VAR in the spotlight again

The penalty decision given in favor of Barcelona against Valencia on Sunday, served to further diminish the reputation of VAR.

For the record, at first it did seem like a penalty to me watching the moment live. Ansu Fati had a clear shot on but José Gayà came in from behind to send the Barcelona striker tumbling. Referee Gil Manzano saw it clearly enough and immediately blew his whistle for a penalty. But the replay showed that Gayá had achieved the almost impossible by actually getting a leg to the ball first.

When contact occurred between the players, Gayá had already put the ball out of reach of Fati. We could see that clearly on the TV, but Gil Manzano acted in line with absurd protocol. Since there was contact, the penalty is given on the spot and VAR doesn’t enter into the decision.

The VAR debate

I remember a debate about VAR between Emilio Butragueño, Vincente Del Bosque and myself a few years ago, when the system’s arrival was imminent. Del Bosque and I were very skeptical. But Butragueño said something that left us thinking: “It can't be that any fan from home can see a replay of a badly made decision repeated seven times and that only the referee does not have access to the replay to rectify the decision.”

LaLiga - FC Barcelona v ValenciaSoccer Football - LaLiga - FC Barcelona v Valencia - Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain - October 17, 2021 Valencia's Jose Gaya fouls FC Barcelona's Ansu Fati to concede a penalty REUTERS/Albert Gea

He is very much right, and that's why VAR was brought in. But it was accompanied by the fever of protocols and nonsense that have been all the rage. The result: we all saw what Gil Manzano couldn’t see due protocol, and his error stood, much to the detriment of the Valencia players.

Before VAR, this would have been a definitive penalty once Gil Manzano blew his whistle with no chance existing to reverse the decision. But with VAR, not using the system in this instance adds an ugly dimension to the injustice.

This penalty did not define the game (which ended 3-1 to Barcelona), it was only one of a few things that did, including the purity of Ansu Fati's shot for the first goal, Carlos Soler's shot to the inside of the post, Ter Stegen’s save on Guedes, and the monumental oversight of the Valencian defense in Coutinho's goal. The penalty was just one of those plays. Its uniqueness is the fact that it highlighted the usefulness of VAR.