With just four match days left in Italy’s Serie A and a thrilling finale between Napoli and Juventus to come, one of the unsung heroes of the season has been VAR, or at least that is what the stats suggest thus far. Fair play has been the biggest benefactor with a notable decline in expulsions, fouls and simulations.
The stats prove it - The observation is backed up by stats, which Nicola Rizzoli divulged in a meeting with stakeholders of the Italian game.
* 1736 checks were made in 346 matches (330 in Serie A and 16 in the Coppa Italia)
* these checks pertained 916 goals, 464 penalties, 356 expulsions
* a 105 corrections were made, with only 17 errors, of which 8 affected the results
* refereeing errors were reduced to just 0.98%, compared to 6.05% in the pre-VAR era.
* referral times have gone down from 1’22 during the first three match days to just 31.5 seconds
VAR Introduction - The Video Assistant Referee was introduced at the start of this season in Italy, abolishing goal-line referees, a novelty in the 2016-2017 season. Serie A covered the costs of about €2 million for the implementation of the new technology. Previously, FIFA had tested VAR at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, the 2017 U-20 World Cup in South Korea and the 2016 Club World Cup in Japan.
Skepticism at the start - On the first two match days of the Italian season VAR felt a bit intrusive. ‘Discorsi da bar’ - football’s talking points on a Monday - turned into ‘discorsi da VAR.’ Confusion reigned, slight infringements were scrutinised by players and coaches and not the ‘clear and obvious errors ’ that had to be reviewed. Even semantics perplexed: was it il VAR or la VAR?
A success in Serie A - Famous goalkeeper Buffon worried it was making the game inhuman, too robotic and harder to judge for referees, but, as the season progressed, the benefits of the system led to a general acceptance among players, fans, media and observers. The technology has enhanced the idea of fair play in the Italian game: expulsions, fouls and simulations have diminished; more penalties have been granted. Referees have been more performant and faults have taken gone done.
Communication is key - “One of the most important aspects is communication, which we are sometimes lacking is precisely the referee's communication to the VAR or vice versa,” admitted referee Gianluca Rocchi, who was a protagonist in the crucial clash between Juventus and Napoli over the weekend.
Crunch time in Russia - This summer VAR will face its biggest test yet, at the high mass of the global game, the World Cup in Russia. In March, the International Football Association Board, IFAB, enshrined VAR into the laws of the game. The FIFA Council then ratified VAR’s use at the World Cup. With a haphazard application at last year’s Confederations Cup, the system will be under heavy scrutiny. FIFA and its refereeing department have gone to great length to ensure VAR will run smoothly at the finals with multiple seminars and practice camps around the world, among other Dubai and Coverciano in Italy.
Communication at the World Cup - The world governing body will also implement new measures to ensure smooth communication with fans during the World Cup. At the finals, supporters won’t be left in the dark about the reasons behind decisions of the VAR. FIFA has rolled out a VAR information system. A FIFA staff member will listen in to the VAR’s decisions and communicate those to TV commentators and stadium personnel operating the giant screens.