They’re coming home, they’re coming home, the footballers are coming home… Well, to their home from home at any rate, the heroes and villains, the few triumphant and the many also-rans, all back from a sensational month in Russia and returning to what nobody ever calls the ‘bread and butter’ of the Premier League (#notthegreatestleagueintheworldbutwedontcallitthateither).
As the big merry-go-round gears up to take another spin today, I wonder who’ll be the first of the World Cup vets to forget where he is for a moment and appeal for a penalty by extending a finger in the air to describe an imaginary rectangle?
There was a point during the World Cup when football’s newest form of protest seemed to rival Neymar’s histrionics as a source of popular irritation and, for the already disaffected, cast-iron proof that the game was hurtling down the highway to hell.
When all it was, of course, was just the latest version of the already long-established practice of grown men, bless them, waving invisible cards in the air.
Indeed, the latter is altogether more objectionable, since it seeks to gain a man advantage, whether justified or not.
And, of course, no-one wants to see that sort of thing in the game, as Big Al Shearer likes to say, not occasionally, but often.
In any event, the solution to all such tomfoolery is very simple: the referee can produce the real thing from his pocket and wave it back, which should have roughly the same effect on the miscreants as does the act of miming putting money into the hat of one of those annoying buskers who insist on accosting you on the street with a big sad face because they have somehow found themselves trapped in a non-existent box.
I tell you, that Marcel Marceau has a lot to answer for, not that he ever did.
It was back in April that the Premier League clubs voted to defer the introduction of VAR for at least another season, with Arsene Wenger — remember him? — quick to condemn their conservatism.
“Personally I believe that is a very, very bad decision,” he said.
“The Premier League has been created by people who had a progressive mind and wanted to be in front of the rest in Europe. It worked.
"Overall, I believe that with this decision, we are behind the rest in the world and that every big game this season has been decided by mistakes that could have been avoided with VAR, especially in the Champions League with Manchester City and Liverpool.
The young generation is used to VAR and, worldwide, they might move away from us because they see that in other countries they do it.”
Credit where it’s due. Wenger — who used to manage Arsenal, in case any of the really young generation are tuning in for the first time today — was sticking his neck out a bit here, since by far the biggest experiment with the technology to date, the 2018 World Cup, was still a couple of months away when he nailed his colours firmly to the appliance of science.
But proving once again, that — the small matter of revitalising Arsenal apart — ‘Arsene knows’, the great man was proved right by how well VAR generally performed in Russia. It is not the perfect solution, of course, but as a righter of many wrongs throughout the World Cup, it not only vindicated the believers but succeeded in converting many who had previously thought that it was sure to tip the grand old game into the abyss.
As for those stubborn old-school sorts who still cling to the notion that the right decisions and the wrong decisions “even themselves in the end”, their lazy, statistical vagueness appears to have been exposed on the eve of the new season in Blighty by research which shows that Huddersfield Town and not Stoke City would have been relegated last time had luck not been a factor.
Or, at least, that’s how the number crunchers at ESPN, Intel and the University of Bath presented their findings, with what they choose to call their ‘Luck Index’, revealing that Stoke were denied four points due to wrongly disallowed goals, wrongly awarded penalties and incorrect red card decisions, while Huddersfield, for similar reasons, gained two points.
The only problem I can see in all this is that what the researchers have discovered actually hasn’t got anything to do with luck at all. Luck, good for one side but bad for the other, is when, say, a defender inadvertently deflects a wayward shot into his own net.
But a goal wrongly disallowed or wrongly given is the result of nothing other than human error.
Which is where VAR comes in or should come in, even if it still allows a margin for human fallibility based on the critical matter of interpretation.
But, no, unlike La Liga, the Bundesliga and Serie A, the Premier League will remain a VAR-free zone this season, thus ensuring that, if nothing else, the pundits will still have plenty of their beloved ‘talking points’ to keep the ‘bantz’ flowing between now and next May.
So, as the fun and games kick off again, good news there for Big Al, Merse, Gary and, most of all, Carra who, on the back of last season’s most damning and incontrovertible video evidence — what we might call CAR VAR — can count himself very fortunate to be coming home at all.
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