Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City were on the verge of pulling out a late victory against Tottenham at home, and then VAR stepped in to take it away.
In the second minute of stoppage time, it appeared as though City’s constant pressure on Tottenham had finally broken their opponents after Gabriel Jesus pounced on a loose ball in the penalty box and slotted a goal to give his team a 3-2 lead. As the pandemonium commenced among the players, referee Michael Oliver made the ominous move of putting his finger to his ear. Upon further review, apparently, the ball that appeared to bounce off the head of Aymeric Laporte—which led to Jesus’s goal—actually made some mild contact with his left arm. Oliver then signaled for a handball, and wiped away the goal to return the score to 2-2, where it would stay through the final whistle.
For those unaware, City face a similar VAR-related goal deduction back in April against Tottenham in the Champions League. There, the goal scored in injury time was taken away because the back pass from Christian Eriksen that started the break which led to the score bounced off of City’s Bernardo Silva and got to Sergio Agüero, who was in an offside position when the ball touched his teammate. The only reason that call was made was because VAR allows officials to hyper-analyze every millimeter of the pitch in search for infractions that no human in the stadium could possibly spot in real time. It caught the slightest offside in April, and caught the lightest handball today. Needless to say, Jesus was pretty displeased with the call.
It’s more than likely his anger mostly stems from his goal getting taken away, and his team having to settle for a draw. But if he were to look back at the game tape, he’d probably find another reason to get upset—like, for example, the fact that VAR was used to spot a soft handball, but was not used to call a penalty on a takedown in a box that was a bit more blatant.
While no one seriously expected VAR to solve every officiating-related problem in the sport, it was advertised as a tool that could be used to fix the most obvious errors that referees missed on the pitch. Choosing instead to use VAR for this kind of nitpicking in the Premier League is probably a sign that this system has only created more problems than it has fixed, and that those problems are only going to get worse as the season goes on.