If the idea behind introducing VAR was supposed to eradicate wrong decisions from football, it is failing miserably. This was evident once again during the quarter-final first legs of this season’s Champions League games.
The controversial technology was put to use at the games featuring Tottenham v Manchester City, and Liverpool v Porto. Despite the offences at both games that were reviewed being similar under the new laws introduced by UEFA, two totally different outcomes were awarded.
Tottenham’s Danny Rose was penalised for handball in the area, whilst Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold wasn’t. Rose had raced into the area to block a Raheem Sterling effort, when referee, Bjorn Kuipers, was asked by VAR if he would like to take a closer look.
Incredibly, Kuipers, having reviewed the footage from different angles, pointed to the spot and gave Rose a yellow card for a deliberate handball. Yes, the ball hit his arm, but did the referee really view this as intentional? The penalty was ultimately saved, and justice seemed to have been served.
At Anfield, Alexander-Arnold was given a reprieve after referee, Antonio Mateu, reviewed an incident that saw Liverpool goalkeeper, Alisson, punch the ball away, which hit his defender in the penalty area on the arm.
UEFA has instructed referees to punish players who use their arms in a way that makes their own bodies bigger. The laws do not make an allowance for player proximity or how fast the ball is travelling. So, if Rose was punished for the ball hitting his arm when blocking a shot, then why not Alexander-Arnold, especially as the Liverpool defender’s arm was a lot further away from his body than Rose’s when the ball hits.
During the same Liverpool game, VAR was not used to alert the referee of a reckless shin-high challenge by Mo Salah on a Porto defender, which left the Portuguese side furious. The studs-up challenge looks worse every time you see it, but no action was taken, allowing the Egyptian to play in the return leg in Portugal.
If Mr Kuipers views Rose as using his arm to deliberately block Sterling’s shot, and what other conclusion can we come to from the yellow card he awarded; but Mr Mateu sees Alexander-Arnold’s incident as accidental, where does that leave us? At the same time, just because one TV match official thinks Salah’s challenge isn’t worth looking at again, it doesn’t mean another one won’t. It is just a referees own opinion, but highlighted from many different angles, and in HD.
VAR could be good, and it is working in some areas of the game, such as off-side decisions, off the ball incidents, and late challenges (although not in the case of Salah). But the UEFA directive has muddied the waters when it comes to what should or should not be given for handball in the penalty area.
The game risks becoming a debacle if penalties are awarded for unintentional handball, and defenders especially, will have to approach defending a completely different way. Common sense should be applied – something UEFA have little of.