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Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 21 October 2020

TV Wrap - Declan Rice the latest caught out as VAR fury hits boiling point

Elsewhere, Joe Brolly has made a surprise return to television punditry.

Image: Sky Sports Twitter

THE WRETCHED CIRCUS has already begun, as the Irish political class go clumsily foostering for sporting analogies. 

This goes right to the top, with Taoiseach and former Minister for Sport Leo Varadkar reportedly telling a Fine Gael meeting on Friday that “we’re about 1-0 up” and it’s “definitely not the time to switch the team.” 

On the face of it, such talk has a lineage to Westminster, and Theresa May’s saying last year she would take Britain out of Europe under the inspiration of Liverpool’s comeback win against Barcelona (a victory notable for serving the purpose of keeping Liverpool in Europe.)

But dig a little deeper, and perhaps Leo’s “we’re about 1-0 up” analogy is an accurate and updated one for the VAR Age, in which nobody is quite sure whether they’ve scored a goal or not. 

English football continues to detest the system, which Richard Keys last year derided as being run by “the anti-goal police.” 

The loathing ratcheted up a notch over the weekend, with Crystal Palace fans unfurling a banner reading, “Killing the Passion, Killing the Atmosphere, Killing the Game, End VAR Now.” 

crystal-palace-v-arsenal-premier-league-selhurst-park The banner held up by Palace fans against Arsenal last Saturday. Source: Tess Derry

Jordan Henderson struck a similar tone when speaking to Sky’s Jamie Redknapp after Liverpool’s win over Tottenham. 

I’m sick of hearing about it, I’m sick of talking about it, to be honest. As a player it’s difficult, I know Declan spoke emotionally about it last night. When you’re waiting 20 or 30 seconds for every single goal, it is tough. I know we are trying to get every decision right, but it does take that emotion, that passion away from the game.”

The Declan referred to above is, of course, the England international of the infamous “Up the RA” Instagram comment, Declan Rice. 

Rice was inadvertently responsible for the disallowing of West Ham’s late equaliser against Sheffield United, when VAR spotted that the ball had ricocheted from defender John Egan and onto his hand in the build-up. 

“That’s the rule now”, seethed Jamie Carragher on commentary for Sky. “The handball rule is a joke. An absolute joke.” 

In a bid to eliminate subjectivity around handballs now they are subject to the precision of VAR, it’s been decided that goals should be disallowed if the ball hits an attacker’s hand, even if it’s obviously accidental. 

Rice was furious too, and understandably so: there was little he could have done beyond decommissioning his arms. 

Henderson hit on the issue with VAR in his chat with Redknapp when he said “we are trying to get every decision right.”

That’s one of the biggest problems with VAR: that it should expected to be be tasked with getting every decision correct, rather than merely mending our old friend, the clear and obvious error. 

Rice’s handball was neither clear nor obvious, but it was ruled out because of VAR’s creeping pedantry. It is impossible for a referee to get every single decision on a football pitch right, and those now bidding to get VAR out of the game are saying we should accept the game will always contain an element of human error. 

That’s fair enough, but it’s a bit rich of television pundits to rage and moan against VAR’s exactitude given their own role in its arrival. For years they have subjected refereeing decisions to painstaking rigour, in the process slowly normalising the notion that all decisions can and should be correct. 

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Sky were at it again at half-time of the Liverpool/Spurs game, leading their review of Roberto Firmino’s fabulous goal by flagging the fact that Liverpool were wrongly awarded a throw in the lead-up to it.

The throw-in should have gone Spurs’ way, but it was an error that couldn’t possibly have been seen by any of the officials on the pitch.

It could only have been noticed on television.

Sky didn’t make too big an issue of it, to be fair, and went on to explain how Spurs’ might have defended it better along with dousing Firmino with praise, but that they discussed the error at all made it a talking point, and further justified the future use of VAR in similarly minor moments. 

Football pundits can either moan about VAR’s pernickety intrusions or continue to laser in on imperceptible moments, but they can’t have it both ways. 

Guess who’s back? 

In other pundit-related news, Joe Brolly is making a swift return to our screens. eir Sport today confirmed that Brolly is on board as a pundit for the forthcoming National League, which is quite the turn of events given that Brolly tweeted only last August that “I would never for example work with SKY or Eir.” 


Hey, we’re all allowed to change our minds.  

First published today at 5.24pm

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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