It is often said that change is the only constant in life. Unfortunately, it is also often resisted. Such has been the case with the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee to football.
With England 2-1 down against Germany in the last-16 clash of the 2010 World Cup, Frank Lampard thought he had put his country level when his shot bounced over the line, off the bar. To his dismay, and that of many watching the game the center referee waived play-on.
The goal was wrongly disallowed by the match officials. But not on purpose. They just didn’t have a good view of it in real time to make the correct decision. Replays later showed the ball had actually crossed the goal line and fully bounced inside the goal.
It was a bad moment for the Three Lions as they went on to lose the game. But the incident sparked a controversy that forced the hand of FIFA. The game’s governing body was forced to implement goal-line technology to prevent a recurrence of such injustice.
Events in the game have also led to the introduction of the VAR by the body. Video assistance made its debut at the World Cup in Russia. Despite the widespread scepticism and criticism regarding its use, it proved quite successful. That's not to say it's perfect. But it's a better alternative to the status quo.
It is now being implemented in several top leagues in different continents around the world. But the Premier League is still not convinced.
Premier League clubs voted overwhelmingly against its introduction to the league heading into the 2018/19 campaign. But recent events show that may not be the best decision. Wolverhampton Wanderers versus Manchester City was a clear indication of that.
First, it was the ball bundled into the net by French defender Willy Boly to give Wolves an unlikely lead. Then David Silva was denied a penalty in what the Spaniard was convinced was a foul against him in the box. VAR could have been called upon to help the match officials make the right decision on both occasions.
The football universe had quickly become used to such incidents being reviewed by officials at the World Cup. Even other top leagues like the Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and German Bundesliga all now make use of the technology. But it’s not the case in the Premier League.
So much for being the best league in the world!
City manager Pep Guardiola refused to be drawn into the argument as he avoided questions regarding its introduction in the league. But there is no running away from a matter that is becoming more and more important by the day.
City could as well have won against Wolves should the handball goal have been disallowed.
At the beginning of the season when there is still time to right any wrongs the draw could cause, Guardiola is not bothered. But if City needed a win in this game to be crowned champions or to qualify for the Champions League, the Catalan would definitely have been concerned.
The bottom line is that we do not have to allow things become catastrophic before we speak out or do the right thing.
All the major leagues in Europe and the biggest organizing body for the game cannot be so wrong. They've all embraced its use. It's noteworthy that FIFA, under Sepp Blatter once resisted it's introduction.
Beyond the Man City game, other incidents have also occurred that VAR could have been put to good use. Sadio Mané’s second goal and Liverpool’s third against West Ham was deemed an offside after watching replays. As at the time of the goal, the game stood at 2-0.
Assuming it was disallowed and the Hammers got a goal of their own, that could have changed the complexion of the game. But it stood and by so doing killed off any hope of a fight back. The Reds went on to win 4-0.
Needless to say, the use of VAR is becoming more relevant by the day in the modern game. But could it be that just like the Frank Lampard disallowed goal, clubs and the Premier League are waiting for an epic moment to force the league to brace up to the changing times?
All the same, the 2019/20 season presents another opportunity for the EPL to reconsider its stand.