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Column: VAR - what is it good for?

The presence of VAR in football is a polarising topic, some are all for it while others believe that it is killing the game. After the K League 2 Playoffs, during which VAR had a huge impact on the outcome of both matches, it has been the subject of much debate. VAR - what is it good for?

If you were playing Football Manager and experienced the kind of season which Daejeon Hana Citizen did this year you would say it was too unrealistic: unusual injuries, 10-game suspensions, a case of COVID-19. Anyone who has played any sort of video game will know the feeling – that sometimes it seems impossible for you to win no matter what you do. That was what it seemed like for the Purples on the night of the K League 2 Playoff Semi-final.

[READ: Why it's gone wrong for Daejeon]

Daejeon went into the K League 2 Playoff Semi-final knowing that only a win would do with Gyeongnam having double home advantage - only needing a draw in a one-leg tie. The Purples gave it a good go, too. In the second half in particular Daejeon put on a real performance; the tempo was good, so was the intensity, they created chances and generally looked more purposeful. Citizen even went ahead three times but had two goals disallowed and were prevented from reaching the final, not by Gyeongnam FC, but by VAR and the man in the middle Kim Yong-woo.

The home-team-only-needing-a-draw rule has to be looked at. Being at home is reward enough for finishing higher in the table, but the main issue is that VAR reared its ugly head once again. For those who missed the semi-final, Daejeon had an 89th minute winner chalked off away to Gyeongnam because of what was adjudged to be a foul on Choi Jun by Lee Jung-moon. The referee was well placed at the time of the incident and the Daejeon players were allowed a whole minute to celebrate before the referee, under pressure from Gyeongnam, decided to look at VAR. What ensued thereafter was nothing short of farcical, VARcical if you will.

Referee Kim Yong-woo spent two minutes and 37 seconds watching the replay and zoomed in on the incident no fewer than, and I am not joking, 28 times. Bruno Baio's goal was disallowed and the score remained 1-1. K League 2's all-time leading goal scorer Ko Kyung-min cancelled out Edinho's 61st minute opener nine minutes later.

As for the incident itself; to me, it’s soft. And if it happens anywhere else on the pitch it isn’t a foul. Choi Jun is already going to ground when he falls into Lee Jung-moon who is merely standing his ground. This is an example of a tall player being penalized because of their height. 

Also, for balance it is worth noting that Daejeon did get a VAR decision go their way against Gyeongnam when they were awarded a penalty in the 72nd minute for handball. Bruno Baio stepped up, scored but the goal was then chalked off due to encroachment from defender Lee Gyu-ro. Bad luck but the rules are clear.

What is it good for?

EDIT 4th Dec 2020

VAR is there, according to International Football Association Board (IFAB), in case of a “clear and obvious error”. If a referee needs to watch the clip for nearly three minutes while constantly rewinding and using several camera angles then it is not a clear or obvious error. How can it be?

The rules for how VAR should be implemented are quite interesting. They also state:

"The referee must always make a decision, i.e. the referee is not permitted to give ‘no decision’ and then use the VAR to make the decision; a decision to allow play to continue after an alleged offence can be reviewed."

In other words, that makes it sound as though referee must make a decision either by saying that it is not a penalty or that it is before using VAR. However, that is not the case as KLU's Jung Muyeol explains:

Even the guidelines on how VAR is to be used are not clear or obvious.

Playoff Final

While trailing 1-0 heading into the dying embers Suwon FC were awarded a penalty. Much like the semi-final, the home side only needed a draw so this meant that an awful lot was riding on the decisions of referee Kim Jong-hyeok. From the moment Suwon FC's Jung Seon-ho went to ground to when the referee went to VAR, 48 seconds elapsed. In fact, with the referee no more than a few yards away, Gyeongnam went up the other end and almost scored. The Reds were even awarded a corner after Park Ki-dong tried to fashion himself a chance to shoot.

The incident was looked at eight times over a time span of 36 seconds which is not bad compared to Kim Yong-woo in the Daejeon vs Gyeongnam semi-final. But the fact that the game carried on for 48 seconds will leave a sour taste in the mouth for Gyeongnam fans who must have believed they were close. Jung Seon-ho went to ground with the clock at 94:50, the penalty was converted on 99:43, the 100th minute of the match and a good six minutes afterwards.

The decision was the correct one, it was a foul but it took far too long. Without clear and obvious guidelines on how it should be implemented, it is clear and obvious that VAR is only going to continue to take away the only joy fans have and that is celebrating a goal from their team. Those moments of elation are now at the mercy of a video screen, sometimes a minute or two after the goal has gone in.

[READ: Suwon FC win promotion to K League 1]

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