MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The introduction of VAR at the last World Cup proved one thing for sure: It’s nigh impossible to remove controversy from soccer even at the highest level.
The technology — short for Video Assistant Referee — has transformed the game, but not everyone agrees that the change has been for the better.
Part of the reason is because the rules of the game remain open to interpretation, so there still aren’t enough camera angles or slow-motion replays to reach a unanimous consensus for every incident on the field.
At some point, human discretion will still be required, and that opens up the potential for argument.
Even matters that can be determined using frame-by-frame evidence are not immune from dispute. A classic example would be the number of offside calls labeled to be “against the spirit of the game.”
Some argue a modicum of common sense should give the benefit of the doubt to the attacking team. The logic being that a measurement that could be as small as the length of fingernail should not be enough to see a goal disallowed.
The problem, however, comes when deciding where the new bar should be set. Should it be the length of a finger? A hand? An arm?
It becomes a discretionary call — and from there comes the issue of consistency, of human error, of controversy.
For so long coaches have stuck to the mantra of wanting consistency. However unsatisfying the use of VAR is for offside calls, it is, for the most part, consistent.
Yet in October, Tottenham manager Antonio Conte was sent off for his furious reaction after Harry Kane’s injury-time goal against Sporting Lisbon in the Champions League was ruled out.
There was period at the 2018 World Cup when it felt like everything was a penalty — there were a record 29 at the tournament four years ago. After that came a spell when penalties were endlessly being retaken because of the number of encroachments or premature movements from goalkeepers, all of which could be meticulously dissected back at VAR headquarters.
The system has ironed itself out since then, but controversy remains.