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There were many talking points from last weekend’s fixture between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. It was a brilliant game. Tottenham were outplayed, outthought and outmaneuvered for long periods. On another day they could’ve lost by five or six and had any thoughts of a serious title challenge comprehensively dispelled eight days into the new season.
As it was, however, they capitalised on two mistakes, Ederson and Kyle Walker’s positioning, to take a share of the points back to North London. However, it wasn’t Man City’s domination that was talked about afterwards, it wasn’t Tottenham’s smash and grab and it wasn’t Aguero equalling Alan Shearer’s record for most goals at a single venue or even the same man spitting his dummy out at being substituted. No, it was the 92nd minute “winner” ruled out by Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for scraping the arm of Nicolas Otamendi that took all the headlines.
On the face of it, I was as frustrated as the next football fan that the goal did not stand. The handball was totally accidental. The deviation of the ball was minimal and not a single Tottenham player had a complaint to make. I, personally, do not see why that goal is one that we don’t want in football when you consider that in comparison to almost every other sport a scoring point in football is a rarity. We would surely prefer to encourage the possibility of goals as much as possible?
The problem is the anger for the decision is wrongly directed at VAR. The decision referral system simply enforces laws and aids the referee if they have missed something. The new handball law states that if the ball hits the arm of an attacker and that phase of play results in a goal it will be disallowed regardless of whether it was intentional. That is exactly what happened. It’s not an interpretation; had the referee seen the incident it would have been given. It is the law that is the issue, not VAR.
Since moving to the Gulf, there aren’t many things I haven’t enjoyed. I love the people, the place and the cuisine amongst many other things. However, it pains me greatly that I have had to return to listening to Andy Gray and Richard Keys on the weekends. Their analysis is steeped in hypocrisy and half-truths. They talked after the game about the idea that VAR was supposed to end debate and make sure that teams got what they deserved. Keys said that fans come to the game hoping to be a part of the drama and that VAR was taking that away. After years on Sky Sports moaning about incorrect refereeing decisions costing teams; you’d have thought they might embrace technology.
It is almost as if Keys and Gray did not understand that just because they had created a debate, it did not mean a debate was necessary. Under the new handball law, an offence was committed and penalised exactly as it should have been and Tottenham subsequently got what they deserved within the rules of the game. They debated the handball but there was nothing to debate. The stats are clear on that one too. With VAR, the accuracy of correct decisions made on average is 99.3 per cent. Maybe Keys and Gray are just aware that correct decision making leaves them with a whole lot less material to work with.
I’m not sure if the assertion that the decision took away the drama is true either. Gabriel Jesus and the City fans went from ecstasy to despair and Tottenham did the exact opposite. By his own admission, Jermaine Jenas, pictured bottom right, a former Tottenham player, went from head in hands to a knee slide across his living room upon witnessing the decision be overturned. There was no passion lost, no holding back on celebrations, I would argue it had more drama than any other game that day and probably more drama than most games this season will have.
They also talked about the penalty that was not given in the first half on Rodri and it’s true it should have been a penalty, but the referee saw the incident and chose not to intervene. Keys and Gray were actually unintentionally advocating more use of the system, not less.
They did say one thing that I can get on board with. VAR is here and it is here to stay. Teams are going to get what they deserve with the highest degree of refereeing accuracy that we have seen in the Premier League and I don’t believe it is going to reduce any of the drama. I, too, am disgruntled with the manner of how the goal was disallowed but that is an issue for the rule makers to iron out, not a problem with VAR.