Alan Biggs Sheffield United column: Wilder's men have less to fear than most from VAR
He could be playing for you or he could be playing against you. He’s the “new player” in every Premier League game next season, signed up whether teams like him or not.
So how will the Video Assistant Referee – the VAR – affect Sheffield United on their return to the top flight?As a factor over which established members of the Premier League have no control, could it actually help to even the playing field for Chris Wilder’s men as all 20 clubs venture into uncharted territory?There is a reason why that could be the case when it comes to offsides and we’ll come to that later. In fact, the more I think about it the more I feel the Blades have less to fear than most.How often do you see a Wilder player get involved in an incident off the ball? Typically, do they dive or feign injury? Do they take competing for the ball over the edge? All areas in which the VAR can become involved. All areas in which the United management operate a strict moral code. Now don’t get me wrong. They are not whiter than white. This is a body of fierce competitors – arguably the biggest reason why they are where they are.But refreshingly the more cynical aspects of the game have never been embraced within the Bramall Lane dressing room. Much could depend on their reaction to opponents who do embrace them ... to keep discipline in such situations.Maybe the knowledge that VAR is watching will help - and rightly so for the whole game in such instances.As for tackling and competing, let’s hope the operators practice what they preach. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing VAR headquarters at Stockley Park as part of a tutorial for the talkSPORT reporting team.The theme was restraint, of minimal interference. In turn, we sat in the hot seat watching a real time screen – alongside monitors running with a three-second delay and offering multiple replay angles.We were shown challenges on the borderline between yellow and red. Being subjective calls, there was general disagreement between us reporters clustered around the consoles in the room, which will each be assigned to a specific match.The message was that these were cases for non-intervention unless the match referee missed and to simply let him go with yellow or red.Where I worry is that referees are no different to journalists when it comes to differing opinions. The VARs will need to curb that urge to be seen to be doing their job by intervening. Sometimes they will be most effective by doing nothing – by going through a thought process which says “well, I thought that should have been a red not a yellow, but it’s a matter of opinion and I’m not getting involved.”Unless it’s blatant, of course. It’s that “clear and obvious” thing which we’d all like but which is hard to achieve when there is a policy of checking all goals.And so to something which, purely as a fan, I dislike with a passion – because emotion is the lifeblood of the game and I simply can’t abide seeing goals, and the joy of the moment, being demolished by some meticulous and protracted judgement that a striker’s toecap is a fraction offside. As in Jesse Lingard’s disallowed goal for England against Holland last week.Unfortunately, we’re stuck with that because it’s a matter of fact; you’re either offside or you’re not. But again I wonder if this can aid the Blades. I’m no great lover of stats, either, but my eyes and instincts tell me United haven’t relied over-much on defence-splitting passes for strikers to steal just onside. They haven’t had the pace for that.Instead, Wilder and Alan Knill have cleverly operated the overload in wide positions, patiently creating opportunities from pull-backs rather than through balls.However, I don’t think it’s healthy for the game that the great skill of the brilliantly-timed run could be discouraged by a deterrent to it. And don’t get me started on the nonsense new handball interpretation.We’ll all have arguments either way on this and one thing of which there’s no doubt is that VAR will be a huge talking point across all matches in the new season.