Did anyone ever really believe VAR would end the arguments?

Published: Monday, 13 February 2023

Let’s start with something positive to do with VAR. Top marks to Howard Webb for having the balls to admit VAR got it wrong at Arsenal and Selhurst Park - where Brighton were the victims of a ghastly mistake.

It’s never easy to accept decisions when your own team has been wronged. But it makes it a damned sight harder when officials gang up and refuse to admit their mistake.

That’s the world we lived in under Mike Riley. He was an incompetent weak ref before being appointed top ref at the PGMOL. Like every schoolboy who’d been bullied before finding their way into a position of power, Riley exacted his revenge at the PGMOL. It was his way or the highway - and he wanted the last say on everything. Even when Sheffield United scored a perfectly good goal at Villa - that we all saw was in - Riley came up with some nonsense as to why VAR couldn’t intervene and give the goal. Bournemouth were relegated as a consequence - not Villa, who should’ve been. So much for VAR ending mistakes of ‘enormous consequence’ as we were promised.

Lee Mason was in VAR watching Arsenal v Brentford. He got it wrong. Toney’s equaliser shouldn’t have stood - if you believe in finding ways to disallow goals. I don’t. I don’t know why we look so closely at marginal offsides. Whatever happened to giving the forward the benefit of the doubt when it’s tight? Anyway - if you do believe in making it harder to do the hardest thing on the field - score - then the goal should’ve been disallowed.

My mate Keith Hackett, who was once in charge of the refs, called for Mason to be sacked in his column in The Telegraph. I disagree. I actually feel some sympathy for the guys in VAR. I always have.

I’ve said this many times - watching football on tv is an art form. It takes years to understand what you’re looking for and why. It’s nonsense to believe that you can be a ref one day and sit in a bunker watching a tv the next. It’s different. Very different. I know Mason is full time VAR now. So is Mike Dean and that’s a move in the right direction. VAR operators should all be full time. I’ve also said that from day one. But it still takes a long time to adapt to watching football on tv.

If Mason were to be sacked what next? No-one would feel comfortable in that bunker. They’d all be on edge and too afraid to get involved. There’s an argument that that wouldn’t be a bad thing but we couldn’t operate like that.

I don’t like VAR. I never have and I never will. It’s ruined our game, but it’s not going away.  So we have to work out the best way to use it and Howard Webb needs time in order to do that. He’s admitted errors this weekend and I trust him to make it better.

Only this is for certain - those who promised that VAR would end the on-field debates were either naive or dishonest - perhaps both.   

Oh - did anyone hear the howls of protest from Arsenal when Saka looked like he might have been offside in the build up to Martinelli’s opening goal v Liverpool? No. Nor me. Remember - VAR told us The lino didn’t flag and the cameras weren’t calibrated properly, so the onfield decision of goal stood because they couldn’t prove Saka was offside. I could. I could see he was. Oh - Riley was in charge then.

There are many more examples of how VAR got it wrong proving, I suppose, that even with the technology decisions even themselves out across a season!

Who advised Guardiola to come out swinging in his press conference last week? My goodness - what a mess he made of his defence of City - in the face of 115 charges from the PL relating to their conduct. The first thing he said was wrong - City weren’t found ‘not guilty’ after they appealed UEFA’s charges to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Yes - a two-year CL ban was overturned, but only because it was ruled that a two-year statute of limitations had passed and UEFA were denied the right to press charges once it had. But City were still fined. You don’t get fined if you’re innocent. The PL don’t have such restrictions to worry about. Their charges will have to be answered - in full.

So Guardiola was wrong about that before going on to arguably libel 9 PL teams and naming Daniel Levy as responsible for pursuing the charges. If I was Levy I’d ask Guardiola to prove that claim in court.

Then came the Sunday’s take on it. Their reporters get an embargoed time with the coaches all on their own at those press conferences. Tv and the dailies can’t touch what they’re told. Guardiola’s argument to them was that City weren’t responsible for Gerrard’s slip. Come on. Nah nah na nah na. Pathetic.

What should’ve happened is that somebody in authority at City should’ve told Guardiola to avoid talking about the charges at all cost. Keep it simple - well, as confusing as his team selections - but as simple as he could. Football only.

Klopp wants us to blame him for Liverpool’s decline. I did last week. I will again. I repeat - you can’t put the decline on FSG’s toes. Klopp is responsible. He’s to blame for letting an ageing side get too old to be fit for purpose. Ok Jurgen?

It didn’t take long for us to be right about Nathan Jones did it? Just a week. I told you in my last blog that Southampton would make another change. They had no choice. But this time you can blame the owners. Whose idea was it to employ Jones? Does that individual escape without criticism? He shouldn’t - and he shouldn’t be anywhere near the process of finding the next coach.

One last thing. I was delighted to read today than Newcastle will wear their famous black and white stripes at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final. Good decision. Do you remember they they changed into their Saudi national kit for the game at OT? I know why teams do it - especially Newcastle - but there’s nothing like watching your team play in their proper kit on big days out. So black and white stripes it is. And I have to admit I hope they win it. They’re long overdue.