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VAR mess, Man Utd kids dilemma, Arsenal signed wrong man – Jeremy Cross column

I’d expected that by now VAR would be talked about in the same toxic tones as Brexit.

Viewed as divisive, pointless and opening wounds that don’t need opening by half of us, and vital, liberating and taking back control from the refereeing elites by the others.

But I’m getting the feeling that it’s becoming more like the smoking ban in pubs. Even those who see it as a fascistic diktat which destroys enjoyment in a sacred place may eventually accept that the good points (fewer illegal goals/less chance of catching cancer) outweigh the bad ones (it’s killing all the passion/frozen goolies due to smoking on a pavement) and reluctantly accept it in the name of progress.

As Aston Villa fans can testify, its faults are plain to see. It hasn’t stopped post-match debate on “refereeing cock-ups” although without it we’d waste much more of our lives debating them, especially off-sides. Fans are unsure about hugging the person next to them when a goal is scored in case it’s disallowed. When it is, those fans are completely in the dark as to why. There’s no consistency. And rather than looking at pitch-side monitors to have a better view of an incident referees are having to blindly take the opinion of a colleague in a studio.

The Premier League are resisting calls to introduce monitors and even though they’re doing so for the wrong motives – it would take up a lot more time and the broadcasters they’re selling the games too won’t accept long, unpredictable gaps between the adverts – they may be doing us a favour.

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Who wants to see 100-minute games as standard, with lengthy, unexplained stoppages as we stare at a referee’s bum while he leans into a monitor for an eternity? Like his aid sat in Stockley Park, his judgement will ultimately be a subjective one, if enhanced by a few different camera angles.

Because the truth about technology assisting football referees is that, unlike cricket or tennis umpires, it can never fully eradicate errors.

In a contact sport machines will never be able to verify the reason behind the contact. Until we can invent a brain scanner that can be strapped to a player’s skull telling us of their intent when they go for a ball, it’s still guesswork.

How do we know whether Harry Kane dived to win a late penalty in the north London derby? He says he didn’t and many Spurs fans agree. But most people who’ve studied it think Kane realised he was running into a blind alley so leaned his body into Arsenal’s Sokratis, achieved contact and fell naturally, in the hope of conning the ref into giving him a free shot on goal. Yet four days, and dozens of analyses later, no-one but Kane knows what went through his mind in that split-second.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane had his penalty shout waved away at Arsenal

The diving virus has mutated. The days of going down like a sack-of-faeces after being brushed by a gust of wind, as showcased by Franny Lee and perfected by Jurgen Klinsmann, have passed. Modern diving is more nuanced. “Manufacturing contact…going across him…inviting a challenge” are today’s euphemisms for conning the ref.

And fans who see nothing wrong with their striker playing for a penalty, or a midfielder breaking up an attack by feigning injury, can’t attack VAR if it fails to spot a dive that costs them dearly.

The pursuit of the perfect football game in which every decision is 100% correct is pointless. VAR can never be the Holy Grail of fairness, not because of human error but the human condition. On certain occasions, if we think we can get away with it, many of us will cheat.

And a million monitors, pitch-side or not, won’t change that.


If you’re still feeling a bit short-changed by your club’s lack of spending and feel the transfer window was a disaster, think on this. Neymar, after pushing all summer to be released from the hell of a £700,000-a-week PSG contract is quoted as being “sad and deeply angry” he didn’t move back to Barcelona. So it wasn’t all that bad a window then, was it?


Arenal star David Luiz has had a turbulent start to his life as a Gunners player
Arenal star David Luiz has had a turbulent start to his life as a Gunners player

An Arsenal fan got in touch to say he’s contrasted Gary Cahill’s man-of-the-match performance at Old Trafford and clean sheet against Aston Villa which saw Crystal Palace reach the top four, with David Luiz’s last two comical efforts against Liverpool and Spurs, and concluded that Arsenal took the wrong centre-half off Chelsea this summer to replace Laurent Koscielny. I’m not sure about that. But with every rash tackle he dives into, I’m pretty sure Koscielny’s captain’s arm-band, and probably the Arsenal shirt, looks mis-placed on Granit Xhaka.


So, just over three weeks into the season and we’re into a fortnight’s break from league football, as clubs are forced to send their players away to risk injury playing for their countries. Just as they were over the summer at the Copa America, African Cup of Nations and the UEFA Nations League. When they get back from this break they’ve got three weeks with their clubs before they’re sent away on international duty again for another fortnight. And that disruption is repeated three weeks later. Why don’t the ruling bodies have the balls to call this what it is. Not so much international breaks as breaking international standard players.


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When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over at Manchester United they won their first nine away games on the bounce.

Then they lost at Arsenal, and have since won none of the seven games played away from Old Trafford. It can happen. Players get carried away on a feelgood wave, being released from the constructive tactics of the previous manager and a collective belief pushes them on.

But when the honeymoon is over and the wins dry up, it needs players to stand up, dig in and get results. It needs a few of the senior pros who’ve been through similar dips in form, to spread character throughout the team.

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Other must-read Manchester United news

Alan Hansen will be the first to admit he got it wrong when he said, 24 years ago, that United would win nothing with kids.

But if he re-visited that quote today and changed it to United will win nothing with kids “until they get at least three proper leaders around them” nobody could disagree.

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