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Newcastle's Var farce shows football needs less technology not more

Referee Szymon Marciniak is surrounded by PSG and Newcastle players - Referees striving for perfection is ruining the game – football needs Var less not more
Referee Szymon Marciniak awarded PSG a stoppage-time penalty following an on-field review - Reuters/Sarah Meyssonnier

Anyone who watched Newcastle United concede an injury-time equaliser, away to Paris St-Germain, and says they are keen to see more decisions decided by Var is part of the problem not the solution to football’s ills.

There is only so much any of us can take. Enough is enough. We do not need more technology to help officiate games, we need to scale it back. We need less interference, not more.

This is not about Newcastle United being denied a famous victory that would have put them on the brink of qualification for the knockout rounds of the Champions League - although it was yet another awful example of why Var is ruining the game.

It is more to do with the fact the people running our game are seriously discussing whether to use it even more, to look at every free-kick, corner and throw-in. Given everything we now know about Var, how it has been used and what it has failed to do, an alarm bell should be ringing.

Some will argue it is not the technology that is the problem, rather the people who are using it. PSG were not defeated and pushed to the brink of an early exit from the Champions League because a remote referee had access to countless, slow-motion replays from every conceivable angle, they were awarded a penalty because Uefa’s handball law is ridiculous and open to this sort of rigid interpretation.

Uefa has instructed its referees to be stricter than the Premier League in administering the handball law whereas Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the refereeing body in charge in elite English football, has adopted an approach where body position is more crucial in decision-making. How has football got into the position where arguably two different competitions have two separate interpretations of the same law?

This is also missing the point. It is the inconsistencies in decision-making that ensure technology has not improved things. Mistakes still happen, arguments are still had, complaints are still made.

By its very definition, a subjective call such as the one that decided Tino Livramento had to be penalised because a ball bounced off his chest and brushed his elbow as he ran, will never be perfect. There will always be different opinions, the laws are open to interpretation. Consensus is impossible. Var does not change that and it never will.

The ball strikes the arm of Tino Livramento, resulting in a penalty in Newcastle's Champions League draw at PSG
The ball struck Tino Livramento on the chest before hitting his elbow, yet a penalty was awarded - Getty Images/James Gill

Referees will never get every decision right, no matter how many replays they watch. Yet, those in charge try to tell us we need more technology, more replays, more interruptions. They are striving for the impossible, a game without mistakes, and will ruin the sport in pursuit of it.

This season has felt like a tipping point for Var; the moment we all became Luddites. People are tired of the constant complaints about how it is used, the lack of consistency in the decision-making, the mistakes, the perceived injustices and biases, the increasingly unhinged managerial complaints and those embarrassing club statements.

We spend more time talking about refereeing decisions than ever before; the match action fading into the background as endless column inches and hours of airtime are filled with debates about decisions right and wrong.

Newcastle were superb against PSG. Nick Pope, a goalkeeper cast aside by England, made a string of incredible saves. The 17-year-old Lewis Miley was magnificent in midfield on his first Champions League start, as was Livramento, who at the age of 20 has a bright future ahead of him and will be in the England set-up very soon. .

But the big talking point was the penalty and why referee Szymon Marciniak buckled under PSG pressure having been told to look at his screen by a video referee, whispering in his ear, sitting in front of multiple screens, with a succession of slow-motion replays.

Football used to be about entertainment. For most of us it still is, but we are swimming against the tide of technology and, like the sea, it keeps coming and threatens to engulf us all.

We are tired of listening to the increasingly time consuming and tedious conversations about refereeing decisions. Every week we get at least one game ruined by it - the match action forgotten, superseded by endless noise about whether a decision was right or wrong.

To an extent this has always been part of football’s soap opera, but the technology supposed to clear things up, to remove mistakes and blunders, to help referees get things right, has made things worse not better.

For the first time, serious conversations are taking place in football circles about the need to reduce the remit of the video referees; to go back to a time when the referee’s decision on the pitch was all that mattered, to limit Var’s interference only when, in the true sense, a clear and obvious error has been made.

Referee Szymon Marciniak reviews the PSG vs Newcastle handball incident on a pitchside television screen
Is it time to return to a simpler time when the referee's decision was final? - AFP/Alan Jocard

That is surely the consensus among match-going supporters? Those who have their goal celebrations curtailed by the dreaded Var check; who stand around waiting for a decision to be made from an invisible bunker miles away with no idea what is going on most of the time.

But rather than scale it back, the people in charge of running football want to ramp things up; to increase, not reduce the video assistant’s role.

They want more technology and new rules in a foolish quest to improve the game. Discussions are underway about whether Var should be expanded to include ruling on the likes of free-kicks, corner kicks and second yellow cards.

The idea this could be done without inflicting more breaks in play and more delays seems ridiculous. We have all seen how much disruption Var already causes to the ebb and flow of a matchday.

It means even a more sensible idea, such as the introduction of sin-bins for dissent or the introduction of an orange card, for offences somewhere between a yellow and a red under the existing laws, somehow send a shudder down the spine.

Clamping down on dissent from players by ordering them off the pitch for 10 minutes if they abuse a referee or complain about a decision, sounds intriguing. But so did video technology to prevent clear and obvious errors once upon a time.

The worry is all that will be achieved is another layer of disagreement. Do we seriously think that all these new ideas will solve football’s problems when subjective calls will still be made.

Do we think ruling out a goal from a corner because the ball skimmed the sock of the winger after bouncing out off the defender will make the game better. Do we really need to triple, quadruple check a throw-in or pause the game to tell the referee that a foul might deserve an orange card rather than a yellow?

I already know the answers and I think you probably do, too.

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