Opinion: VAR has stolen football’s soul | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 19.10.2019
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Opinion: VAR has stolen football’s soul

VAR reared its head again in the Bundesliga, ruling out a Dortmund goal against Borussia Mönchengladbach for a neglible infringement. Video technology is a symbol of the death of football, writes DW's Michael Da Silva.

The one innovation that has done the most damage to football as we know it is the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee, or VAR as it's affectionately known. Having haunted the Bundesliga for two whole seasons already, it's now commonplace in the English Premier League, Champions League and all forms of top-level football.

Kommentarbild Da Silva Michael

DW's Michael Da Silva

For a game that's lost its soul to governing bodies and corporate bloodsuckers whose investments rest on the success of the teams they're sponsoring, VAR is the perfect system. Rather than celebrating the rare and euphoric moment of a goal, fans celebrate with one eye on the big screen and the other on the referee, in case VAR has spotted an infringement measurable only with a microscope.

Football was named 'The Beautiful Game' because of its simplicity. A game that ebbed and flowed, stopping only for halftime. The game is no longer beautiful for the people who watch or play it. But a two-minute VAR stoppage brings all kinds of commercial opportunities. To the rest of us, it's the emotion killer we feared it woud be.

In Dortmund's 1-0 win over Borussia Mönchengladbach, VAR struck again. Marco Reus was central to the VAR madness this time, with a centimeter of his heel in an offside position, despite the rest of his body being in front of the Gladbach defender. To the naked eye he is onside. To the entire stadium he is onside. To everyone watching on TV he is onside. The game was stopped for a few minutes nonetheless, and the image was zoomed in upon until it pixelated and Reus was offside. This left the good goal that Thorgan Hazard just scored against his former club — a great moment and a subplot to the headline game of the weekend — disallowed.

In the second half, when Dortmund had another goal chalked off, this time correctly as Reus was obstructing the view of Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer as Julian Brandt struck the ball into the net, rather than the TV cameras showing scenes of jubilation in the stands or Brandt celebrating his strike, they went straight to the referee in case the decision was to be changed. The emotion of scoring a goal, the most most euphoric moment in a football match, has been diluted.

Deutschland Borussia Dortmund gegen Borussia Mönchengladbach

Emotion killer? VAR has diluted the euphoric moment of celebrating a goal.

VAR is merely the symptom of a rule that has never been completely clear. The offside rule has divided opinions for as long as it has been around, but it's worth remembering that its introduction was to prevent goal hanging, not turn football into a forensics laboratory. Goal-line technology was a brilliant innovation because it‘s instant and clear. The game is richer for it. Offsides are not quite so simple given the moving parts involved.

There are two possible ways to rectify it, and one is better than the other. Why not remove VAR altogether and return the decision to the assistant referee? Yes, some decisions would be incorrect, but only the marginal ones that wouldn't give the attacker a clear an obvious advantage. Yes, you'd get the occasional clanger where someone clearly offside is given on, or vice versa, but generally speaking the right decisions would be reached and common sense would prevail.

The more realistic outcome though, given the fetish for VAR, is to keep the technology but change the rule to "daylight", meaning that there simply has to be daylight between the attacker and defender to call it offside. This would heavily favor the attacker and should result in more goals, although the downside would be a maintained reliance on VAR to make the call. It would at least avoid the need for mindless debate on whether Reus had gained an advantage for having his heel microscopically offside.

Lucien Favre, the Dortmund coach, described VAR as "bad for football" in his post-match interview and it's impossible to argue. Unfortunately for Favre and anyone else who values the raw emotion of scoring a goal, football has been hijacked by the men in suits, and it's in danger of losing its soul forever.

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