Since last Sunday’s piece I have been repeatedly asked what needs to be done to sort out the current VAR mess. Instead of complaining about it I should, apparently, come up with a solution.
Well, in my defence, it isn’t really my mess to clean up. There are highly paid individuals in the top echelons of football administration who are employed with the sole objective of not screwing up the game. If they have contrived to break it, surely it’s their job to fix it.
That being said, I do have two potential solutions that they might want to think about over a glass or two of tawny port. Both are a little extreme, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.
Option 1: Bin VAR right now and go back to the old system of the referee’s decision being final.
Yes, as we have said before, this would mean we would have moments of controversy to contend with, but we’ve been doing that since the dawn of the sport and we’ve survived up to now.
The money saved on VAR – and I am guessing it would run into tens of millions a year – could be redirected towards a long-term plan to drastically improve the standard of match officials.
For example, if you substantially increase the financial rewards on offer, more competent people are going to be enticed to take up refereeing as a career. And with more potential candidates you should, by default, have better referees.
More of those VAR savings could be pumped into deeper, more prolonged training of match officials, ensuring that when they do get out on the Premier League pitches they are ready to deal with the intensity of top-level football.
The final part of option one would see the introduction of more on-pitch officials. Instead of having VAR muppets sitting in front of a TV screen completely failing to use the technology properly, let’s have them running the lines on the pitch. Instead of two assistants, let’s have four so they are covering less touchline and can offer the referee a different viewpoint on incidents.
Ultimately it would still come down to the referee’s decision being final, but there’s no reason not to give him additional support.
The money saved on VAR – and I am guessing it would run into tens of millions a year – could be redirected towards a long-term plan to drastically improve the standard of match officials
So anyway, that is one way of tackling the situation. And I don’t think you need me to tell you that that would categorically be the one I went for.
But there is a second possibility: embrace technology to the full.
The biggest problem right now with VAR is that it is some sort of weird hybrid of man and machine. But if we do away with human input entirely, while being a little Orwellian, it is likely to be considerably more accurate and palatable.
What do I mean?
Well, let’s take offsides as an example. If we have decided we want to live in a world where your own shoelace can play you offside, then let’s have sensors and cameras everywhere. In the air, in the ball, on the boots, attached to players clothing, etc.
If we make absolutely everything high-tech and completely computerised, the only thing the referee will need to do is pass on the judgements handed down by the technology.
Same thing for whether the ball has gone out of play. We have the Hawkeye system monitoring the goal line to see if the ball has crossed the line, so let’s have Hawkeye monitoring the entire pitch.
Handballs too. Let’s remove the uncertainty and make any touch between hand and ball an offence. Technology should be able to pick that up quite clearly and the subjectivity will be instantly vapourised.
Meanwhile, after some careful priming, artificial intelligence should be able to decide if a tackle was justifiable or over the top, and whether contact was with the ball or the man, so there is no need for a human to make those decisions either.
What I am getting at is that the current blend of tech and humanity isn’t working properly – so if we are determined to keep the tech, let’s bring the human element down to negligible levels.
Those are my two solutions – either go back to the way things were with increased investment to improve refereeing standards, or move towards a digital utopia where humans merely implement technology’s decisions.
Take your pick.
Under-17s under siege
Scoring nine goals in a competitive match is always going to be something to celebrate. And I am pretty sure Brazil’s youngsters were overjoyed with their 9-0 victory over New Caledonia in the Under-17 World Cup.
But if you look a little deeper into the stats, some of the gloss is taken off the result when you notice it took Brazil’s lads a staggering 81 attempts to get those nine goals. That’s an effort on goal every 75 seconds, with only slightly more than one in 10 finding the back of the net.
England, by comparison, only needed 39 attempts to earn their 10-0 result against the same opponents a few days earlier. So, the young lions were considerably more efficient, if slightly less entertaining.
But enough about the bullies, what about the bullied? Two games into their tournament and New Caledonia have scored none, conceded 19 and had to fend off 120 shots and headers.
New Caledonia supporters must think they are watching Sheffield United.
Farewell to a proper gentleman
I’m not going to pretend I remember Bobby Charton as player because that would be silly. The bulk of his career – his incredible achievements with Manchester United and England – came before I was even born.
But that doesn’t stop me from realising that the sport has lost a true legend.
Since he passed away, the media has been awash with stories of his skill, achievements and overall greatness. That he scored a goal every three games over a career that saw him make 750-plus appearances for club and country is clear evidence of his talent.
But those figures have to be taken in the context of the fact that, at the age of just 20, Charlton survived the Munich air disaster, which saw half of the Manchester United team killed.
The mental scars of something like that would have been enough to end many careers but Charlton went on to claim titles and cups galore, numerous personal awards and, of course, help his country win their only World Cup.
But more important than all that is the fact that, despite everything Charlton had been through and everything he had achieved, he was always known as the perfect gentleman – one of the most thoughtful, kind, helpful and respectful people in the football world.
And I am sure being remembered for that would be just as important to him as being remembered for the trophies and the goals...