VAR Anger Righteous But Spurs Fail to Shine

Big build up, big crowd. Lousy first half, all over the place, can’t pass, move or defend. Concede to a player we sold. For every glory glory night, there’s a classic Spurs fail.

So let’s talk disallowed 95-minute winners. Let’s talk about the future of the game we know and love. Kane’s goal was ruled out by not one marginal decision but two. Offside by a line the width of a pixel, and a referee’s interpretation that a defender’s attempt to prevent the goal was accidental. “The Accidental Defender”, there’s an existential novel in there somewhere. At least I think that’s why it was disallowed. I was in the ground behind that goal and I’m the last to know.

Football’s attraction is that it is in essence a simple game. It can produce unforgettable moments of sublime athletic artistry and improvisation but at its heart lies a glorious human chaos. This is what we sign up for when we commit to supporting our team. We choose not to stand back and contemplate painstakingly crafted creative artwork or the marvels of precision engineering. Such aesthetic pleasures are for others, or for us at another time. Our bargain is we take the disappointment and joy as a whole, two sides of the same coin, one without the other cannot and does not exist.

It’s untidy and unpredictable and it’s ours. VAR is everything football is not. It’s not a game to be slowed down or judged on a matter on a matter of millimetres, dissected like a poor dead specimen pinned to a laboratory workbench. Last night a good friend of mine, equally exasperated, said that it would take a major controversy in a World Cup final before anything would change. Perhaps, but I reckon the powers that be would respond by burrowing further down a labyrinthine rabbit hole to refine the laws and the technology in a futile search for perfection imposed upon a fundamentally messy reality.

This isn’t about Spurs, it’s about the game itself. On Monday, the W Ham centre half parried a cross two-handed, volleyball style, in the box, ruled accidental. The Hammers then headed in after some goalmouth confusion but because this took place approximately 1.5 seconds later, it was deemed a different phase. This was a goal under the laws of the game, I get that, and that’s my point. It’s not about Spurs or W Ham, it’s about the law, and the law in this case is an ass.

VAR is anti-football and anti-fan. It sucks the life out of the game, forcibly snatching away the precious joy of collective unbridled celebration, of being in the moment, of belonging. Of being a fan. If we can’t have even this, what do we have left?  Shall we pass down the generations stories of how we gloried in watching the big screen, the deep purple contrasted – joyously! – with a lighter mauve?  Remember the time it took almost 3 minutes – oh the waiting! Of how we applauded politely in recognition that on the balance of probability, we’ve gone a goal up?

None of this is new. On the contrary, I and others predicted precisely this once the refs got their hands on the tech. This is unscientific, but last night and this morning, I have seen so many comments from long-standing matchday regulars who I know, complaining not so much about being a denied a goal, we are practiced in handling that, but what VAR and the aftermath meant to their involvement in and enjoyment of football. Anger and disillusion characterised these comments. People saying they had had enough, seriously thinking of jacking it all in. Because this is another invidious consequence of VAR. It is a crushing reminder of how little supporters matter when it comes to it, especially matchgoing fans.

VAR adds to the drama for the passive consumer. And in so doing, it sits along all the other issues imposed on fans – ticket prices, TV shifting dates and kick-off times at short notice, awaydays with no trains. VAR is a symbol of a wider malaise that separates fans, the supposed lifeblood of football, from the game itself and how we are being alienated. Fans organised and paid for the tifo, beamed to a TV audience worldwide, but we don’t matter otherwise. Just background noise, thrown away in the wind like so many paper aeroplanes made from our tifo card. Loyal fans are close to walking away.

No solace to be found in the game itself. The best that can be said for Spurs’ first half performance is that it was lacklustre. I thought we were awful, and VAR controversy should not obscure that. Not enough movement, gaps between the midfield and a static front three, long balls because there was no room in the midfield where once again we were outnumbered. This isn’t a one-off description, rather, it sums up recent games, where opponents have sussed our patterns and easily counter them. Even when we direct the ball out wide to the spare man, the wing-back, they are left isolated and therefore straightforward to deal with, with players waiting inside for something to happen rather than working to support them and/or create an overload out wide.

Significant moment at the end of the first half. We had a free-kick at their end. The keeper formed a wall to block a shot, leaving four of our players at the edge of the box against their two defenders, yet we opted for a clearly pre-planned routine that failed. It shows the lack of thinking in the moment and not responding to what is happening in the game at that time.

Give Conte time and space to develop the side, bearing in mind the anticipated timescale for progress has extended into years rather than months, because we’re not moving forward as fast as I naively hoped when the season began. But I simply don’t understand why we start games so slowly. After 10 minutes or so, teams realise that we are letting them play, not taking the game to them to impose our authority, as seems reasonable. Yesterday, in the second half we didn’t play that well but took the game over just by pushing onto them, giving them less time and pushing more players up. We should have had the match won well before VAR took over.

Good to see Gil’s talents, largely hidden until now because he has tended in his rare appearances to rush around frantically all over the place, whereas yesterday he stayed wide with a clear role. Again, a sub making a difference by taking men on and upping the tempo. Spence can also do this, but we’ve not seen them even when as against Newcastle, we were getting nowhere because we persist with patterns of play that are manifestly not getting anywhere.

And Bentancur is an excellent player. Good to see him in a system that allows him greater freedom to come forward. He picks up the pace of the game and tries to change things up. Hard-working and committed too.

Rachel Martin from the Trust spoke to Coytey pre-match about the invaluable work of the Tottenham Foodbank. My site is and always will be free, if you like it, maybe drop them a donation however small. Thank you. Text COYSFOODBANK plus the amount in numbers to 70085 e.g. COYSFOODBANK5

13 thoughts on “VAR Anger Righteous But Spurs Fail to Shine

  1. You’ve summarised my feelings of initial total disappointment and bewilderment that, in the last 10-15 minutes, transmogrified into excitement. VAR (among other modern alterations have almost destroyed the sport I found wonderful over 60 years ago.
    We really need to have a good cogitation on our moving the ball out from the back to front and start each game at the same tempo we reached until 95+ minutes last night… Yuck!!!

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  2. Thanks Alan,

    I just don’t understand offside anymore technically or emotionally. How can it not make a difference if the ball is played backwards and how does it matter if the defender knocks the ball intentionally or unintentionally. The latter query just introducing more grey area and interpretation when they are otherwise trying to be scientific about it, although that VAR line looked less than able to bear scrutiny from an after-school Science Club for 8 year olds.

    If that Kane goal is offside so be it, but I also feel it is another layer of distance from the game for me. Due to distance and cost I am a “passive” observer these days (the level I get to see games live at does not have VAR or sometimes proper linesmen), but ‘ll never be passive about Spurs.

    Bentancur always played better when allowed scope for box to box play at Juve and strait-jacketing him as his time went on there meant they never exploited his full potential. Good to see we are starting to see this trust being given at Spurs. More than his goal the run past two and cut back in the box showed his ability in advanced positions even if he isn’t a magic wand/can-opener creator like Eriksen say.

    I’m confident we’ll get the result needed in Marseille, but am increasingly worried about Conte’s approach to games. You said last time he doesn’t trust the players as much as those he had at other clubs, which hadn’t really thought about, but I make you right, but as shown by Bentancur, he really should. It’s prosaic at best for at least one half each game.

    I remain amazed how many Kane scores with so little. Since Pochettino went, and even last knockings of Poch, he’s playing in sides that are too cautious. If Kane was at City he’d be knocking as many or not far off as Haaland imo.

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    • You’re welcome. I share your pain. As I said in the piece, it was remarkable how many fans commented that this was driving them away from the game as a whole, rather than just moaning about the rights and wrong of this decision. VAR has a context, where PL fans cope with high prices, travel and food costs, kick-offs being moved at relatively short notice, an impersonal service from the club.

      Interesting to hear from one who knows about Bentancur. He seems to relish coming forward and is more of an influence in that role. rather than hanging deeper.

      All the best, Al

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  3. It’s less than 24 hours after the game and I’m still hot and I reserve the right to withdraw my comments, and probably shall, but may I be the only Spurs fan to suggest that the two recent bad decisions against us were good? In candour, I didn’t think Wilson did anything terrible in colliding with Lloris and my yardstick these days is – if Harry had scored an identical goal we’d have been livid had it been disallowed. Now to last night. In real time I went bonkers along with everyone else but on the replay I said to myself, “Harry’s off.” If they’d scored that goal we’d have wanted it disallowed. But we’re Spurs and I’m now almost programmed into believing that any VAR decision will go against us, mysteriously. Full credit, Alan, for managing to articulate such emotion. My big worry now is that I think we lose Conte on the touchline for next week and if recent past form is anything to go by then we may be in for some more heartache. Away in Europe is not a good thing recently.
    Also am I the only one to consider that Son’s contributions in recent weeks (maybe months) have been really poor? I know he’s always been either very hot or freezing and currently he’s positively Arctic. But it’s not as if he’s contributing much to the overall team in general play and too many moves break down around him with his poor first and second touches.
    Thanks for allowing me to vent… there’s limited opportunity here in the states and I’ve learned not to confront strangers in the local mall ranting on about the rank banality of VAR.

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    • Foolishly I wildly celebrated Kane’s goal, hugged the strangers next to me and high fived the two young lads with their dad going to their first live match. After three minutes waiting I walked out of the ground. I didn’t want to see the disappointment on their faces when the inevitable decision came. Will those young lads want to come to another match in the future? Used in the way it is, VAR really will kill the game for match goers. Urgent reform needed now.

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    • I too feel like going up to total strangers and sharing my VAR outrage. It is just wrong!! I certainty bored the fans around me on the train home with similar sentiments. Always room to vent on here.

      My problem with VAR is that it exists and is, as I put it, anti-football. Some decisions go for us, some against, so we can all have a good moan but that is the way of the game, always has been with refereeing, always will be. Part of the game. It’s the fine tuning of the law and the absurdities that get me. So I understand why Harry was ruled offside, although that wasn’t clear to me or anyone in that stadium after the game. I understand according to the laws why a defender was ruled to have played the ball but not deliberately, I don’t understand a law that says a defender trying to get in the way can be defined as not playing it deliberately, or how or why the laws render a fundamentally simple game so complex. I don’t know if you saw the W Ham goal on Monday that I mentioned but that is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. The ball bobbled around the 6 yard box in the air for a couple of seconds before Zouma scored but this under the laws was divided into two phases.

      With Sonny, you are right. He’s not regained his touch this season despite that superb hat-trick. His play on the ball has never been top-class, he’s average at holding it up and passing, always has been, just we notice it more when he not scoring.

      Regards, Alan

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  4. Great article Alan, I couldn’t have put it better – both on VAR and the team’s performance.

    I very rarely celebrate a goal in the spur of the moment anymore (last night’s included, even Bentancur’s) as there is always the fear that VAR will do it’s utmost to find something wrong with it. As you so succinctly put it, the joy of collective unbridled celebration has been eradicated. I’m rapidly falling out of love with the game that I have followed for over 50 years.

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  5. Yes VAR has ruined football – decisions taken away from the referee ( the man who never consults his linesmen – I know they have given them a different title now but, their job is to assist the referee ( when ? ) they wave their flags when they are allowed too but, referee never consults them anyway . They are just VAR extras to prevent goals being allowed . Why does the referee only occasionally go over to look at VAR , isn’t he in charge ? VAR now runs the game ,
    We need to not celebrate goals in future , just sit or stand there with arms folded until some nobody decides if it is a goal or not ?
    Bear in mind everyone watching on tv ( millions ) can see exactly what has happened too, many times over and over again those VAR decisions leave us fuming or scratching our heads wondering how the VAR managed to reach the wrong decision again !!!
    The West Ham forward handled pass in the box – another amazing VAR decision and so it goes on – farcical decisions ruining games and annoying football followers throughout the world
    Put VAR back in a box and bury it for good and get refs on the pitch to do their job

    Liked by 1 person

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