Transparency and accuracy?

Published: Monday, 19 December 2016

Shoma Doi. Make a note of his name. He went down in history this past week. Any idea how or why?  Let me help you.

Shoma Doi of the Kashima Antlers.  On the face of it he didn't do too much special, he simply scored a penalty for his team on Wednesday December 14 2016 at the FIFA Club World Cup.  What made it special is that his was the first penalty to be awarded by a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in the Suita City football stadium, Osaka.

Everybody involved in the tournament was quite pleased with themselves. Gianni Infantino was of the opinion that the historic decision ushered in a new era of 'transparency and accuracy' for football.

Dutch official Danny Makkelie, who took charge of the Hawk-eye technology for two games at the tournament, said 'it's been fantastic to go live at a FIFA tournament after a lot of practice over the last year'. Makkelie was referring to his time working as a VAR in the Dutch Cup, where they've been experimenting over the past 12 months. We've discussed all this dozens of times on beINSports Keys & Gray.

FIFA's Head of Refereeing, Massimo Busacca, added 'The main point of the technology is that no-one loses because of a refereeing mistake'. Really? Ask the Kashima Antlers about that. I think they'd vehemently disagree after their experience in the final of the CWC v Real Madrid. I'll come back to that.

So a lot of self congratulation - but let me add a few facts that might get you thinking. Do you know how long it took between the offence that was spotted by the VAR in the Antlers match and Doi's kick to score it? The answer is five and a half minutes! Play carried on for two and a half minutes  before the ref, Hungarian Viktor Kassai stopped to consult his VAR - took advice, wondered over to a replay machine situated on the side of the pitch, looked again at something neither he nor his assistant originally thought was a pen, and then awarded the kick. The rest of the time was taken up by fierce protests from the opposition, Atletico Nacional. The score at the time, incidentally, was 0-0 and 33 minutes had been played. It was a farce. An absolute farce.

Here's are my next issues - in the two and a half minutes that the game carried on while the VAR studied what he 'thought' he'd seen - what if Nacional had scored? What if they had been awarded a penalty? What if a player had committed an offence that might have seen him sent off? What happens to the five and a half minutes that were wasted? Do the opposition get them back? And what if Kassai had decided he didn't agree with the VAR, after all, the decision  was a matter of 'opinion' not 'fact'?

I can answer a few of those questions. Busacca says 'if a goal were scored before there is a play that needs to be revised, the goal would be annulled'. Really? This is nonsense. We're heading into a chaotic mess that hasn't bee. Properly thought through.

VAR was also used in Real's semi-final, when a goal from Ronaldo was given - correctly on this occasion because he wasn't offside - but the delay was again unacceptable and it completely diluted the celebrations of his 500th club goal.

It was used on one other occasion - in the final. Here's what happened. This time Zambian official Janny Sikazwe was in charge. Late on in normal time, with the score 2-2, Sergio Ramos clipped an opposition player in mid-field. Ramos was already in the book and despite an indifferent protest in his defence, he expected to walk as Sikazwe went for his cards again. A long delay followed as Sikazwe appeared to be in touch with his VAR - then nothing. Ramos scuttled away as the Kashima players protested furiously. The strong belief is Sikazwe was told to leave Ramos alone. The match went to extra-time and Madrid won! What a surprise!!

I have to be honest and say I hate the idea of our game being taken over in this way. The above example is one of how it's wide open to abuse. Doi's pen was arguable and signalled chaos. Look - on matters of 'fact' maybe, but even then I'm not convinced.

Here's the most recent example I can give you as to why I'm not. Was City's equaliser v Arsenal off-side? Even with the technology we can't all agree. For me it was. For a lot of others watching it wasn't.

How about Sterling s winner? The moment Silva makes an attempt to play that ball the new interpretation says he's off. If he wasn't then why was John Stones' goal v Soton disallowed? Aguero made a dart across the near post - tried to head a ball that he was nowhere near, and the flag went up. Stones was 'on'. So why wasn't Silva off? Again, no-one could agree, even with multiple replays available. In an argument like this whose 'opinion' do we rely on?

I was against goal line technology, not because it couldn't be useful, but I said when it was introduced that it would be the thin end of the wedge. I knew this impending mess would be forced upon us.

Our game is different to Rugby, Cricket, NFL and others where technology is already used. Those games have natural breaks, during which decisions can be discussed. I hate the idea of football going the same way.

Infantino says we need 'transparency and accuracy'. We need transparency all right, but we need that at FIFA! As for accuracy, yes - we should always be looking to improve standards, but if we sanitise our game completely what will we have left? What will there be to discuss? Not that I believe VAR will deliver. I actually think we'll end up arguing about even more! Maybe that's the strongest argument for adopting it! But it's not for me. You have been warned.