With the restart of the football season now just over two weeks away (at time of writing) excitement amongst supporters is growing. But amongst the many things to look forward to, one is sure to be the resumption of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) and its use for offside calls.
Before the shutdown there had been outcry over goals being ruled out because of toes or arms being offside and over the time it often took to make a decision with pundits often repeating the phrase, “This isn’t football.” But really that isn’t the case.
It might not be football as we are used to it, but it is football. For a long time now the offside rule has been quite clear, if any part of the body that can legally play the ball is ahead of the play then the player is deemed to be offside. All VAR has done in this case is allow for more marginal offside calls to be spotted.
So you might say, therefore that VAR isn’t the problem, the rule is too strict. If we accept this argument then we need to look at what the new rule should be? Before the shut down one idea in discussion was to change the rule so there had to be ‘daylight’ between the attacker and the defender for it to be offside. But that’s a term that’s very open to interpretation. So this was broken down into two ideas, either that offside should be visible to the naked eye, or that a distance should be set. Let’s take both of these ideas.
If we say that offside should be visible to the naked eye then why do we need VAR, we’ll be able to see the offside. Or so you would think. Most United fans will be familiar with United against Chelsea from 2010 when Didier Drogba scored a winning goal from a position so far offside it was probably visible from the top of the North Stand, yet the officials missed it. Chelsea went on to win the league by a single point. Or what about Liverpool against West Ham where an assistant was too busy watching the ball to notice Sadio Mane stood in a offside position, Mane would score the winner from it. Even further back, Bobby Stokes scored the only goal of the 1976 FA Cup final for Southampton against United from an offside position. All visible to the naked eye, all missed by the officials, all winning goals. So being visible to the naked eye is no guarantee it will be picked up. Well if we have to use VAR to pick that up then changing the rule isn’t going to make a great deal of difference.
Ok then, let’s say it needs to be a certain distance, what distance is reasonable? Shall we say 10cm? So there has to be more than 10cm between the attacker and the last defender for it to be offside. How long will it be before we see a goal ruled because someone is 11cm (or even less) ahead) and a pundit, or multiple pundits, come out with something like “It’s one centimetre, we can’t be ruling goals out for one centimetre, that’s not football.” It may sound silly but that is exactly what will happen.
So you may say that the rule is too extreme, but it’s been that way for a long time, it’s just that we have recently caught up to its full extent.
In regard to the time it takes for VAR to make a call, as someone who has sat in a stadium waiting for the decision I can easily understand that frustration. It’s often mentioned how much better other leagues are with their use of VAR. These other leagues have been using it longer, is it not reasonable to expect them to be better at it? If we are still in this position in a couple of years, then we have a problem.