Andy Townsend was talking to Alex Griffiths
Since my call for patience on the VAR front last month there has been a hell of a lot of negativity thrown at the whole idea, mostly attributable to the inconsistent results of the ongoing testing that was such a feature of the recent Confederation Cup held in Russia one year ahead of the big one.
It is a long-held conviction of mine that the international community always have a different take on innovations to what we do, by which I mean you could see such hiccups coming a mile off. Let’s not judge the whole thing by its growing pains in a world tournament before we have had the chance to see what works ourselves in our domestic competitions.
And let’s not forget that the question we should be asking is: do we want a major final decided by an error or do we want such games marshalled on a more consistent basis?
What comes to mind personally is always that Thierry Henry handball which cheated Ireland out of a place in the 2010 World Cup finals. What happened in Paris that night made me leap off my sofa and outraged plenty more people besides, the world over.
So the question is not ‘do we want to dilute or elongate the game beyond recognition’ at all, and if you ask me, part of the problem is that the seemingly doomed dalliance with the assistants behind each goal have not been seen to work. To be brutally honest, they have only succeeded in multiplying the grey areas.
That should not mean we stop looking for the best solution, however, and I am convinced that is exactly what VARs will prove to be. Let’s face it, we have all seen those guys with their wands duck a lot of decisions and for all the world look like they are being paid to stand idly by and do absolutely nothing when it comes to helping their mate in the middle.
They certainly won’t be missed when the time comes, but that is no reason to stand in the way of the kind of assistance that comes in the most practical form we can find…
If you are still with me, surely you can agree that, before anyone caves in to all the bleating, it is not really the principle but the way we apply it that is going to take us all time to adjust to.
For me it’s of entirely secondary importance when the issue of populating that broadcast room is raised. Their qualifications, their exact number and their layers of seniority are far less significant than their ability to eliminate mistakes, whether the ref is reviewing incidents pitch-side or not.
Ultimately it is the mechanics that will dictate whether VARs are deemed a success or a failure.
And quite simply, the comparisons with other sports are only worthwhile in that they underline how the crowd must be kept informed. They must not be left to scratch their heads, as happened in Russia, as to whether a decision is being reviewed at all, never mind what is being deliberated and by whom. Get the gestures right, for a start.
Formula 1 has it right, and to a lesser extent rugby, cricket and tennis, because the crowd is able to feel part of the process due to its clarity. I am not calling for every word of every deliberation to be broadcast, which is why I mention F1. It is such a technical sport that we don’t need to hear every last word between driver and his team in the pit.
For me, the thing works because we are told just enough.
Now, after only a whole season in place, the goal line tech is tried, tested and trusted. It is clear, precise and it works.
Therefore, what we have to do as we approach our own trials with VARs is establish what does not work, and as long as communication is seen to improve throughout the bedding-in then we should get there in the end.
As soon as it is up and running and the players and fans understand exactly what VARs are being used for as well as how long they are being asked to wait, that’s when we will truly find ourselves able to give it the thumbs up, or down.