The high-stakes nature of knock-out football and the added scrutiny of a grudge match are not the only unusual elements facing Brighton and Crystal Palace players when the two sides meet in the FA Cup on Monday night.
They may also need to negotiate the use of video technology which some colleagues in other countries have described both as a “catastrophe” and “a mockery of a lovely game”.
The third round tie will go down in history as the first in a competitive club match in England in which a video assistant referee – commonly abbreviated to VAR – will be used.
And it could be the first of many, with football’s lawmakers expected to recommend that the technology be rolled out across the game in time for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Read more: Howard Webb – Technology undoubtedly helps referees, but video replays won’t be a panacea for football
Football’s lack of video replays to check or correct refereeing decisions — of the type commonplace in rugby, cricket and the NFL — has been a familiar lament whenever a big match has swung on a dodgy offside call or inexplicable red card.
Since trials for VAR were approved by rule-makers the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in June 2016, the technology has been used in around 1,000 matches in a wide range of high-level competitions.
Yet the first ever use of VAR in a top-tier domestic football match, an Australian league fixture between Wellington Phoenix and Sydney FC, revealed some of the frustrations that have gone on to characterise recent trials.
“I can see it causing more problems than good,” said Wellington captain Andrew Durante, after his side had a penalty retrospectively awarded against them following a VAR review but saw their own appeals for a late spot-kick ignored.
The aforementioned description of VAR as a “catastrophe”, meanwhile, came from Germany midfielder Sandro Wagner, who plays in the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim.
Germany’s top flight has endured a topsy-turvy trial period using the technology. The league’s VAR operating manager Hellmut Krug was dismissed amid accusations of pushing personal bias on decision-makers, while fans’ groans at its use have morphed into protests at its very presence.
Read more: Trevor Steven – Don’t call time on the VAR – first let’s try video replays in the Premier League for a year
A not uncommon assessment came from Stuttgart coach Hannes Wolf who labelled the set-up “ridiculous” after one of his charges was sent off for a second bookable offence just 12 minutes into 3-1 loss — a decision the match referee later admitted had been wrong.
In Italy the technology’s potential to intrude on the game’s natural spontaneity has been a source of complaint.
“I don’t like this technology,” Lazio manager Simone Inzaghi said. “I don’t think it’s fun for the players, coaches, fans or media to wait for two to three minutes before celebrating or hugging. It takes the emotion out of it.”
It was exactly this kind of lengthy delay that prompted Perth Glory manager to describe VAR as making a “mockery of a lovely game” after his side had to wait four minutes between a penalty being awarded and being taken as VAR was consulted.
Yet the plethora of red-faced managers, outraged players and annoyed fans that have greeted the VAR trials may in many cases have more to do with issues of miscommunication and misunderstanding than intrinsic problems with the technology.
Take Wellington captain Durante’s anger. While it may not feel intuitively fair that in Durante’s case Sydney’s appeals were followed by a penalty and his team’s were not, both flashpoints were in fact being watched by the VAR, who only deemed one of them a “clear and obvious error” — the current standard for VAR contacting a referee — that required amendment.
Stuttgart manager Wolf’s fury also came from a misunderstanding of the parameters of VAR. His player’s second booking may have been unfair, but bookings are not currently deemed to be within the VAR’s remit; only goals, penalties, straight red cards and cases of mistaken identity are currently within its scope.
As for suggestions that the technology is too intrusive, IFAB technical director David Elleray, the former Premier League referee, says that trials so far are averaging just one reviewed decision every three matches.
Across 137 regular-season Major League Soccer games in North America this year, for example, there were just 46 VAR reviews and 37 overturned decisions.
As for Inzaghi’s charge that VAR can “take the emotion out of football,” what better scenario to put that to the test than an FA Cup tie under the lights between two bitter rivals?
How does VAR work?
The most important thing to remember: VAR only comes into play when a “clear and obvious error” has been made regarding a match-changing situation
Match-changing situations are defined as:
Straight red cards
Mistaken identity regarding yellow or red cards
If a match referee is unsure about a decision they can request an on-field video review. Alternatively, the VAR can suggest a review to the referee
The VAR will then check any incident for a “clear and obvious error” before relaying his verdict to the referee
The referee can ignore the VAR if he wants, they can take their advice immediately and change the decision, or they can request an on-field video review and check the incident on a screen at the side of a pitch
The reviews the referee will be watching extend back to the beginning of the “attacking possession phase” – when the attacking team got the ball
Other terms to remember:
AVAR: Assistant to the VAR
VOR: Video Operation Room where the VAR sits
RO: Replay Operator. Helps VAR by replaying and slowing down clips