It’s probably fair to say that before a ball was kicked at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the majority of football fans in England were unconvinced about VAR. In all honesty, many preferred that it stayed off English shores altogether. These sentiments were echoed by various chairmen and managers as the teething stage in the respective cup competitions didn’t go down well.
The general complaint was that it interrupted the flow of the game and left fans in a confused limbo as the decision was made over in a room at Stockley Park in London. At the end of the day, supporters felt disconnected and when it comes to change, well, it’s human nature for people to be against any form of it.
That was obviously until the World Cup took place and illustrated what a useful tool VAR is and when shown to be transparent, can actually make for thrilling viewing. There were a record-breaking number of penalties awarded at the 2018 World Cup, with 29 all in all. Every single one of them was put under the microscope of the Video Assistant Referee. Most were awarded after play had carried on and it seemed like justice had been done once the ball went out of play and the world got a closer look at just what exactly had gone on.
There have now been 19 penalties awarded at the 2018 World Cup; more than in any other tournament in the competition’s history.
VAR effect. 📹 pic.twitter.com/3b5jEbAacv
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 25, 2018
Fouling in the box during a set-piece has plagued the game of football for years, with defenders getting away with murder as they tackle and impede the players trying to win the ball in the air. VAR shone the spotlight on it at the World Cup and there is no longer any place for a clumsy defender with ill intentions to hide, with VAR watching their every move.
That is, there is no place for them to hide outside of England; the Premier and Football League will now embark on a season without it and there’s a feeling that the early skepticism of VAR may have been misplaced.
There was a stark reminder about the justice VAR brings and how it will absent in the Premier League this coming season during a match between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates. At 2-0 down, the Gunners had a corner taken and during the melee to get to the ball it was clear to see Benjamin Mendy holding Shkodran Mustafi in a headlock before pushing him to the ground. The ref waved play on as Mustafi’s protests fell on deaf ears and one was only left imagining how quickly VAR would have given a penalty and card to Mendy. City cantered to a win in the end but how different would the last ten minutes have been with Arsenal only a goal down and the Emirates crowd right behind them?
During the same opening weekend of the Premier League Manchester United had a penalty awarded in the first minute of the game against Leicester after the referee had rightly seen a handball and made the call. It turned out to be a big decision as United needed two goals, in the end, to secure all three points after Jamie Vardy grabbed a late consolation goal.
The victory against Leicester has given them the perfect start but still, not everyone is convinced Mourinho’s men can win the title as the odds on Man Utd to win league 2019 are 20/1 on the Betfair exchange. The title race will almost certainly come down to refereeing decisions given how effective everyone has seen VAR can be and on Friday, Manchester United were on the right side of justice but that’s bound to change at some stage.
The successful introduction of VAR at the World Cup does beg a few questions and makes you wonder about how much it will influence the outcome of a title race in seasons to come should it be introduced at the end of the 2018/2019 season. On the other hand, it also makes you look back retrospectively and wonder how different things could have been.
Would Stoke have survived so many seasons in the Premier League under Tony Pulis given that their rugby style tactics when defending went unpunished for so long? Would Ryan Shawcross have forged a career at the top? Could Ireland have gone to the World Cup without Henry’s handball and would Maradona’s Hand of God stood?
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) June 5, 2015
There’s no doubt new history will be written but it will have a far less controversial look to it in years to come as VAR is here to stay and clean up the game.