A LOOK AT LA LIGA
"Explain VAR to us in your SUR column!", requested a rather confused football fan I met on the Costa this week.
Well, they only give me 500 words to play with, so it won't exactly be comprehensive!
As an international commentator, I was invited to the 'Church of VAR' to be given an induction into the new cult last summer. In a windowless room near Heathrow Airport, known to many as Stockley Park, we were greeted by a celestial character who I knew existed but had never encountered in human form, Mr Mike Riley.
For an hour or so he and his refereeing associates calmly persuaded us to appreciate their new way of thinking. Most of it makes absolute sense; borderline decisions could be assessed by an experienced referee and clear mistakes could be overturned. You are almost converted there and then.
There is a reality check when they take you to the actual control centre where decisions that could potentially lead to a multi-million-pound fallout take place. What appears to be a team of recent graduates greet you, drawing digital lines across the pitch aligned to a knee, toe or armpit. It leads to a long debate about what part of the anatomy can be offside, but they assure you that on matchday it never takes more than 82 seconds.
One leaves with a better appreciation and a certain understanding. Managers, players and fans wanted consistency in decisions. Offside is offside - no disputing. The digital lines are like speed cameras, no longer is there an official or linesman estimating distances; it becomes an exact science. Like 31 miles per hour exceeds the 30mph limit.
The main problem for me is in the communication of the Laws of the Game.
Fans don't really understand the laws of football and make their own interpretation. It needs the officials to wear a microphone and the decisions to be explained. It needs the incident to be played on the big-screen at the stadium. But not all grounds have one! Bizarrely, Old Trafford and Anfield are two lacking the facility.
There's a clamour for referees to head to the pitchside TV monitor which would add to the theatre, but it's highly unlikely to lead to more accepted decisions unless the paying fans get to hear his thought process and why he's reached his final conclusion.
On the whole, VAR is working. After a debut season in La Liga we were told that correct decisions rose from 91% to 96%, player protests were down by 17.3%, seven red cards were issued for unseen incidents and diving reduced by 68%. I've no idea either how they reached those figures.
No longer does the man with the whistle get booed by the fans; they chant about a being they know exists but can't see. They call it VAR, Video Assistant Referee.
José Mourinho makes a salient point that it's a misleading term: "The referees are not the referees; the Video Referees are the ones making the big decisions."
I'm in agreement, but is that a bad thing if the big decision is the correct one?