We must save the soldier VAR. While criticism has multiplied against the video assistance to arbitration for several months, the Professional Football League had made an appointment on November 12, in the heart of the operational center of video refereeing, in the center of Paris.
In a large room of 100 square meters, illuminated by blue neon lights, there are six stations, to follow up to six matches, in addition to a position for the supervisor. Each time the device is the same: a VAR referee and his assistant are accompanied by one to two operators to track all cameras and angles available.
As provided by the video assistance to arbitration protocol, all images are recovered by the LFP provider, Hawk Eye, who provides them to the operators located alongside the video referees.
What avoid controversies as we could cross in rugby. A French director had confided that it was he who proposed the different angles to video rugby referees, which could lead to some abuses: "It happened to me, in the European Cup, not to show a shot given by a Castres player in a scrum. The player could have been kicked out. The video referee asked me for the picture … Ah! I did not have it. If I had been English, I would have had it. "
A titanic job
No interference, but a titanic job. Video referees are supposed to be omniscient with their dozens of angles on the same action. The problem is that not everything is visible.
During a practical exercise, we played the role of a video referee before a sequence of a match between Guingamp and Nantes, with a colleague in the role of the assistant, and an operator offering us different images.
In front of us, two screens. On the first, at the top, only one shot of the match. At the bottom, a screen divided into four with other generally tighter angles, and three seconds off to quickly review the actions in case of doubt.
After a corner obtained by the Nantes, the referee of the meeting makes a gesture as if he had a contact with the referee video: in this case, it had contacted him. Which means we missed something.
You have to go back up the images to find out what. Meanwhile, our instructor, referee Eric Wattellier, plays the central referee and asks what's going on, why the game is stopped. We think we may have to go back to the beginning of the action. Nothing.
Four specific cases
The VAR is only used in four cases: to cancel a goal, to grant or cancel a penalty, to expel a player, or to correct an identity error. Especially, as the IFAB, the governing body of rules, writes in the laws of the game for the current season, these errors must be "Manifest".
So we missed something obvious. A penalty or a red card. But we do not know where to look. Or how far back? We remember that it is possible to go to the beginning of the offensive phase. Even if "Sometimes it's limited"concedes former referee Sebastien Moreira, who has become a video assistant. "With a team like Barcelona, where the action can start five minutes before, when do we start the action? It's part of common sense. "
Officially, we have plenty of time for "the process of analysis". In reality, the seconds pass and our central referee asks us again why the game is stopped, if he can resume with the corner. In the stands, the fans must be impatient. We still do not know what the "real" video referee had seen.
Our operator of the day saves us by sending on one of our two screens an image where we see a Guingampais send the ball for a corner of the hand, while he was in the penalty area. In this respect, the penalty seems obvious. No one on the ground, however, seemed to have seen him. Not even Valentin Rongier, the player from Nantes who was a few inches from the ball, and who has not claimed anything.
This first scenario confirms that video alone can not work miracles. Still need to have the eye and find the perfect plan at the right time. Sunday, November 10, during the match between Marseille and Lyon, video referees have seen the hand of Morgan Sanson before the penalty awarded to OM … but with eight minutes late. Dimitri Payet had already transformed it.
Still, this exercise confirms some questions. School case number two: the goal of Rémy Cabella during a match between Saint-Etienne and Nantes, in January. This time, we pass the test without problem and we validate the goal in a few seconds. The Stéphanois takes the ball of the chin and not the hand and the absence of offside is obvious.
If we were reminded that "It's when you touch the ball, not when it's gone", that we can watch the position of the players on an offside, the system of the image by image is far from perfect.
In Cabella's case, the technique of moving the frame-by-frame forward or backward confirms that it is almost impossible to determine when the ball is actually touched by the smuggler for the first time. If in this case the "margin of error" was largely sufficient, this is not always the case.
"Never said that the video would decide everything"
"It's the technology, defends Pascal Garibian, the technical director of French arbitration. We think what we want, but we can not introduce a zone of tolerance. By the way, by how much? 5? 10 centimeters? It is untenable and we go into arbitrariness. The technology is 99% reliable. When it is extremely limited, we do not forget the decision on the ground. "
In recent months, offside has been meant using the video for a few centimeters, without knowing exactly when the pass began. In the most extreme cases, as the Daily Mail has shown, the cameras can capture 50 frames per second, the players go too fast and travel too far between two images to avoid falling into the margin of error.
"You can not go from more than a hundred years of arbitration without video to, in a few months, something perfect, concludes Pascal Garibian. And most importantly, we never said that the video would decide everything. "
Over the first twelve days, video refereeing allowed us to review 25 errors. Eleven, however, were not seen in time.