Spain not immune to problems in VAR’s debut season
MADRID (AP) — Real Madrid complained about it. Barcelona defended it. Fans are struggling to understand it.
Video review is not escaping controversy in its first season in Spain.
As in other countries, the implementation of VAR hasn’t been smooth in the Spanish league, with confusion and criticism coming along with the process.
The system’s debut had not prompted major discussions early on, but two controversial decisions involving powerhouses Real Madrid and Barcelona were enough to make it a hot topic.
First it was a non-call of a penalty on Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior in the team’s 2-0 home loss to Real Sociedad in the beginning of the month. Then came the confirmation of a goal by striker Luis Suarez in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Leganes on Sunday.
Madrid felt the images clearly showed a foul on Vinicius Junior, while Leganes was sure the review would mean a foul by Suarez on its goalkeeper before the goal.
But both decisions stood, prompting complaints by the clubs and confusion among fans and analysts.
“It’s a tool we welcomed with excitement,” Real Madrid coach Santiago Solari said Wednesday. “We want it to be used correctly. The less people talk about it, the better it is. This is the first year, it will be improved. What is important is that we all get used to it.”
The Spanish federation analyzed the use of the VAR in the first half of the season and concluded it was a positive debut although more than 120 mistakes were not corrected by the system, including seven penalty calls. It said the VAR intervened in 30 goal situations, confirming half of them. The number of overall mistakes was significantly reduced, officials said.
The biggest complaint by fans and clubs has been the lack of criteria by the officiating crews when using — or not using — the video review.
Audio from the conversation between the officials during the Madrid game was made public, with the VAR official telling the referee that “everything was OK” on the play involving Vinicius Junior, when it looked like he had his leg touched by the goalkeeper inside the area.
Fans didn’t seem satisfied with what they heard, and they have been booing loudly every time the announcer at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium mentions information about the VAR before games.
“When a top team is affected, the impact is greater,” Spanish league president Javier Tebas told Spanish media. “We are happy with how things are going so far.”
There had been plenty of controversy with video review before the decisions involving Real Madrid and Barcelona.
“The VAR is here to correct mistakes, but it won’t eliminate all of them,” he posted.
Levante had already issued a statement asking for an explanation about the VAR criteria after a penalty was awarded against the team in a loss against Atletico Madrid. Last year, Atletico also released a statement criticizing how the video review was being used. Atletico felt a hand ball by a Real Madrid player was not called in its match against the city rival, despite images clearly showing it.
Spain was one of the late adopters of VAR, although the Premier League will only start using it next season. Italy was one of the countries which struggled the most with video review after it started using it last season, although things have improved significantly since then.
“Referees make mistakes and the VAR is not perfect,” said Carlos Velasco Carballo, head of the referee’s technical committee in Spain. “But the numbers so far have shown that we are improving. We have to be proud of it.”