England vs Italy: Did VAR get it right at Wembley?

A lot has been said in the last few months regarding whether fans in stadiums know what is going on with VAR. Having had the pleasure of being at Wembley last night, I can tell you that it categorically does not work.

That isn’t to say that VAR is useless and should be sent to the footballing scrapyard alongside assistant referees behind the goal and vuvuzelas. In some capacity, VAR has a genuine future, but not in its current dimensions.

As a fan last night, when referee Deniz Aytekin strolled off to the side-line, me and those around me were bemused. Some thought the ball had been punctured, others chuckled as they assumed he needed the toilet, and there were no appeals from the Italian fans beside me.

Not one person around me suspected a penalty might be given, until that square box was raised from the parapet hidden beneath the dugout. Once everyone saw the official gaze down that monitor, there was an air of inevitability inside the ground.

Italy of course scored, cancelling out Jamie Vardy’s first half goal and denying England what would have been a well-deserved victory.

“After some delay, the phrase ‘VAR’ appeared on screen, and with it a collective 80,000 groans enclosed all corners of Wembley.”

If you want to be technical, James Tarkowski (who played fantastically well on his debut) did tread on Frederico Chiesa’s foot, and justice may dictate that a penalty was the correct decision.

But let’s get even more technical, because the rules state that VAR must ONLY be used if there is a clear and obvious error and it should not be used because of a player’s appeal.

Considering the debate that is still raging over whether it would have been a penalty if the referee had seen it in real time, it cannot be considered a clear and obvious error. Nor do we know how he came to consult VAR, but it seems as though the Italian players did influence the Turk.

The issue with how VAR operates is therefore that what is deemed as a ‘clear and obvious’ error can still be subjective. If the officials operating the technology did not feel 100% certain that it was a penalty, then they were wrong to call Aytekin over in the first place.

But what about the lack of awareness from those in the stands? After some delay, the phrase ‘VAR’ appeared on screen, and with it a collective 80,000 groans enclosed all corners of Wembley.

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England and Italy players warm up before the game ( Credit: Freddie Alcock)                                            

The time it took for the decision to eventually be given killed the pace of the game, and with it the atmosphere, all to give a penalty that potentially was a penalty but legally shouldn’t have been reviewed in the first place. Confusing, right?

I asked fans outside of Wembley what they thought of the controversy. Tom, who was sat directly behind the goal where the penalty was awarded, said: “No one knew what was going on; the decision undoubtedly spoiled what was a very good game.”

Other England fans seemed to echo this view, with Julia, who was sat on the opposite end of the ground, telling me that: “The game itself was fantastic and England played really well. Kane and Vardy will be a massive threat to teams at the World Cup, but the penalty decision certainly overshadowed the game.”

Her friend Steph agreed as well, but remained optimistic for England’s World Cup chances. She said ‘We may not have the best team in the competition, but after the disappointment of Euro 2016, things can only improve.”

With the World Cup looming over the horizon, this incident will soon pale into insignificance. But make no mistake, it has set a daunting precedent for a game of high magnitude this summer to ironically be ruined by something that is supposed to be revolutionary for the sport, not recessive.

VAR certainly needs to be given time. I don’t think many would want to give up on it so definitively after what seemed like an eternally futile fight to introduce modern technology into the planet’s most popular sport.

But if it is to survive, it must adapt fast to suit those observing in the ground, and it must clarify the rules better regarding what is or what isn’t a clear and obvious error.

@freddie835spurs

(Feature Image credit: James Attree :Flickr)

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