It’s the final moments of stoppage time. Manchester City pushes forward for a chance to win their spot at the Champions League Semi-finals. Sergio Aguero tees up the ball for Raheem Sterling, and surely enough, he hammers the ball into the back of the net. He gets his hat trick to make the score 5-4 on aggregate. The crowd goes wild. Manchester City has just beat Tottenham Hotspurs to move on to the Semi-finals of the Champions League!
Or so they thought.
When the Video Assistant Referee or VAR system was implemented across various football competitions, little did we think of its impact beyond better refereeing. Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspurs is probably the most dramatic one yet in a saga of moments where VAR stepped in to turn the tides of a match. Sergio Aguero was caught offside as he passed the ball to Sterling.
An exuberant Pep Guardiola who was celebrating, fell to his knees as he saw VAR disallow the goal. City’s Champions League dreams died in a moment and VAR killed it. The stadium went silent for a second. Only a second, before the rivals, who’d lost the leg but won the game screamed with joy. The heartbreak of a victory denied, and the high of a miraculous comeback filled the stadium. VAR has changed football today.
True, there’s more accountability from players now. A sly tackle will more likely get caught now and a game-deciding penalty just might be given. The referee may no longer be the reason your favourite team lost and we can all probably see a more fair game. But to what end has the game changed?
Since its debut, VAR has been the topic of many a controversy. Inability to contact the referees, disagreements on its operation, and the atmosphere-killing pauses caused by the reviews seem to take away from “The Beautiful Game”. There is something human about accepting a wrong decision, picking your teammates up, and pushing them on to work for the next chance to score. Or something extraordinary, like Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’.
Football has always been an unpredictable, human game and that is what’s at stake here. A flawed game played beautifully by flawed humans (and refereed by them too), for 90 or so minutes. It was a respite from your day: the same football you play with your friends is the same one Manchester City played against Tottenham Hotspurs. The rules are the same and that’s what made it beautiful. Football was imperfect from the beginning and that is what made it great. Now, a slice of that imperfection is lost to VAR.
Image credits: Evening Standard