As a longstanding advocate of help for referees that they themeselves can request, I had mixed feelings about the biggest story to emerge from England’s visit to Paris.
Increasingly in international tournament football you are seeing players deciding against making challenges that might result in them costing their team in their attempts to advance.
Pepe is one obvious exception and who can forget his reckless head butt representing Portugal against Germany during the last World Cup?
I know the game in the Stade de France on Tuesday was only a friendly, but no one can tell me that Raphael Varane was intentionally trying to do something that might jeopardise his side’s chances, even if there was equally scant evidence that he intended to take the ball.
Dele Alli, meanwhile, did exactly the right thing in running across his opponent and forcing Varane to choose between initiating contact or back off altogether.
It was the first time the senior England team had entered a game under the jurisdiction of VARs, and only the second time for France, who won 3-2 on the night. The 35-year-old Italian ref Davide Massa had Marco Guida and Massimiliano Irrati to call upon in the broadcast room in addition to Andrea Crispo and Fabiano Preti running either line.
We all saw Alli go down and Massa reach for the yellow before pausing and, just as those of us on the technology side of the debate have been calling for, electing to turn the decsision over to those with supposedly better angles.
This is where interpretation comes in, of course. It’s also a perfect illustration of how those who welcomed the ushering in of ‘going upstairs’ as if this would be the silver bullet to end all disputes for evermore were always missing the point.
The letter of the law may not make allowances for mistakes here, but it’s not as if the lad Varane was scything anybody down, so count me in the camp alongside those that viewed the resulting decision extremely harsh!
Mandatory verdict on denial of a goalscoring opportunity or not, the FIFA switch over triple jeopardy could easily have prevailed for me. However, despite all the fuss leading up to VARs coming in, it only took 60 seconds all told, so the argument that the game’s flow is inevitably ruined certainly was not sustainable in this case.
Harsh or not, I am still convinced the road we have started down will be of long-term benefit.
What it will take on the part of everyone, but most obviously the supporters, is a period of acclimatisation. During that period there is a good chance we will see more reds than yellows when you get similar situations to this, but so be it, I feel it’s a price worth paying, and managers will also probably have to learn to bite their tongue from time to time!
As someone who has personally always called for refs being able to ask for more help, I’m prepared to see things evolve and settle down before rushing to proclaim the whole thing a success or failure.