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23rd July 2017

We've had the opportunity to see fleeting glimpses of the Video Assistant Referees system (VAR) during recent games and tournaments and to be honest I'm yet to be totally convinced.

I was always an advocate that decisions should be made by the man in the middle, mainly because I didn't believe that the game of football, as opposed to sports like cricket, tennis and rugby, is a more continuous flowing game and I didn't really see how it would work with stops and starts to reflect on decisions.

As the public demand for perfection continued to gain momentum and the pundits regularly wanted every decision that they perceived as being incorrect being changed it was inevitable that some form of technology would be added to the game. Article continues below...

Goal line technology was the perfect way to start, a point of fact not of opinion, as we have seen it is an instant decision that causes no debate and in fact has proved that the previous dependence on the naked eye was impossible to rely upon. From forty yards away judging whether or not all of the ball was a couple of millimetres over the goal line was not as easy as the experts would have had us believe.

I used to rage at the ridiculous comments that "everyone in the ground could see that". We all now know that the slide rule accuracy that we've seen introduced was both necessary and has eased the pressure on the much maligned match officials.

Moving on we are now seeing assistance available for matters of opinion rather than absolute fact. On some occasions it can be invaluable but there are so many grey areas where many would have a different view. Obviously you'd expect that of fans, but believe me, referees don't always agree on viewings of the same incident.

One thing that to me is of paramount importance is the credibility of the match day referee. Players will be players and if the ref has pointed to the spot only to have his decision overturned by video review, then I can assure you every decision he makes for the rest of the game will be accompanied with "Are you sure?"

In the recent France v England friendly a French defender was sent off after the 'system' decreed that it was a penalty and red card offence. Being a friendly it didn't really matter, but imagine if this had been a competitive encounter. The referee looked embarrassed to issue the red card and for what it's worth I was in total agreement with him. He was on the pitch and has a feel for the game and has to interact with the players then he has to enforce what he firmly believes wasn't the correct decision.

In the Confederations Cup competition we saw even more anomalies, confusion and inconsistencies proving that the officials are clearly not working with a system that is fully understood.

In one game the referee left a potential flashpoint area in the penalty area to run fifty yards to the TV monitor near the halfway line, right next to the dugouts, after being summoned to review a decision that he appeared confident in making. He didn't change his mind and thankfully on this occasion the players didn't get involved with each other in the referees absence.

Another saw a ref show a yellow card for what was a red card offence. Despite the VAR getting involved the correct decision was not made.

This is supposed to be making things easier. Obviously there is much work to be done before we see any benefits.

There are without doubt some officials that would stop making key decisions. We've seen it in Rugby League and cricket. Passing the buck I believe. Some think that it adds to the drama but I'm not so sure that would work as well in football. Sadly the tolerance of footy supporters isn't as good as in other sports and whoever makes the decision it won't be popular if the final decision goes against your team.

There is perhaps much confusion until the trials are completed. My friend and former colleague Howard Webb is currently heading the systems introduction in America as its being rolled out in their professional leagues.

Perfection in match decisions may be on the horizon, we'll see, but it does pose another problem though. Who on earth will the fans have to vent their fury at and what will we have to talk about post-match?

Football is exciting, it's explosive, it's controversial, it's about mistakes and human error. We have to be careful what we wish for.

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