The hullabaloo surrounding VAR and the correct way to implement the technology has perhaps overshadowed one of the more basic elements of match officiating.
The 2018 World Cup saw referees making basic errors that affected game results. In the biggest knockout competition on the globe, it is quite easy to reach the conclusion that the initial planning for this new method was undercooked a tad.
Still, maybe before the game runs, we should perfect our walking a little.
This is best exhibited by a little incident in our recent win over Watford in the Premiership.
Alexandre Lacazette picked up the ball in Watford’s box and darted forward, aiming to get a better, closer angle to shoot. He evaded his marker, but Christian Kabasele was on his right hand side and made an ugly attempt to stick a leg in. His distance was too far away to win the ball legitimately, unless he was related to Inspector Gadget. His upper leg connected with the side of Lacazette whilst on the move.
Freeze the moment.
Most players go down at the merest sniff of contact in the box. If these players are approached, they have mastered the art of simulation, so much so that referees have been duped on many occasions.
Their duplicitous actions earn a penalty, more often than not it is decisive in terms of result, and cheating is rewarded.
We so often hear the phrase, “there was contact so the striker was entitled to go down.”
This is an infuriating epidemic, and one that must be stymied, but how can this even begin when players know unless they go down and re-enact a Shakespearean tragedy, they won’t get a dime?
Back to the Watford incident. Lacazette was buffered to the side, and his centre of gravity was off. He gamely battled to not only regain his balance, but also fire off a shot – but the chance was gone. Kabasele’s illegal intervention was a timely one, and it meant Watford kept on an even keel.
The referee who failed to blow his whistle was Anthony Taylor – a name that is synonymous with erroneous moments for Gooners. Kabasele, at the moment of impact, threw his hands up in the air as if to signal that he didn’t touch him. It certainly worked, but for a professional referee to miss such contact is staggering.
We shouldn’t be surprised though.
In every single game, on multiple occasions, we see grappling, tugging, pulling – blatant fouls – going on in the seconds before a free-kick or corner. Every team is guilty of it, and yet there is no referee who upholds the rules in this regard.
So, to be objective, can we really hold serial divers up as enemies of the game, when they are fully aware that if they don’t go down in the box like they’ve stepped on a beartrap, then there is little to no chance of a penalty being awarded?
VAR is meant to the be the saviour of the game, one that will absolve all ills. Something that the ref isn’t sure of? He can canter off to check a wee monitor and then install justice.
The problem with this is – as we saw during the World Cup – if the referee hasn’t the firmest grip on the rules, then no matter how many angles or how slow the slo-mo is – then justice will still be a stranger.
So, diving will remain a big part of the game. As with every facet of our beautiful sport, there are a multitude of grey areas. Nothing is black and white.
Even diving has a reason behind it.
And it all stems from bad refereeing.
PGMOL needs to step in and rise to the standard that a multi-billion pound industry demands.
If we were to go into work and make the errors we moan about each week – how long before we’re clearing our desk?