"VAR feels the impact of the Real Madrid juggernaut." That was the title of my editorial amid the controversy over the penalty not awarded for Gerónimo Rulli’s challenge on Vinicius Júnior in early 2019. Because of the fall-out it generates, the acid test for new referees is making a mistake in a game involving Madrid, be it in their favour or not. Many lose their way after the first, and in the football world it’s said you haven’t earned your wings as a ref until you’ve collided with the Madrid juggernaut. On that occasion, it emerged, Bernabéu chief Florentino Pérez called Luis Rubiales, the president of the RFEF, and thereafter the idea that VAR was only to intervene to correct clear and obvious errors went up in smoke. It started to meddle in minutiae (just look at the penalty awarded against Vinicius the other day) and went from being a source of support for the referee to being a complication.
VAR has descended into an inconsistent shambles
Yep, VAR has certainly felt the impact of the Madrid juggernaut. The Rulli-Vinicius incident wasn’t a blindingly obvious penalty; it wasn’t the kind of scandalous injustice that technology had been brought in to prevent. Since then, VAR has dived headlong into borderline calls - and the problem is everyone thinks the fouls they want given in their favour aren’t borderline at all and those the other team appeal for are insignificant. What was conceived to right major wrongs has become an inconsistent shambles that leaves nobody happy. Just as every referee has always applied a differing level of strictness to particular incidents when they’re out on the field, the same goes for their officiating in the video booth. And they’re just as sensitive to what will be said about them afterwards, particularly when Madrid are involved (again, whether or not they’re the beneficiaries).
Rivals' complaints over Real Madrid VAR calls bear fruit
During their title-winning LaLiga run-in last season, there were several moments when the VAR calls went in Real Madrid’s favour. Their opponents - led by Barcelona’s Gerard Piqué, who never misses an opportunity to take aim at Los Blancos - kicked up a fuss about it. Earlier this term, Barça boss Ronald Koeman then also moaned about the penalty given to Madrid at the Camp Nou after a video review. They haven’t had another spot-kick since, leaving Madridistas to feel aggrieved at Barça and Atlético Madrid’s higher penalty count, not to mention VAR's pernicketiness in the Éder Militão and Vinicius incidents during Saturday's defeat to Levante. Where it always went in their favour, it’s now going against them. Their rivals are reaping what they sowed, just as Pérez did before. As they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. With or without VAR.