VAR. What else?
Before you immediately switch off, having ultimately tired of this conversation after another shambolic system performance in the Champions League, stick with it to find both sides of an argument around why things are not quite as bad as they seem – and some solutions.
First things first, several Liverpool starlets and even Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah were robbed of the glory from a night that should have produced a completely different rhetoric.
The Reds fielded their youngest ever starting XI in the European Cup, with an average age of just 24 years and 26 days.
Three 19-year-old talents in Leighton Clarkson, Rhys Williams and Curtis Jones lined up under Jurgen Klopp on Wednesday while Billy Koumetio, 18, was brought on later in the game too.
Alexander-Arnold became Liverpool’s third youngest ever captain and fulfilled a lifelong dream of leading out a team he has been a part of since he was six years old.
Salah, meanwhile, scored Liverpool’s fastest ever goal in European competition – taking just 59 seconds to become the club’s highest ever scorer in the Champions League, surpassing a certain Steven Gerrard at the top of that list as he did so.
It’s clear, then, to see what could and should have dominated the headlines.
The reality though, saw VAR once again take centre stage with nine minutes of added-on time in Denmark a direct consequence of three laborious referee reviews.
Midtjylland were awarded a penalty after an initial offside decision and they were then denied a second for offside, before a goal in the 89th minute by Liverpool attacker Takumi Minamino was disallowed amid claims of a handball by Sadio Mane
Mane’s handball was certainly not ‘clear and obvious’ while Minamino was initially, and incorrectly, ruled offside before the VAR team began their quest to micro-analyse everything down to the most minute and blurry pixel on a video screen to disallow a goal that would have given Liverpool a club-record 15 points in a group.
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Now, the Reds won’t be too worried given that they had already finished top of their group while the game against Fulham is fast approaching tomorrow and the Champions League last 16 draw will be carried out on Monday.
However, Klopp – who was once a great advocate for the implementation of VAR came out to say he “wouldn’t be saying that again” – because there are big issues with the system that need to be addressed.
Away from player glories, VAR is completely ruining the football experience for everyone involved.
It is a game so many have loved for as long as they can remember, but the recent introduction of VAR has sucked all the fun out of watching a match with the inconsistency in decisions staggering at times – surely not even the officiating teams can want it this way?
The powers that be have to look at this and fast, because amid an impossibly challenging year with fans unable to attend football matches they have somehow managed to make watching the game even worse.
How a Champions League dead rubber can be so ruinous to the great spectacle of football is frightening.
And it’s not just Liverpool that have suffered, you could talk to a fan of almost any club in Europe and still struggle to find supporters in love with the VAR system in its current form.
Meanwhile, the game’s lawmakers have already proved rule changes can be made mid-season this term with the ‘softening’ of handball legislation so it really is time to address the oh-so technically accurate but very cold policing of VAR.
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One sensible solution would be to copy both tennis and cricket in that both teams get a set number of reviews to use – if you get the review right with the help of VAR you keep it but if you get it wrong, that is lost and you have a more limited number to use in the rest of the game.
Another is simply allowing for tiny margins of error, what used to be known as ‘benefit of doubt’, like the width of a single line of pixels on a screen…
A time limit could even be put on any VAR decisions and should that overrun, the on-field refereeing decision is final, because technically a decision has been made anyway and a much more perfectly imperfect lovable game would come to be once more.
Whatever the case, solutions need to be found to improve the system, because VAR at the heart is not actually all bad.
It was brought in to leave officials, fans, players, pundits, managers and anyone in the game with no doubt about decisions and most of the time that does actually take place.
There is no bias involved and a will at the centre to make sure every decision is as near perfect as it can possibly be.
However, it just so happens that football is a relentlessly fast-moving game and there will be times where it is just too close to call given how quickly players move with such skill while the cameras follow.
At the moment, instances like these result in a painstakingly slow process of the VAR officials forensically analysing every detail – just like in midweek.
You can see why they take their time, of course, given the backlash refereeing teams would face if they rushed a decision to speed up the process and got it wrong.
And despite the ridiculous amount of time the decisions did take in that second-half, at the very worst two out of three were probably right.
Ultimately, getting decisions spot on is what VAR is there to do but what is being proved time and time again at the moment is that there needs to be a more consistent base from which it rules while changes need to be made (like the ones outlined here) to improve the system and experience for every dedicated fan on the planet.