VAR is not perfect but it makes more sense than Arsene Wenger's idea

VAR is not perfect by any means… but it still makes more sense than Arsene Wenger and his crazy offside idea

  • Saturday’s Premier League headlines were once again dominated by VAR
  • A collective hysteria surrounding the system is being allowed to cloud all reason
  • Arsene Wenger’s ‘daylight’ suggestion would solve nothing if it were brought in 
  • Dele Alli was correct to apologise for his ‘joke’ – he was right, it wasn’t funny 

There is nothing wrong with the offside rule and there is nothing wrong with the way VAR is interpreting it. The facts really are that bald. 

And the way that even Arsene Wenger, otherwise known as the most lucid and cerebral of men, is losing his mind over it only proves a collective hysteria surrounding it is being allowed to cloud all reason.

Wenger’s suggestion there should be a daylight rule, meaning that an attacker is not offside unless there is daylight between him and the last defender, is a farrago that would solve nothing. Arguments would rage about whether there was daylight or not. It would shift the problem a few yards towards goal. That is all. 

Arsene Wenger’s ‘daylight’ rule for offside is a farrago that would solve nothing in football

After a lengthy check by VAR, it was decided that Giovani Lo Celso’s stamp was not a red card

Unusually for such a measured man, Wenger’s proposal felt like a nod to populism. It felt as if he were telling people what they wanted to hear. We are, collectively, behaving like a child who is upset he is not getting his own way and who is having a prolonged and noisy tantrum. Wenger was proffering an ice cream to shut us all up. No wonder he has already begun to retreat from his idea.

We have allowed ourselves to be governed by a shouting madness on offside. Critics talk about the ‘absurdity’ of a player being ruled offside by his armpit or his big toe. They call it a Varce. But actually, it is not absurd at all. It is just a statement of fact. The only problem with it is communicating it to the public. That is where the system is horribly lacking.

All football needs to do is get to a point where the technology can buzz in the referee’s ear when there is an offside — just as it does when the ball crosses the goal-line — and the problem is solved immediately. If the decision is made quickly —and the technology is perfected so there can be no argument about even the smallest measurements — then no-one will be talking about how fine the margins are. The arguments will stop.

Because judging offside is like judging whether the ball has crossed the line. There is no room for grey areas as there might be in the subjective observation of a potential red card offence like Giovani Lo Celso’s stamp on Cesar Azpilicueta at Stamford Bridge on Saturday or even a handball. The entirety of the ball has either crossed the line or it hasn’t. A goalscoring part of your body is either offside or it isn’t. The entirety of the ball has either crossed the line or it hasn’t.

Cesar Azpilicueta (left) said he felt it would be a red card as soon as the incident had occurred

When Erik Lamela scrambled a shot towards the net in the closing minutes of Spurs’ game at Watford last month, goal-line technology told us that the entirety of the ball had failed to cross the line by 10.4mm. There were no screams of farce. No accusations of absurdity. 

With goal-line technology, we accept the accuracy of the technology without question. No one seeks to challenge it. No one frets about bowing to the machine.

And yet when we talk about offside, emotion intrudes. It is deemed ridiculous to penalise someone if they are only ‘marginally’ offside. Marginally offside is a tautology. Once again, you are either offside or you are not. Offside is nearly always about fine margins. Nothing has changed. It is just that football is attempting to get the decision right.

But it has not been able to eradicate muddled thinking. ‘Take the “goal” scored by Willy Boly for Wolverhampton Wanderers against Leicester City last Friday,’ former Premier League referee Peter Walton wrote in The Times last week, ‘when Pedro Neto’s heel was adjudged to be offside in the build-up. VAR was not conceived to go hunting for such incidents that are invisible to the naked eye.’

Actually, that was exactly what VAR was conceived for. In other aspects of the game, it was tasked with identifying clear and obvious errors. With offside you are either offside or you’re not. Nobody says that goal-line technology wasn’t brought in to judge whether a ball is only 10.4mm over the line and that a goal should not be awarded in those circumstances, do they? 

The Burnley game against Bournemouth also had more than its fair share of VAR drama 

Because that would sound stupid and irrational. That would make you sound like a flat-earther. VAR was brought in to eradicate human error. Judging offside is fiendishly difficult and I am in awe of linesmen that they get as many decisions right as they do. But VAR was introduced to help them when the cameras spot things they miss.

Once we have the technology, we cannot ignore it. We cannot say that a player was only a few millimetres offside and therefore a goal should be allowed to stand. That really would be absurd. Once we have the technology, we have to use it. To do anything else would be perverse.

So let’s not get confused amid the VAR hysteria. The offside rule does not need to be changed. Football just needs to improve its communications. Either that or we should adopt the NFL system of allowing a coach to challenge two decisions a game. Why not include offside in that?

Unfortunately, that idea is way too logical and FIFA won’t consider it. So VAR gives us the best chance of getting offside right. You might not like it and say it’s killing football but, as far as offside goes, it is hard to argue against the fact that VAR makes an awful lot more sense than Arsene Wenger. 

Why United have the edge 

I loved the argument between Jamie Carragher and Roy Keane about which players would make a combined team from the Manchester United Treble-winning side of 1998-99 and the Liverpool side that is sweeping all before it this season.

The discussion made great television, mainly because they are two great sides and two great pundits and because there is no right answer.

Except that those United players won the Treble in 1999. And to match them, Liverpool still have some way to go. 

Manchester United’s treble-winning team have the edge over Liverpool until they win more 

System at fault, not agents 

I have never met Mino Raiola. Or spoken to him.

Plenty of people I do know and respect — Gary Neville and Simon Jordan, to name but two — clearly loathe him and what he stands for.

But there is not much point in singling out Raiola, agent to Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku among others, for all that is wrong in football.

It is not Raiola that is the problem. Players need agents to stop them being exploited, but the balance of power has shifted too far in their favour. It is the system that is the problem.

Agents take too much money out of the game, but that is only because the clubs and the players they represent are complicit.

They must either pay them what they ask or decide they don’t want to.

They must either accept that contracts are worthless or be willing to take a stand and enforce them. 

Agents like Mino Raiola, who represents Paul Pogba, are not to blame, it is the system at fault 

Correct Dele, not funny

I have seen people say that the video Dele Alli posted a fortnight ago, mocking a man of Asian appearance and linking him with the coronavirus, was not racist.

Sometimes labels are unhelpful, I suppose, and anyway, Alli quickly apologised for trying to make a bad joke of the situation. I thought of his ‘joke’ this week, though, when a 17-year-old friend of my daughter told her that her mum had been abused in the street of an English city last week when she sneezed. 

Amid the blizzard of insults aimed at her, she was told to go back home. Her mum is from South Korea, originally. Alli’s ‘joke’ and others like it have helped to create that climate. He was right: it wasn’t funny. 

Dele Alli landed himself in hot water after posting an insensitive video about coronavirus

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