Sunday 4 June 2023

Some thoughts on VAR as the Domestic Football Season ends

 The domestic season is over. My team, the amazing Manchester City have done the double. I can't complain. But I will. Not about the football. I think this season has seen some of the best football ever and not just in the Premiership. As well as City. I have been a part time Wrexham fan for possibly 30 years. One of my best mate's Keith comes from North Wales. We used to work together and at some point in the in 1980's, he mentioned his mates were coming down from North Wales to watch them and have a few beers and a curry. I tagged along. I loved it and ever since I've watched one or two games a season. This year it was at Borehamwood and Wealdstone. The Wrexham fairytale is well known, but the best thing for me was the lack of VAR at the games. The same is true of my non League team, Hadley FC, who completed a first season in the 4th tier of non league football. The simplicity of a ref giving a goal and the crowd celebrating is something I now savour delicuously. 

I was at Wembley yesterday. I missed the first goal after 14 seconds. We were still making our way to our seats. I joked to Matthew, my son, that this meant it was inevitable that City would win 1-0. That was not to be. At the half hour mark, Ortega, the City keeper threw the ball out after a failed Utd attack, the City midfield were knocking the ball around, when the ref, seemingly inexplicably, blew the whistle and went to the pitchside monitor, to award a penalty for a handball. I doubt a single soul in the stadium had a clue what for. The United fans went mad as Bruno Fernandes (known in my house as "The AntiBruno, as our dog is called Bruno) slotted the ball home. The VAR decision was not shown in the stadium. I didn't see what happened until I got home. I cannot help but feel that it was an exceptionally generous decision. Grealish was clearly not trying to handle the ball. It was an accident, brought about by the fact that he was right next to the Utd player. As the decision did not affect the result and possibly made it a better game, I am not saying this as sour grapes, but the system doesn't work. If a player has no time to adjust their position and there is no intent, then it simply should be deemed accidental contact. 

From my perspective, as a fan who goes to games (not one of these armchair experts, who sit watching games in their front room, tweeting furiously with the benefit of 27 camera angles), my biggest gripe with VAR is that no one ever has a clue what is going on in the stadium. We pay a fortune for privelige of going, but get an absolutely third class service. Those who pay nothing and watch at home know exactly what is going. Fans in the stadium don't see the lines, don't see the dodgy handball. 

Another bugbear of mine is that yellow cards are not reviewed. If a ref gets it wrong, then either a player gets away with a serious foul unpunished or perhaps even worse, a player gets a yellow and then spends the rest of the game walking on eggshells. Wan-Bissaka was one such player yesterday. He got a card, whereas Fred got away with a borderline red card. If it was up to me, such decisions would be reviewed and if it is completely obvious that a player hasn't touched someone, then just tell the ref and get on with it. He can rescind the yellow card. 

One other aspect that I would like changing is the sanction for play acting. I would make any attempt to cheat to win a penalty or free kick an instant red card, or even better, ten minutes in the sin bin. Once the message got through that it wasn't worth it, the cheating would stop. 

I'll finish with a few observations with regards to the game. Lets start with Manchester United. Now I do not like the team at all, but there are a few rather obvious things that I am sure any United fan would agree. The first is that David DeGea is past his sell by date. His distribution is awful for the keeper in a top team. His saving grace has always been his prowess as a shot stopper, but he was a spectator for City's first and I have no doubt he would have saved City's second five years ago. The City fans cheered every time a Utd fan passed back to him, as we had an expectation that he'd give the ball back to us. As for the rest of the team, there is simply a lack of creativity and an aversion to take chances. The teams that have given City a problem this season have been prepared to have a go. I have no doubt that United have enough talent in the squad to do far better. They looked terrified. In the second half, there were a whole string of unforced errors. There has been a lot of talk that Ten Hag is doing a good job. All I saw was a team that didn't want a spanking. That to me is not how a United team should play a cup final. They only had any real threat when Garnacho came on. He played without fear and would be my Man of the Match for United.

Then there is City. I felt they were a tad below par, if I am honest. I suspect that they had the Champions league final on their mind. G√ľndogan has surely done enough to get a new contract. If I was the City top brass, I would keep him at the club and get him into the management team. I believe he has what it takes to be a top manager. Rodri bossed the midfield and Dias looked unruffled the whole game. I suspect they will have to play a lot better to win the Champions League. It is fascinating watching City. Guardiola has changed football. The technical quality of players today, especially goalkeepers is incredible. I suspect that DeGea may well be the last "shot stopper" to play for a major club.  I recall when Guardiola got rid of Joe Hart, I was gutted. I guess I now know why he's the best manager in the world and I'm a blogger!

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