Video Assistant Referees (VAR) have finally been introduced into the world of soccer. The concept of having computers next to the soccer field helping the match officials has been around for close to a decade. The idea has now become a reality. Along with the anticipation VAR brought, it also brought many mixed emotions after its debut on the professional soccer field.
In the highest competitions of soccer, such as the World Cup, Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League, the Spanish “La Liga,” and Italy’s Serie A, VAR has been at the heart of each and every fixture.
For the many soccer fans that think that VAR is beneficial, a large portion of those bemoans the fact that the English Premier League, arguably the most competitive domestic league in all of soccer, does not have VAR. However, it is certain that VAR will be in the Premier League next season. Premier League fans are dying to have VAR in their favorite league. For Cardiff City–a Welsh club in the Premier League–who is face-to-face with the formidable relegation zone, VAR would have helped them dearly. The three clubs who are in the worst positions in terms of performance throughout the season will face relegation. Relegation is when a team gets demoted into the lower league–the English Football League (EFL) Championship–while the three top teams of the lower league get promoted to the Premier League.
Huddersfield Town and Fulham Football Club are already confirmed as relegated, which means it is inevitable that they will be in the EFL Championship next season. Cardiff sits in 18th place–third to last–with only four games left. However, an immensely important match against Chelsea Football Club, who are currently 5th place, resulted in the worst outcome possible. Despite leading the game 1-0 for nearly 90 percent of the match, Chelsea ended up climbing back and beating them 2-1 on Cardiff’s home turf. However, many Cardiff fans and anti-Chelsea soccer enthusiasts were infuriated with Chelsea’s first goal of the game.
Marcos Alonso flicked the ball with his head from a corner by Willian, and from an incontrovertible offside position, Chelsea’s captain César Azpilicueta headed the ball into the goal. An offside position is when an attacker gets the ball, affects the view of the opposing goalkeeper on an incoming shot, or touches the ball, all while behind the last defender of the opposing team. Offside is only in effect past one team’s halfway line. Nevertheless, Cardiff City manager–head coach–Neil Warnock, who is known for expressing his opinions in brash ways, said that “My wife would let me hit the referee!” Warnock was obviously angry at the match officials for not realizing this offside immediately since the offsides was such a clear call that should have been made.
With this goal in the 84th minute, keep in mind that the game is 90 minutes, Chelsea carried their newfound momentum and in stoppage time–additional time added on at the end of each half dedicated for any time wasted due to injury, technical complications, or dawdling from players–in the 91st minute, Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored the game winner.
Of course, this was not only devastating for Cardiff because they lost the game after leading for almost the entirety of it, but because it seemed that it would cost them dearly in their fight to stay in the Premier League for the 2019/2020 campaign.
However, VAR–or a lack of it–is not solely a disappointment. Although Willem Hale, XIIIs, think that VAR might be “a little late to the game, to be honest,” he stills think that it would help the sport in the near future. “I know hockey and [American] football has it, but it was a very big deal that soccer has it. But a lot of other sports have it. I think it’s a really good idea, though. It’s important, a lot of controversial calls could be changed. Like Maradona’s ‘Hand of God,’ that goal became a big scandal, kind of.” Willem is referring to Maradona’s infamous goal that he used his hand to score. It was the first goal in a 2-1 game against England in the Quarter-Finals in the World Cup 1986. Many called it “the Hand of God” because the Argentinians believed that God wanted Argentina to advance because they ended up winning the World Cup that year. “Nowadays, VAR would have changed it. Back then, the refs had to make the call on the spot, and they were under a lot of pressure and they had to make a split-second decision. For example, on YouTube, there are a lot of videos called ‘Most dirtiest soccer moments.’ But now VAR can prevent those players from being dirty. I think VAR can make soccer the elegant and beautiful game that it once was.”
There was one situation where two teams, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspurs, faced each other twice in the same week; but in different competitions. In the UEFA Champions League Round of 16–the first stage of the elimination level in the Champions League–Manchester City won the game 4-3 but Tottenham advanced into the Quarter-Finals because they had scored more away goals, which has traditionally been the tiebreaker to the Champions League. However, in the Premier League–which does not have VAR–Man City only one 1-0. Both games were played in Man City’s home arena: the Etihad Stadium.
“The Manchester City versus Tottenham game [was my most memorable moment with VAR]. I thought that they [Man City] were going to go through, but it was ruled offsides. But I think that it was a fair call, the referees did take some time to review it, I think it was fair,” said Sam Kassel, a student in the XIsJ. However, Sam said that VAR was beneficial and that one of the only poor things about it was that it was not in the Premier League; like many other soccer fans. “I think that it [VAR], sometimes, takes too long. If they can make it so that it doesn’t have to take so long I think it would be good. But I think it should be in the Premier League too. It is one of the most competitive leagues in the world. In the Man City game vs Tottenham [in the Premier League] there could have been a bunch of penalties but the refs didn’t call them because they didn’t have VAR to review the appeals of the players.”
There have been major successes where VAR brought justice to the team that deserved it, some of which the naked eye of a referee possibly could not have been able to spot. In the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United clashed together and sent shockwaves when the two games were over. In the first leg of the contest, PSG came out victorious on the road in Old Trafford, Manchester, England. They won 2-0, with Marquinhos and Kylian Mbappe, a 20-year-old sensation of an athlete that is deemed to be the best footballer in history.
United had a mountain to climb. But as Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær infamously said on live television, “Mountains are there to be climbed.” That proved to be the case. Manchester United came storming into PSG’s stadium, Le Parc des Princes and grabbed a 3-1 win. They advanced to the Quarter-Finals because they had scored more away goals.
In the 94th minute, the 4th and last minute of stoppage time, Diogo Dalot of Manchester United sent a hard shot. It looked like it was going to fly over the goal. However, Presnel Kimpembe of Paris deflected the ball and the refs called for a corner. However, in the VAR room–VAR is not fully automated, it is simply a group of people inside a room reviewing the footage of the match and advising the head referee on what to do; it is like most reviews in other sports: Such as basketball, baseball, American football, and hockey–they decided to call the head referee for a review on what looked like a handball.
In that split second, the potential became a reality. Man United fans were absolutely ecstatic, while PSG fans were drained and devastated. Paris had invested over $300 million on just a couple of players, in hope that they would bring home the Champions League trophy. However, getting through the Round of 16 seemed unlikely.
Marcus Rashford would take the penalty. It would be his first penalty taken at a professional level, but it would be one of the most important shots he would take. An unimaginable amount of pressure is on the young striker’s shoulder, the entire stadium silently affixing their eyes on him. However, unfortunately for PSG fans, Rashford was not an average 20-year-old. He was mature beyond his years, the British Mbappe. He blasted past his adversary, the 41-year-old Gianluigi Buffon who had waited his whole life to win the Champions League trophy–which sadly may never be achieved. Two polar opposites, two different objectives, one result. One goal. Marcus Rashford had scored. He did not care where it went, just as long as he hit it as hard as he could into the back of the net he knew he would score.
Man United advanced into the Quarter-Finals on away goals less than two minutes after that converted penalty kick. All thanks to VAR.
Sources: UEFA, the NBC Youtube Channel, Daily Mail, and the Bleacher Report Youtube Channel, and iNews –