Pyrotechnics, blaring music, and boundless optimism was in abundance at the Etihad Stadium as Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City set out on their ‘home’ campaign to win a third consecutive Premier League title.
By the conclusion of an incredibly controversial game, we had ‘fireworks’, a crescendo of boos and a storm of cynicism enveloping the home of the Champions of English football.
City had faced up to a force – an ‘opponent’ – which could prove to be the biggest impediment to them retaining the Premier League, and it wasn’t Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs.
Tottenham’s title pretenders escaped with a 2-2 draw, whereas City lost to the subjective vagaries of VAR.
Gabriel Jesus’ disallowed last minute ‘winner’ is the focus of all the raging arguments and screaming headlines, but perversely, that isn’t necessarily anything to do with VAR.
In this instance the change to the ‘handball rule’ is the culprit.
It effectively disallows any ‘goal’ if the ball is touched by an attacking player, even accidentally or however minuscule, in the run of play leading up to a ‘goal’.
However, the same draconian interpretation doesn’t apply to defenders, so if the ball accidentally hits a defender, the defending side is not penalised.
It is ridiculous rule that is skewed completely in favour of the defending team.
VAR official, Graham Scott chose to apply the strictest interpretation of the idiotic law, when the ball barely brushed Aymeric Laporte’s forearm. The ‘handball’ did not alter the flight of the ball or its trajectory. It would have still landed at the feet of Jesus.
It was a betrayal of the spirit of football and the so-called ‘Beautiful Game’, an affront to supporters, who pay to go and watch the pulsating package called Premier League football.
Only time will tell if the new and divisive rule, will be applied in an even and fair handed fashion, across the course of the season. Can you imagine some faceless wonder in Stockley Park chalking off a last minute Mo Salah winner in front of The Kop, because the ball brushed a manicured Firmino fingernail, on its way to the Pharoah of Bootle?
Moving back to the technology, as opposed to the lunatic lawmakers, the biggest obstacle to fair play is the selective usage of VAR.
City fans are no different from any others in wanting their team to win. Even with a Catalan genius at the helm, City will inevitably lose matches. The perceived consolation with VAR was that if, as and when your team loses – or in this case draws – it does so fairly and squarely. Hopefully most fans can live with that – even in these unenlightened days of rabid and moronic social media comment.
Sadly, the perception is light years away from reality.
VAR can still be used to screw teams, both actively and passively. Graham Scott actively sought Laporte’s ‘handball’. Nobody present at the Etihad; players, officials, fans, Sky TV cameras, commentators or pundits had even the slightest of misgivings.
There was absolutely no ‘clear and obvious error’ by Michael Oliver.
Rewind to the first half when City fans were rightly outraged that a stonewall penalty on Rodri was not given. Here, you see VAR in its poisonous and passive state.
Erik Lamela must’ve thought he was auditioning for the WWF wrestling circuit when he grappled City’s new defensive midfielder to the ground.
It’s bad enough that Oliver – with a clear sight of the foul – saw fit to turn a blind eye. It’s nigh on incomprehensible that Scott, didn’t see fit to inform Oliver that the ref had made a ‘clear and obvious error’ in not awarding the penalty. If you weren’t working for PGMOL or affiliated to Spurs, it was a penalty all day, all night, 24-7-365.
How can supporters, for one moment, trust a system that is so subjective, selective and open to abuse, interpretation and even corruption?
It’s well known that wrestling is classed as ‘entertainment’ rather than a bona fide sport. Outcomes of the bouts are so often ‘fixed’ – there’s no pretence. It is what it is. At least wrestling is honest about its ‘dishonesty’, unlike VAR.
After yesterday you may as well place VAR in an adjacent category to WWF, when it comes to pre-determined outcomes.
If only Laporte sounded more like Llorente, then Spurs would’ve, quite rightly, lost the game, just as City would’ve triumphed in last season’s Champions League Quarter Final.
The ex-Spurs striker’s handball goal wouldn’t have stood and City would have progressed 4-3 on aggregate.
Yes, of course Sterling’s last gasp ‘winner', on that fateful April 17th night was rightly ruled offside by VAR, but it would’ve been of no consequence had City been leading 4-2.
Similarly, yesterday, a converted first half penalty would have had City up 3-2 before Messrs Scott and Oliver delivered their coup de grace.
What had seemed like City karma for the Champions League cock up was suddenly, horribly, reversed into a distasteful dollop of déjà vu.
Another of VAR’s many shortcomings is that the proverbial tail is wagging the dog. Put another way, Michael Oliver was Graham Scott’s poodle and, if the poodle was a female, effectively Scott’s bitch.
The clue should be in the title – Video Assistant Referee – but it’s not working like that. Oliver didn’t have a TV monitor to be able to review any of his decisions or indeed, non-decisions. All Oliver had was Scott in his ear, telling him – in Scott’s opinion – what was right and wrong.
VAR is showing itself as very capable in not righting wrongs. Far from removing controversy from football it’s achieving the polar opposite.
The one incontrovertible truth is that sadly – especially for City fans – the VAR is far from over!
By David Walker
A timely dedication today for a man who last night, declared football as ‘dead’ following the VAR debacle. Kevin Parker will be the ‘Maine Man’ at the Manchester City Official Supporters Club 70th Anniversary dinner tonight in Manchester. A diehard Blue for 49 years – 20 of those as the Honorary General Secretary of the OSC – Kevin is a superb ambassador for City fans and universally respected by all.