

Simple. Easy. Effective.

That goal was an example of a “clear and obvious error” which, per the IFAB guidelines, is why VAR exists. But in Chelsea’s FA Cup win against Norwich City on penalty kicks on Wednesday, there was an incident where VAR was used but didn’t overturn a decision which caused controversy.

Willian was booked by referee Graham Scott for diving in the box, even though replays showed there was clear contact with a defender but VAR officials didn’t believe there was a definitive reason to overturn the initial decision.

Antonio Conte had the following to say about the new technology as he wants it to improve.

“If we want to use a new system, I can’t accept a big mistake,” Conte said. “In this case, the Willian penalty was a big, big mistake. Not from the referee on the pitch, who took quickly a decision to book Willian and didn’t have any doubt, but from the person watching the game [Jones]. I hope the VAR wasn’t a referee because if you see that watching on television and don’t think that’s a penalty … he has to improve. It was very clear.”

Well, Antonio, you may have to accept mistakes, especially at the start, but was that decision really a mistake?

The VAR official may have simply been agreeing with the referee on the pitch that there was contact between Willian and the Norwich defender but that the Chelsea man left his leg hanging out and tried to buy a penalty kick. Even though there’s an extra official looking at video footage of the event, unless he believes the referee has got the decision horribly wrong it will not be overturned.

As for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who saw the technology used in his sides 0-0 draw at Chelsea last week in the League Cup semifinal first leg, he remains an advocate of VAR and believes this trial run is extremely helpful.

“Will there be some hiccups up at the start? Certainly,” Wenger said. “We have to improve the system, but we have to go for it.”

That is the correct answer here.

It will take time to get used to the technology, just like it did in MLS. But fans, players and coaches need to not only embrace VAR but also educate themselves as to when and how it can be used.

I have no doubt that if the system is introduced into the Premier League for the 2018-19 season it will be hugely beneficial. Largely because the PL have sat back and let the FA trial the system and other leagues around the world work out the kinks. By the time next August rolls around, we will have months of use of VAR at the top level with the 2018 World Cup also set to use the technology.

Look at last weekend in the Premier League. Two key decisions likely changed the outcome of games between clubs battling to stay in the Premier League. Abdoulaye Doucoure’s late equalizer for Watford would have taken all of 10 seconds to review and overturn as he clearly punched the ball into the net against Southampton to seal a 2-2 draw.

While Newcastle’s Mo Diame clearly handled a goalbound effort which not only cost Swansea a penalty kick but would have seen Diame sent off. Both incidents would have been cleared up quickly and easily without minimum fuss.

That is what this system is for. The gray areas of diving and intent with handballs will still exist, just like they did before VAR. But the clear-cut calls which officials can’t see and don’t get right will be overturned when new replays become available to them.

That’s where they need the most help and that’s why VAR should be welcomed into the English game with open arms.

The debates will still rumble on in pubs, stadiums and offices in the UK. The system being trialed to stop those never-ending debates is currently having the opposite effect.

VAR to be used in one Carabao Cup semifinal, final

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Video Assistant Replay is finally making its way into English football, at least in the cup competitions.

With VAR to debut in the FA Cup on Monday in the match between Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion, the technology is set to be used in both legs of the Carabao Cup semifinal between Arsenal and Chelsea as well as the Carabao Cup final. VAR won’t be in use during the other semifinal between Manchester City and Bristol City because VAR capabilities are only installed in Premier League stadia currently.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

While VAR is being expanded, English referee Mike Riley warned that the technology will never make referees “100 percent” with their decisions, but it will help deal with “clear and obvious” errors.

“It’s going to take us time,” Riley said. “You’re actually asking a generation of referees to relearn or learn new processes and skills. It will never be 100 percent because it’s so subjective on certain things and we’re asking the clear and obvious question. We don’t want errors. If through this we make that four percent (of incorrect decisions made by select referees) two percent, we’ve benefited the game.”

“There will still be debate; there will still be interest. We are not sanitizing the game through VAR.”

The first game with VAR capability on the British Isles was in last November for a friendly match between England and Germany at Wembley Stadium. The game finished a scoreless draw and VAR wasn’t used.

VAR can only be used for four game-changing situations. Goals, red cards, penalty decisions and cases of mistaken identity.

Arsenal and Chelsea meet in the Carabao Cup semifinal first leg on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge, before the corresponding return leg at the Emirates Stadium on January 24. The final is set for February 25.

Ligue 1 set to use VAR starting in 2018/19 season

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With video replay technology becoming more and more prevalent in soccer across the globe, another major European league has revealed it too will join those ranks.

[ SOURCE: LAFC set to sign third DP with Sporting CP’s Geraldes ]

Ligue 1 has announced that the French top flight will begin to utilize video replay and have a video assistant referee (VAR) starting in the 2018/19 season.

Major League Soccer and the German Bundesliga are just two of the major global leagues to implement the system thus far. In MLS, the technology can be used in four instances; when goals are scored, during penalty situations, when a straight red card is given and during cases of mistaken identity.

French outlet L’Equipe wrote on Thursday that Ligue 1 would also follow a similar structure in what decisions VAR officials will be reviewable.

Spain has also announced that it will introduce VAR in 2018, ahead of the next La Liga season.

Spain sticking to plan to introduce VAR next season

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league is not going to rush implementing video assistance review even after the refereeing mistake that cost Barcelona a goal at the weekend.

[ MORE: Barca manager calls for VAR after Messi “goal” missed vs. Valencia ]

The mistake on Sunday in a 1-1 draw between league leader Barcelona and second-place Valencia reignited debate about La Liga being the only top league in Europe without a system to assist referees. But the league said on Monday it will keep its plans to implement VAR next season.

The main reason for the delay in VAR’s introduction is because La Liga and the Spanish Football Federation must reach an agreement over the system to be used. The system also has to be approved by FIFA.

Calls to install video review and goal-line technology only increased after Lionel Messi was denied a goal when his shot from outside the area clearly crossed the goal-line. The match in Valencia was scoreless when Messi thought he’d scored in the first half at Mestalla Stadium.

“Everybody saw it, except those who actually had to see it,” Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta said. “It was very clear. It’s a shame, because in these plays the technology would be ideal. I’m sure that those responsible are taking note so that it can be implemented and we can avoid these problems in clear situations like this, when there is no possible interpretation.”

Goalkeeper Neto was unable to hold on to Messi’s shot and let the ball slip between his legs toward the goal. It bounced clearly over the line, but the linesman did not see it and let the play continue after Neto rushed back to swat the ball away.

Barcelona players immediately complained to the linesman and the referee. After seeing the play on television at halftime, they complained again, and after the match Messi used his hands to gesture to the referee how much the ball had crossed the line.

Barcelona also had a goal not count last season when a ball crossed the line in a league match against Real Betis. This season it benefited when the officiating crew did not see a ball cross the byline in a play that led to its goal in a match against Malaga.

“Technology will change things and will improve football,” Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said on Monday. “As a coach and someone working in football, I want it to improve, without a doubt. We’ll gain some things and at the same time lose other things, but it’s inevitable.”

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

VAR problems causing major headache for Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) Accusations of manipulation and incompetence have dogged the Bundesliga’s trial of the video assistant referee this season, forcing the German soccer federation to act quickly to pacify angry team officials.

The DFB dismissed Hellmut Krug as head of its VAR project this week after tabloid claims he influenced two key decisions in a game between Schalke, his hometown club, and visiting Wolfsburg on Oct. 28.

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Lutz Michael Froehlich, the head of the federation’s refereeing department, will take over.

Krug and Marco Fritz, the video assistant operating in Cologne that day last month, denied the allegations, and the DFB said it was impossible for supervisors to intervene during games. But the federation evidently felt a fresh start was needed after weeks of controversy since VAR started this season.

“The pilot phase of the video assistant has relentlessly exposed problems that have long existed in some areas and must now be finally resolved,” league president Reinhard Rauball said on Tuesday.

VAR was supposed to help referees avoid mistakes and ensure fairness in games, but even at the start there were technical problems that hindered video assistants’ ability to make the right calls in Cologne, where they sit for games.

Video assistants were forced to make offside decisions without the aid of computer-generated lines because of a flaw in the technology.

Not all video-assisted decisions have been clear-cut and there have been other controversies, too. Cologne felt particularly aggrieved over a goal scored by Borussia Dortmund in their game in September, awarded after video consultation despite referee Felix Brych blowing his whistle before the ball crossed the line – signaling a break in play.

Not using VAR has also led to anger and frustration. Stuttgart was the victim last Saturday, when Dzenis Burnic was sent off early in its 3-1 loss in Hamburg with his second yellow card. Referee Guido Winkmann acknowledged after the game that it was unjust decision.

[ MORE: Revs to hire Friedel ]

“It’s a game-deciding decision after 12 minutes that’s totally false,” said Stuttgart coach Hannes Wolf, who blasted the video assistant’s inability to get involved. “The person in Cologne can’t say anything. I find that ridiculous, that there’s someone there professionally who’s not allowed say anything. It doesn’t make any sense.”

At the start of the season, the DFB said the technology was only to be used “when the referee on the pitch has made a clear wrong decision or missed a decisive incident” around goals scored, penalties or free kicks, or during substitutions.

Kicker magazine, however, reported that the federation wrote on Oct. 25 to the clubs saying VAR had also been used in other instances since the fifth round of games, a so-called “corrective course” over which the clubs had not been informed.

“The whole communication from the DFB is catastrophic at the moment,” Borussia Moenchengladbach sporting director Max Eberl said. “If you have a test phase and want to change the whole system, then that’s fair enough. But everyone should also know about it.”

Fans are also upset, frustrated by the breaks in games while referees consult monitors on the sidelines, then by goals reversed after celebrations, or other decisions going against their teams – even when the decisions are technically correct.

The DFB has had other problems with its referees, too. Manuel Graefe was reprimanded last week for making allegations of nepotism and a lack of transparency against Krug and Herbert Fandel, the chairman of the referees committee, when it came to selection for games.

“The two of them threw together the referee list how they wanted it,” Graefe told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper in August.

Graefe stuck to his position last month, saying in a personal statement that he wanted more “justice and transparency” and that “the influence of Herbert Fandel and Hellmut Krug unfortunately still means the opposite.”

Now that Krug has been removed, the DFB hopes the attention will return to the soccer, though it will need to sort out the problems affecting VAR before that happens.

“Every product is only as good as how it is processed and communicated,” former referee Markus Merk said.