VAR: The Early Verdict on the Video Assistant Referee

The Bundesliga as an innovator is beyond doubt with youth development and female referees just two examples. But it is in the sphere of video technology to help the match officials that it is now a forerunner. So after the first weekend of the 2017-18 season, we ask has the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system been a success or a failure.

Well, the verdict of the jury in the main is positive albeit with a number of important reservations. Let’s look at three key incidents from the weekend’s action before moving on to the big but (fnar fnar!)

#1 Bayern Munich v Bayer Leverkusen

The VAR was used twelve times during Friday’s Bundesliga opener with match referee Tobias Stieler getting purely audible advice on eleven occasions. The main and historic first use of the video replay came when Charles Aranguiz was punished for a pull on Robert Lewandowski leading to the award of a penalty- despite Stieler initially not calling it.

“It was a perfect example of how the video assistant can help us referees,” Stieler explained after the match. “I only caught a glimpse of the tug on Lewandowski out of the corner of my eye because it did not happen right in the centre of the action.

“I had a feeling that it was a foul, but I could not be 100 per cent certain and give a penalty. My video assistant quickly confirmed my impression after viewing replays. This situation was resolved quickly and correctly in collaboration with my video assistant, and everybody accepted the final decision.”

#2 SC Freiburg v Eintracht Frankfurt

If Bayern were the beneficiaries of VAR on Friday, then SC Freiburg were the losers on Sunday. The Breisgauer were the first side to see a goal struck off following consultation with the men in Cologne.

A quick counterattack fed Florian Niederlechner, who crossed from the right for Tim Kleindienst to slot home. Initial replays showed that Niederlechner was offside in the build-up, and when ref Manuel Gräfe consulted the VAR, it was confirmed and rightly disallowed.

#3 Hertha Berlin v Stuttgart

2-0 down with four minutes of regular time to play and Stuttgart’s Josip Brekalo went down on the very edge of the penalty area seemingly under the challenge of Berlin’s Sebastian Langkamp. Referee Sascha Stegemann referred it and while it was deemed a foul, the incident was just outside the area so no penalty. There was a delay, but once again the justice prevailed.

So three examples where the VAR was called into play, the correct decision was made, with little time wasted and the game moved on. This is what the proponents of the new system wanted.

But…

While justice was done at the Allianz Arena, the Schwarzwald Stadion and at the Olympiastadion, technical difficulties meant that elsewhere in the Bundesliga the VAR technology was either unavailable or restricted.

Now this opens up a potential can of worms in that certain teams were either rewarded or punished by using VAR, while those denied it could have been disadvantaged by its absence.

“Massive technical problems for service provider Hawkeye led to restrictions on the use of the video assistant at the 3.30 p.m. matches in the Bundesliga” the DFL said in an official statement on its website.

“Despite a comprehensive preparation phase, which was intensified after the premiere at the Super Cup on August 5, the use at three games was either temporary or not possible. Calibrated auxiliary lines to aid offside decisions were available at none of the (Saturday) matches,” the statement added. “This situation is unacceptable to the DFL.”

Luckily, there were no real controversial incidents that were missed due to the down-time, but just imagine the uproar and furore had Bayern been awarded their penalty, but Dortmund for example denied one because of the absence of a fully functioning VAR system.

The early verdict

The first foray into VAR usage in the Bundesliga has been largely positive, although imperfect due to teething problems. The system is there to iron out the inconsistencies and injustices in the game and on the weekend evidence that has been the case.

With a perfectly running system, we should see more ‘correct’ decisions being made, although there is a niggling worry amongst footballing purists that the inherent controversy in the game is a huge contributing factor in its appeal. Without those hugely debatable incidents, where will the Monday morning talking points come from?

Just imagine if VAR had spotted Timo Werner’s dive last season against Schalke- it would have taken away the cat-calls and booing from this weekend’s clash at the Veltins Arena.

Times move on and we have to revolve to evolve.

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Mathew Burt

A year spent living in Bremen got Mathew hooked on the Bundesliga with regular visits to the Weser Stadion getting in the way of his studies. Back in the UK now, he still keenly follows the Grün-Weißen and German football in general. Follow him on Twitter @matburt74.

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