Offside by an armpit. That’s where football finds itself in 2019.
The linesman flagged Roberto Firmino in the build-up to a ‘goal’ during Liverpool’s narrow win over Aston Villa, and VAR’s lack of a direct side-on angle apparently failed to provide enough evidence to overturn the call.
However, the freeze-frame image paints a clear picture, one with Tyrone Mings’ protruding knee playing every part of Firmino’s body – legally able to score a goal – onside.
It was a farcical decision – and though we can blame the technology’s calibration and absolve the operators for ‘going along with the multi-million pound machine’, Saturday evening produced a far more worrying declaration from VAR.
The Premier League just legalised diving. In an official capacity.
Watford winger Gerard Deulofeu received a tap on the shin-pad from Chelsea midfield general Jorginho inside the box – some would say an invitation to go down, and the Spaniard RSVP’d with a resounding ‘see ya’.
Deulofeu received the soft contact on his right leg which, naturally, stopped his left leg from functioning after an unnatural delay.
He dived. And VAR legalised it.
Roll back several seconds and you’ll see Watford man Roberto Pereyra chomping his legs around Mateo Kovacic’s ankles, with contact, but the Chelsea midfielder stays upright, continues to play the game, and Deulofeu is rewarded for his cunning.
In that one moment the Premier League via VAR ruled that contact is tantamount to a foul, and that a player must take a tumble – natural or theatrical – in order to ‘win’ the foul, in order to buy a penalty.
VAR effectively told Kovacic, ‘Look mate, you didn’t go down, no can do’ – yet was appeased by Deulofeu’s dive.
On the surface, it was an ultimately insignificant piece of drama as Chelsea held on to their lead, but the precedent it sets will threaten the league as we know it.
Nimble wingers lacking the talent to survive without a dash ‘n dive will be rejoicing across the country.
They won’t need to polish up their footwork, their technique, their finishing skills, they just need to hone their limbs to instinctively seek contact in the box, safe in the knowledge that the Premier League has their back.
The next time a rehashed Premier League initiative is rolled out to ‘clamp down’ on simulation, it will be borne out of hypocrisy.
‘Don’t dive’ the finger-wagging big-wigs will say, while also legalising a ‘contact equals foul’ policy that will have already sown its seeds across grassroots football.
Kids growing up in the VAR world, watching our new machine overlord reward Deulofeu for his antics, will see no harm in copying. Why should they?
It may have just been one decision made from a bleak booth in Stockley Park but the ramifications are huge, the precedent has been set – the Premier League just decriminalised simulation.
Are they ready for the consequences?