•Many of the penalty decisions awarded in the Women’s World Cup would not be given - and neither would the call against Moussa Sissoko of Tottenham in the Champions League final.
•Mark Clattenburg looked brilliant in the Champions League because he let the game flow, mocked any attempts at play-acting and favoured the leniency we enjoy in the Premier League.
With the new Premier League season a month away, VAR is still proving problematic, but not to worry— referees chief Mike Riley has a solution. We’re going to play a version of the rules: you know, like we always do.
The English game, says Riley, will be softer on handball, for instance. Many of the penalty decisions awarded in the Women’s World Cup would not be given - and neither would the call against Moussa Sissoko of Tottenham in the Champions League final.
“There are areas of interpretation around the way the new handball has been written - what you consider to be an unnatural position of hands and arms,” Riley explained.
“In this country, we have always said that arms are part of the game and as long as you are not trying to extend your body to block a shot, then there is more scope so that we don’t penalise.
“We have worked to our guidelines for the last three or four seasons and, by and large, people accept that interpretation and I don’t think it changes.”
And to many, this is fine. Some of the calls in France this summer were too harsh. Yet what do managers demand? Consistency.
And here we are, building inconsistency into our game. It means the seven English teams competing in Europe will play to different rules from at home; the national teams will, too; and what of English referees in international competition? Whose rules will they favour: Uefa’s or ours?
Mark Clattenburg looked brilliant in the Champions League because he let the game flow, mocked any attempts at play-acting and favoured the leniency we enjoy in the Premier League. Yet he wasn’t always as well thought of in Europe, for precisely those reasons. He let players get away with a level of physicality that was not present in their domestic leagues. He was often the source of outrage.
The Sissoko decision did not raise an eyebrow across much of the continent while here many considered it unjust. And now we’re signing up for more moaning, more controversy - because we don’t actually want consistency if it means change.
Fifa took the blame for the VAR drama at the Women’s World Cup, but for once it wasn’t their fault. Hope Solo spoke of women footballers being used as guinea pigs, overlooking that the 2018 men’s tournament in Russia also utilised VAR.
The problem this summer was the standard of the officials, who were not used to deploying VAR and involved it too readily. Officials from men’s leagues could have been used instead, but that decision would have attracted equally negative scrutiny. And it is hardly Fifa or VAR’s fault if Cameroon’s players do not understand offside.
One of VAR’s problems is that it is identifying infringements with a precision that feels close to unfair. Golf had similar trouble when television viewers started calling in with foul shots that could not be seen with the naked eye in real-time. Otherwise imperceptible movements of the ball, after it had been addressed.
Ultimately, it was decided this was against the spirit of the game. Maybe the same will happen in football regarding hair’s breadth offside calls, or glances of the ball to hand. Maybe there will ultimately be an equivalent of umpire’s call when the decision is so close it could not be seen with the naked eye.
Maybe one day the English interpretation of handball will be considered the sensible one, and the rest of the world will fall in step with Riley and the Professional Game Match Officials.
Until then, however, we have chosen inconsistency, grey areas, debate and, ultimately, confusion. We will play our version of the rules and wallow in the moans, gripes and cries of injustice that go with it. We shouldn’t, however, pretend it is VAR that is dysfunctional.