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Video technology has resulted in 18 penalties awarded, seven rescinded, ten red cards and ten disallowed goals but it is also removing emotion from Serie A

5 January ~ With Serie A at the halfway point, bar two postponed games to be played on January 24, this seems an appropriate moment to consider what effect the use of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has had on results. There are two video referees in a van with eight TV monitors. One sees the images in real time, the other with a time lapse of three seconds. They can confirm the referee’s decision with a "silent check", or suggest that he consults a monitor located at the side of the pitch

According to official statistics, there have been 45 potentially game-changing decisions attributable to VAR. Eighteen penalties awarded, seven rescinded, ten red cards and ten disallowed goals. But these numbers need to be put in context. Referees’ assistants have been instructed not to flag for marginal offsides in possible goal-scoring situations to avoid the risk of valid goals being disallowed, as happened when an erroneous flag cost Torino a potential winner at Bologna with VAR unable to rectify the error.

So to say that VAR disallowed a goal often tells only half the story because pre-VAR the assistant would probably have flagged anyway. An example was a “goal" scored by Riccardo Orsolini that would have given Atalanta a 6-1 lead over Crotone. Replays showed that he was clearly offside, and it is unlikely that the linesman missed it. It is reasonable to assume that most of these “goals" would have been disallowed pre-VAR.

An exception is a goal by Mario Mandzukic in Atalanta v Juventus that would have given the latter a 3-1 lead. It was disallowed for an elbow by Stephan Lichtsteiner on Alejandro Gomez some 30 seconds earlier and missed by the referee. By the time the goal was scored we were into a new move and, though the foul did occur, I think the goal should have stood. As it was it enabled Atalanta to draw the game 2-2.

On the penalties, we can say that the seven given and then rescinded owe everything to VAR. The last example was in Inter v Lazio when the ball struck the arm of Inter’s Milan Skriniar after bouncing up off his foot. For the 18 penalties awarded after consulting VAR, we can never know how many would have been given without it, or how often the referee consulted it to confirm his original impression. But it is highly likely that many of them would have been given anyway.

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It is ironic that the first “victims" of VAR were Juventus, with a penalty given to Cagliari on the opening day and then missed. A week later we had proof that the system is not foolproof. Another penalty against Juventus, at Genoa, but with a Genoa player involved in the move offside.

Controversy has not disappeared, as the baffling penalty awarded to Sampdoria in the 90th minute with the score 0-0 against SPAL for an accidental collision between SPAL’s Federico Viviani and Gastón Ramírez shows. As for the red cards, again we are in the realms of hypothesis. Some would have been shown anyway, and for others the referee probably consulted VAR for confirmation. That is what happened when Atalanta’s Remo Freuler was sent off against SPAL for a foul on Viviani.

So of the 45 "game-changing” VAR interventions in 188 games, probably only about 20 had the potential to alter the result. Twenty out of maybe 10,000 decisions made by the referees of those games. And perhaps in a few games the decisions did ensure a “fair" result, most recently in Inter v Lazio. It is also true that protests have diminished. But the price, games interrupted sometimes for as long as four minutes, is a high one to pay for so little gain. For a game of continuous ebb and flow, football already suffers from “natural” interruptions for injuries and substitutions. To add another one seems perverse. 

Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi has said that having to wait to see if goals are valid or penalties awarded is robbing the game of much of the emotion that is the reason why we play and watch it. I agree. Goal-line technology is fine, but VAR is too invasive, and also encourages the notion that without it refereeing errors decide most games. Fortunately, I can continue to enjoy my VAR-less Serie D matches. With their one referee and two assistants, they almost seem quaint these days. Richard Mason


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