James Shield's Sheffield United Column: For once, the manager's faith is misplaced
Do not be surprised, following Sheffield United's visit to Tottenham Hotspur tomorrow, if the post-match talk is dominated by something which happens more than 20 miles away in one of London's north-western suburbs.
After all, thanks to football's nonsensical desire to rid the game of mistakes, miscommunications and anything else which might resemble normal human behaviour, events inside the Premier League's VAR review suite at Stockley Park have now become seemingly more important than events on the pitch. Thanks, thanks an absolute bloody bunch, to everyone who campaigned for its introduction. You did an absolutely sterling job.
Chris Wilder, the United manager, unfortunately counts himself among this ridiculous system's supporters. Initially opposed to the idea, he seemingly experienced an epiphany at some point over the summer. Presumably after being told its introduction would prevent his team finding themselves on the wrong end of a dodgy decision. He wasn't the first to fall for this con trick. And that's usually how the script, peddled by those who fail to appreciate the very essence of the sport, goes.
The system, as we have discovered in recent weeks, actually delivers anything but perfection. Interpretations, until a computer is tasked with doing the job, are still subjective. Even if the task is delegated to a microchip, someone will be required to programme it. So absolutely flawless? Not a chance.
"I think, with VAR, there will always be teething problems," Wilder said following another weekend of controversy and handwringing towards the end of last month. "The PGMOL will know these situations are bound to happen. We've had decisions that have been against us. As long as there's consistency in the decision-making, it's here to make the game better and hopefully it does."
Seven days later, speaking at the Steelphalt Academy yesterday, Wilder's position had changed. But only slightly.
"It has been talked about far too much in my opinion. It just seems to have overtaken everything in the game. People won't have wanted it to go down this road but it has. Maybe we should have looked at it, and realised it was always going to come to this in its infancy. I think they have just got to bat through with it now, and crack on with it."
His faith is commendable. But for once, and I don't say this often, utterly misplaced. I''m sure at least a handful of United's players think so too. If they don't, then Chris Basham, John Egan, Jack O'Connell, Richard Stearman and Phil Jagielka should re-watch a clip of Saturday's match between Watford and Chelsea, when Gerard Deulofeu was awarded a penalty - at VAR's behest - after being brushed inside the penalty box.
Referee Anthony Taylor didn't make the call. Mike Dean, sat in front of a bank of video monitors, was responsible for that. It confirmed we have now entered an age when defenders only have to touch an opponent for a spot-kick to be given. Cue lots of sage expressions and claims of "well he did make contact" from the frankly overpaid and, in the laws of the game from which they once made a living, uneducated talking heads in television studios. The most important issue - did that contact actually prompt a triple salchow and pike - is never debated. If not, then it was a dive. I am assuming United's centre-halves will be instructed not to attempt any sort of tackle when Spurs encroach into their area during the two club's upcoming meeting.
If the new way of doing things leads to outcomes like that, then it is utterly useless. Except, of course, when it comes to highlighting how neither players nor referees will ever achieve perfection. Which wasn't really the point. Likewise a review system which, as Son Heung-min's overturned red card demonstrated, needs reviewing itself.