If you are Nigerian, you probably will never forgive Marcus Rojo. The killer goal he scored was the ultimate insult to the injuries inflicted by his two game-changing incidents that went unpunished. The first incident Marcus Rojo had his boot so high it almost rid Kelechi Iheanacho of his Mohawk. In the second, let me just say I have seen penalties given for handballs arising out of outstretched arms. Many Nigerians and neutrals alike will still be questioning how those were not penalties. We were told Video Assisted Referee (VAR) would render such dubious-penalty discussions irrelevant. But after seeing it piloted in small tournaments and debuting at the biggest one of them all, here we are still unsure whether VAR isn’t just human error with a fancy prefix.
I wouldn’t go as far as some who have concluded that VAR is racist, but I will say this; even if it is nearly impossible for human beings to agree on everything it is important that they feel any game arbitration is fair. A software like Hawk Eye used in tennis is a good example of impartiality. Those who challenge it unsuccessfully still mutter obscenities under their breath, but there is acceptance that the software has no emotional attachment to anyone. I believe the same to be true of goal line technology in football.
VAR is therefore doomed to generate controversy because it still has that human element to it. I have no doubt in my mind that it is well-intentioned but by keeping humans central to its ultimate decision it has condemned itself to a future of bickering and disagreement. If you are Nigerian, you are probably now thinking there was a clandestine agenda. This of course wasn’t helped by social media memes showing a $10m figure flashing out of the VAR screen the referee went to consult.
This doesn’t mean I am against the improving of the game, but all improvements are obliged to come in the problem-solving mode that forbade goal keepers from handling back passes. Millennials might not know this but there was a time in football when game management meant the keeper ‘sleeping’ on a ball that had been played back to them. In one swipe, we moved from that to ball playing goal keepers.
Those problem-solving characteristics can’t be bequeathed to VAR right now. Already the World Cup is choking on penalties and game time has increased by 5% which would be fine if it was pure entertainment but it’s all this time spent consulting a small screen by the referee. And it will get worse because as the tournament has progressed the players have become keener to draw the imaginary air squares that call for VAR every time someone as much as sneezes in the box. So, if I were Fifa I would wait for the World Cup to end before quietly packing in VAR and taking it back for re-imagining to the old men who my mate and ex-referee Darren Gillen says are responsible for suggesting new rules.