What was your favourite moment of this summer’s World Cup?
Perhaps it was Gareth Southgate and his boys breathing some fresh life into the national team. The phenomenal goals on offer? Kylian Mbappe announcing himself well and truly to the globe? Maybe it was the pure pride and passion which saw those brave Russians outrun their opposition, often for up to 120 minutes at a time, in every contest.
For me, the highlight came in the group stages, Brazil’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica.
Long before those two late goals the Selecao were a grumpy, frustrated bunch. Stifled by their opponents and offered few chances in front of goal.
All that appeared to change when Neymar went down in the box and referee Bjorn Kuipers pointed to the spot.
But seconds later the official was pitchside, in his little booth, watching the replay on his screen before returning to the turf, making a TV outline with his forefingers and announcing he’d changed his mind.
Is there any way better to tell a player he’d been caught cheating than for an official to stop play and basically announce it to the man in question in a stadium of 65,000 people, with millions more watching across the globe?
The decision – aided by VAR, which was trialled at the tournament – didn’t stop Neymar’s attempts to con officials in Russia. Nothing probably would, play acting has always been a big part of his game.
But that moment was pure comic brilliance, the decision that proved – in this modern world of cameras and re-runs – that players may not always be able to sway marginal decisions in their favour based on reputation.
VAR was by no means perfect at the World Cup, but the baffling errors it brought about – penalties given for handball due to slow-motion replays the most frustrating – were due to human interpretation and not the system itself.
And the fact that officials found themselves referring to the screens less and less during the tournament proved that players were cottoning on to the fact they wouldn’t be able to get away with it like the good old days.
I loved VAR and would welcome it in the club game in a heartbeat.
Of course, there’s the argument that football’s appeal centres around the fact that it’s essentially the same game – two goals and a ball – from the top level right down to grassroots.
Boston United would have loved a VAR referral as FC United’s Liam Dickinson left Spencer Harris floored with an arm on Saturday, but the National League North clubs would probably never be able to afford it.
Same goes for the United Counties League, Lincs League and Workforce Unlimited Division Three.
But few people seem to whinge about the lack ofHawk-Eye in the East Lindsey Cricket League while it weaves its magic at Lord’s.
The disparity is even greater in tennis, where Grand Slams such as Wimbledon have it on the show courts but not the outside ones.
One tournament with two sets of rules.
VAR couldn’t please everyone in the world of football, but with livelihoods and jobs depending on relegation or survival in the top leagues for so many it would be nice to try to get things as close to correct as possible.
And if it stops Neymar being such a little oik then it’s fine by me.