VAR or no VAR, that is the question...? Actually it's not a question anymore as tonight, for the first time in the Champions League, as the competition reaches the Round of 16 stage, we'll see the debut of the VAR system. It makes its entrance into Europe's premier competition with many people still doubting the benefits of introducing technology into the game. Many of us from, shall we say, a more senior vintage still see this system in the same way we do when we were confronted with a brand new washing machine in the home. There's no doubting the ability of the appliance but we don't trust all the flashing lights and buttons, all the programmes for whites or coloured washes.
VAR: Shades of grey
VAR has all manner of protocols that our resident referee Iturralde, among others, devote themselves to explaining, but the reasoning of the professionals in no way avoids the frustration of those who feel cheated, even when faced with the concept that once the action has been calmly reviewed the truth will appear. It has to be remembered that the truth is a slippery concept. Whether it was offside by 10 millimetres one way or another, whether it was a penalty or not depending on whether it was a foot or a knee, was that push enough to give a foul or not... The darned washing machine is a little more straightforward, calmly ready the instructions and one works out what to do. The VAR system isn't so easy, it's not just coloureds and whites, but greys too....'Interpretation' comes into play.
There's one referee on the pitch and another "up there" as we say, because it feels like they are higher up, but in reality they are at ground level, in our case in Spain at the Spanish FA headquarters at Las Rozas. The referee on the pitch makes a call, his colleague in the booth decides if it's been correctly decided and if not, he offers him the chance to decide it the other way, after showing it to him on a pitch-side screen, except where that ref himself (the one "up there" that isn't "up there" but in Las Rozas) decides it's a 'geographical' incident and his lines show, by a number of badly-measured millimetres, what the truth is. Half-truths, but vital ones: if it's a goal, if it's a penalty... There is still plenty of work ahead for the VAR system as it makes its debut in the UEFA Champions League.