The debate about the merits of video replay in soccer continues, and England will get a taste of the new technology in the FA Cup. But is it truly worth the trouble to implement, or will it cause more controversy?

By 90Min
January 08, 2018

Well, this is it. English football will follow it's counterparts from Italy Germany, Portugal and the United States, and embark on the footballing journey that is the Video Assistant Referee.

Monday's FA Cup third-round tie will see one Premier League referee: Andre Marriner in charge events on the pitch, while another: Neil Swarbrick, watches on from a screen in London, directing him to view a screen on which he will be able to review certain incidents within the match.

This move into a new age of technology in football is one that is slowly but surely taking place across the world of football, and at this level at least, will be impossible to escape.

But is the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) really the start of a brave new world, or simply another source of frustration for fans both in the stadium and sat at home. 

The first issue around the new system is that VAR is used for decisions that are largely based on opinion. 

This is not like in cricket, where a batsmen is either in or out, or in Tennis, where the ball either landed inside the service area or not, or in Rugby, where the ball either crossed the tryline or was held up before (and besides, Football has goal line technology for that).

Instead, VAR will be used for decisions such as whether or not to give a penalty, and how many times do we see debates over whether those decisions where right or wrong continue even after watching replays of the incident on numerous occasions. Take for example, Hector Bellerin's challenge on Eden Hazard during Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Chelsea at The Emirates just last week. On Sky Sports' commentary, Gary Neville was convinced the penalty award was the wrong decision, whereas Sky's studio pundits all felt the challenge was worthy of a spot kick.

We have already seen decisions over tight incidents such as these cause hold ups several minutes long in games in countries where VAR is already in use, so does this not suggest that the only thing VAR will do is keep us all waiting a few extra minutes, kill the pace of the match we're watching, before we all go off and have the same debate we would have had anyway.

Admittedly, there are some incidents where VAR will be able to open and close a case in a matter of seconds - just ask Arsene Wenger -  but even then we are in danger of losing the passion that we all love so much from the game. It is not rare in Italy, Germany, or any other country where VAR is used, to see a goal ruled out thanks to VAR only sometime after the celebrations have stopped.

If such a thing is to become a regular occurrence, then will we see a time where a stadium remains silent for minutes after a goal, while everyone waits for the referee to check with someone who isn't even in the ground to give the ahead for the celebrations to begin or not - in football, it really is the hope that kills you, and that's before anyone even gets into the issue of how far back in play will an incident have to be before a video review of it is rendered obsolete.

Then comes the issue of logistics. For a game such as the one that will be used to trial the system tonight, there will be plenty of television cameras to offer those watching a video feed of the match every angle they could possibly want to view a tackle from, but that will not always be the case. Many games further down the pyramid are filmed from just a single camera, and many grounds would likely struggle to support the extra facilities needed for VAR to be operational (lest we forget that goal line technology is still only used in the top tiers of English football).

So while the notion of world where football is free from the influence is one we all think we would love to experience, the fact is their are too many incidents within football that are open to interpretation for that to ever be possible, so why interfere with a game that gives us so much to discuss just the way it is. 

After all, the British love to moan, and football fans love to moan about referees even more.

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