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VAR cry: Don't blame it on the video ref

Manton St Tales

A-League fans have been left flummoxed with some of the decisions upheld by the video assistant referee in recent weeks. But, Spiro Karanikos-Mimis argues, the blame does not lie with VAR.

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Remember the good old days of soccer before VAR came into our lives?

None of those horrible delays, being able to celebrate goals without fear that the decision would be reversed and the complete lack of controversy about refereeing decisions because we were all perfectly happy when officials missed things or made errors…

Our game needed VAR and it has proven to be valuable in the decision-making process.

Does it still need some refinement?

Yes, absolutely.

The game needs to address the speed of decisions and provide more clarity about decisions for fans at the game.

But, all-in-all, it has been a welcome addition.

Over the past few weeks, there have been some on-field decisions that have gone to the VAR for review and were not changed.

Fans and commentators have blasted the VAR.

But, if we take a closer look at these controversies, the VAR is not to blame.

How the VAR works

To understand the VAR’s role, you first need to understand what it is allowed to decide on.

According to the International Football Association Board (IFAB):

The referee may receive assistance from the VAR only in relation to four categories of match-changing decisions/incidents. In all these situations, the VAR is only used after the referee has made a (first/original) decision (including allowing play to continue), or if a serious incident is missed/not seen by the match officials.

The referee`s original decision will not be changed unless there was a ‘clear and obvious error’ (this includes any decision made by the referee based on information from another match official e.g. offside).

The categories of decision/incident which may be reviewed in the event of a potential ‘clear and obvious error’ or ‘serious missed incident’ are:

  1. Goal/no goal
  2. Penalty kick/no penalty kick
  3. Direct red cards (not second yellow card/caution)
  4. Mistaken identity (red or yellow card)

Handball and penalty against Louis Fenton (Melbourne City versus Wellington)

Despite Fenton’s expletive-laden post-match interview where he denied the ball hit his arm, it’s clear from the video that it did.

The on-field referee decided that, under the new handball rule, this is an offence and hence awarded a penalty.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the new handball rule is a condom on the prick of progress.

The law says:

It is an offence if a player:

 It is usually an offence if a player:

 The above offences apply even if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from the head or body (including the foot) of another player who is close.

 Except for the above offences, it is not usually an offence if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm: 

 The goalkeeper has the same restrictions on handling the ball as any other player outside the penalty area. If the goalkeeper handles the ball inside their penalty area when not permitted to do so, an indirect free kick is awarded but there is no disciplinary sanction.

The key to the on-field decision, in this case, are the terms:

Basically, it gives enough discretion to the on-field referee that allows a decision like the one against Fenton to be a valid one.

And so, the VAR automatically reviews this decision and must decide if the on-field decision is a clear and obvious error.

Under the new rule, it is not.

The VAR cannot overturn the decision based on the evidence.

The issue lies with the handball rule and the masterminds at IFAB who though this new rule was clearer than the old rule.

No goal given for a ball which appears to be over the goal line (Western United versus Western Sydney)

Watch this one here.

This is interesting, mainly because it shows how the A-League desperately needs goal-line technology.

In the Premier League, the technology immediately alerts the referee if the ball has crossed the line.

In the A-League, it’s left for the on-field referee and their assistants to make a decision, which the VAR then reviews.

The law says:

A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no offence has been committed by the team scoring the goal.

I don’t think it can be argued with any certainty that the whole ball crossed the line.

The broadcast camera angles don’t provide any further clarity on the situation and even screen shots like the one below don’t provide a definite outcome.

There is just not enough conclusive evidence to rule this as a goal and the VAR had no choice but to uphold the on-field decision.

No penalty for the Jets (Newcastle Jets versus Perth Glory)

Watch this one here.

The on-field referee has made a decision based on his interpretation of the direct free kick law.

A penalty is, of course, a direct free kick that is awarded inside the penalty area.

This law says:

A direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences against an opponent in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:

 If an offence involves contact, it is penalised by a direct free kick.

 A direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences: 

 Out of all the decisions I’ve looked at, this is the one I found the hardest to accept because we’ve all seen penalties given for much less.

But, if you take into consideration the law, and then watch the video several times, you will notice:

  1. There is every possibility that the Jets player (Fitzgerald) infringed his opponent as he tries to get to the ball (arm on shoulder).
  2. The ‘push’ from the Perth player has minimal force.
  3. Fitzgerald either kicks the ground or his opponent’s foot.

It is the referee’s interpretation that this passage of play doesn’t meet the rules of a direct free kick.

Again, the VAR cannot overturn the original decision as there is simply not enough evidence to argue that this was a clear and obvious error.

The VAR was introduced to football to eliminate cock-ups like this one:


It is easy for fans to vent anger at a decision towards the VAR when, often, they aren’t able to change the on-field decision.

You might not like VARs, but they are here to stay.

And another thing…

Melbourne City recently signed the son of Cássio, arguably Adelaide United’s best ever left-back.

Bernardo Oliveira is an attacking midfielder who has represented Australia at youth level.

Cássio (whose full name is Cássio José de Abreu Oliveira) is expected to follow his son to Melbourne and take on a role with City.

If this does happen, it will mean White City, who recently appointed the Brazilian as their head coach, will need to be on the hunt for a new mentor.

The attacking full-back was absent from United’s Legends squad which played a curtain-raiser before the weekend’s win over Brisbane.

This suggests that things are still not great between him and the Reds after his acrimonious exit in December 2014.

And one more other thing…

Adelaide United has confirmed on Twitter that Rollin’ Along, the much-loved-unofficial-club-song, is returning.

It will be played after every home win.

Rollin’ Along was used by the club in its inaugural season but was (stupidly) dumped for a ridiculous ballad called United Forever which flopped from the first time it was used.

Rollin’ Along, which is based on the American military’s The Army Goes Rolling Along, is a welcome return and something that should’ve happened years ago.

Though, there might be a need to re-jig the lyrics slightly, which start with “Come on boys, make some noise”.

Replacing “boys” with “all” seems the logical answer.

Spiro Karanikos-Mimis is InDaily’s soccer columnist.

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