Sport Writer, Kit Shepard, gives his reaction to UEFA’s recent announcement that VAR will be used in the Champions League as of next season
It divided the nation in the FA Cup. It divided the world last summer. It will soon divide us every other Tuesday and Wednesday night. VAR is coming to the Champions League.
After a meeting at their headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland last month, the UEFA Executive Committee confirmed that the Virtual Assistant Referee system will make its debut in Europe’s premier club competition next season. The technology will be introduced in the play-off round in August 2019 and will be used in every Champions League match in the 2019/20 season thereafter.
So, we are set for big changes (and more penalties) in European football, but not everyone is happy, with some believing that VAR only increases controversy and ruins the speed of the game. Yet although it has its flaws, football fans should welcome the introduction of VAR to the Champions League.
Prior to this year’s World Cup, many were sceptical about the increased technology, and they had a right to be. VAR had been trialed in last season’s FA Cup and was, quite frankly, abysmal. While the right decisions were made eventually, the key issue was the excessive time the process took, as the lengthy delays and lack of communication for fans turned these contests into a farce. At this stage, the future for VAR looked bleak.
However, things changed this summer. VAR, when used as it was in the World Cup, is a worthwhile addition to football, and the Champions League will be better for it. When the video referees were called upon in Russia, the decisions were made relatively efficiently, and controversy, for the most part, was reduced.
If Russia 2018 taught us anything about VAR, it’s that the system is only as good as the referees on the pitch. For whatever reason, the officials during the FA Cup fiascoes had not adapted to the technology, resulting in the lengthy delays which disrupted the game’s flow. On the other hand, the referees in the World Cup were far better trained to cope with the new system, thus allowing them to communicate quickly with the video assistants, make the right decision, and resume proceedings with little fuss. UEFA referees, who have the best part of a year to prepare for VAR in the Champions League, should be able to do the same.
VAR cannot totally eradicate incorrect calls in football. Although replay makes it obvious whether a player is offside many decisions, especially fouls, handballs, and the colour of the card, are subjective and can be debated for eternity, even with the technology. Nevertheless, the system gives referees the opportunity to reverse the calls that are obviously incorrect. If they still get it wrong, that is the fault of the person making the decision, not VAR.
Video assistants will not make the Champions League perfect. Occasionally, a penalty decision will be questionable, or the game will be delayed unnecessarily, as the World Cup showed. Despite this, if VAR can be used in the Champions League as it was in Russia, then its sporadic shortcomings are a small price to pay.