There are many reasons why, as kids, we fell in love with the absolute mess we know as football. The sights, the smells, the songs, the crowd, the craic, the personalities, the needle, the routine, the incredible skill, the dazzling ineptitude, the drama, the suspense, the speed, the sense of occasion, the sense of belonging, the community, the explosions of emotion. Football Daily has not yet conferred with every single fan that ever was – the project is ongoing, or would be were anyone prepared to engage it in conversation – but so far its exclusive research reveals that no one was captivated by the minutiae of the game’s officiating process.
That being the case, quite why the footballing authorities introduced VAR – aiming to increase the percentage of correct decisions from 95% to 99% – should be impossible to fathom. Should be impossible to fathom, but actually quite easy to fathom: grown adults unable to cope because their poor little favourite team didn’t win, “taking to Twitter” citing bias, corruption and vendetta; embittered players and managers blaming officials to misdirect from their own failings. So the flow of the game was sacrificed and with it the unbridled, incomparable ecstasy that follows the scoring of a goal, the greatest feeling known to humanity.
A football match is never lost because of a refereeing decision. Officials make errors, so it is the job of players and managers – who make them too – to render them irrelevant. This point was noted by Erik ten Hag after Manchester United were denied what looked a clear penalty when drawing with Crystal Palace. “You have to accept the decisions from VAR, from the referees,” he said, baldly. “I look in the mirror, I look to my team, I look to my own managing and coaching and I say invest more for the second goal then you avoid situations [where] you are dependent on the referee.”
On Sunday, though, Ten Hag was unable to refrain from criticising the officials following the red card shown to Casemiro – his second in just over a month – in United’s goalless draw with Southampton. Now, whether either of those offences merited such sanction is a matter of opinion – Football Daily sees both sides – but what makes both situations so silly is the surrounding circumstances.
The first dismissal – for allegedly grabbing Will Hughes by the throat – came in a melee that featured other uncensured activities of equivalent seriousness, which looked bad from one perspective but more or less fine from another, better angle. Except, when called to make sense of things, the referee, Andre Marriner, found his attention drawn to only one altercation, which he was shown from only one aspect. Then, the following week, Conor Coady throttled Andy Robertson and received a yellow card.
Now, perhaps interpretation of the laws differs from official to official … which makes Casemiro’s second expulsion stranger. Anthony Taylor was just a few yards from the incident so showed a yellow card, only for the third official, Marriner – or Dre as he presumably insists his acquaintances call him – to summon him to check the screen, after which the red card and accordant four-game ban was issued. Again, this might simply be an issue of perception. Except, when refereeing Leicester v Chelsea the previous day, Marriner had failed to show so much as a yellow card to Ricardo Pereira, for a tackle on João Félix that was far more dangerous and violent than Casemiro’s … and VAR failed to intervene. Which is to say that, even if Taylor made an error, it cannot possibly have been so “clear and obvious” that he be encouraged to alter it.
None of which is to blame the officials for United’s two points dropped or Southampton’s one point gained. Refereeing is difficult if not impossible, and the way football’s laws are drafted – poorly, its terms ill-defined, and broadly, officials given scope to make subjective calls – means that we should expect some variance. But the events of this weekend indicate that, yet, again, VAR has not had the desired effect, ceding far too much for far too little when, instead, all we needed to do to maintain the sense of wonder we had as kids was just stop acting like kids.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this. I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming. I have been presenting sport on the BBC for almost 3 decades and am immeasurably proud to work with the best and fairest broadcaster in the world. I cannot wait to get back in the MOTD chair on Saturday. A final thought: however difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away. It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you. We remain a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people. Thank you” – Gary Lineker is back, baby.
“Antonio Conte’s statement “I am ready to die for this club – until the end of the season” will no doubt be looked on with scepticism by many Spurs fans but it should be remembered that he has already lost an organ in the process” – John Weldon.
“I was heartened to see you print James Treacy’s letter [Friday’s letters] correctly reproving you for bad French, but subsequently amazed that you compounded your error in your final comment, which should, of course. have read ‘et rien d’autres’” – Steve Pilgrim.
Send your letters to email@example.com. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … Steve Pilgrim.