Vertonghen: VAR forcing players to ‘change the way we defend’

Jan Vertonghen
Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
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Jan Vertonghen believes the ongoing introduction of video review is forcing players to change the way they play the game — and in particular, the way they defend — in the wake of a nearly season-altering call that went against Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.

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Tottenham defender Danny Rose was adjudged, only upon video review, to have committed a handball offense inside his own penalty are, resulting in a penalty kick being awarded to Manchester City in the two sides’ UEFA Champions League quarterfinal clash. Prior to Bjorn Kuipers’ video assistant alerting him to a possible offense, there were no protests from Man City’s players.

Hugo Lloris bailed Rose and Co., out of trouble by saving Sergio Aguero’s ensuing penalty kick, thus negating the impact the decision had on Tuesday’s game. Vertonghen’s more specific point, however, that it’s a slippery slope to review incidents like this one in slow-motion, is a worthwhile and well-reasoned one — quotes from the BBC:

“Football is always a very emotional game, and VAR is changing that a bit. I think we have to change the way we defend.”

“I think so many things look like a penalty in slow motion. We are not pulling people down but even a small touch, if you watch it 20 times in slow motion, it will give so many more penalties.

“I think in the next few years in the Premier League, you will see at least 20, 30, 40 more penalties. I think we all need to adapt. Sometimes you can’t do anything else than put your body on the line. It’s important that referees think as a football player sometimes.

“You can’t even touch anyone. Before it was quite physical, but in a fair way, now you are too scared to get close to someone.”

It’s important to note that Vertonghen isn’t saying video review is bad, or that he doesn’t like it; he’s offering his honest assessment of how it’s been applied thus far and how he sees that affecting the way the game is played. He’s being anything but critical.

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The most interesting part of Vertonghen’s comments are the ones regarding slow-motion replays. He’s 100 percent correct in his point that our interpretation of fouls, among most other things, are drastically altered by slow-motion replays.

For instance, to see Rose slide into the path of Raheem Sterling‘s shot and block the ball with his arm in slow motion, because the replay takes so long to view from beginning to end, we are tricked into thinking, “He’s had plenty of time to put his arm down there, that’s his fault for leaving it up,” when in reality Rose has made the decision to slide in, actually slid in, the shot was fired and he’s blocked it with his arm all in little more than a second’s time.

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For this reason, slow-motion replays shouldn’t be used for anything other than to confirm a certain action happened (i.e. did the ball hit the player’s arm, or did it come off his chest/shoulder first?). As for determining intent of offenses like handball or red-card tackles — the same thought process as before applies to a player leaving his studs exposed above the ball — referees should only be shown full-speed replays to make VAR decisions.

VAR has already changed the way the game is refereed — for the better, largely — but it’s going to change the way players play it for quite some time. The powers that be need to ensure VAR doesn’t turn into a practice of micro-management and over-analysis on false pretenses.

Video review will be introduced in the Premier League beginning with the next season in August.