It took all of 52 minutes of our first Premier League season to get well and truly VARed. That it denied us three points away from home against a side we expect to be jostling for position with only adds salt into the wounds.
The eagle-eyed amongst us may remember that we were due to have our first experience of VAR against the same opposition last season, in a League Cup tie at Molineux. There was a dimmed-down version of the anticipation of the introduction of the system this time last year, given its isolated use, but this fixture managed to pass without incident, almost to the disappointment of many in the ground I imagine.
There was a mystique that surrounded it. The World Cup had just passed with VAR getting a pretty solid review from most observers, given the way it was applied in a non-disruptive manner. Many of us that night at Molineux just wanted to see how it went. After all, it was the Carabao Cup and we had our sights set elsewhere – almost a ‘soft-launch’ as many a modern-day professional would call it.
Yesterday’s game was seemingly due to pass without incident again. There wasn’t too much by the way of incident – plenty of effort, endeavour and a few openings for Wolves in particular up until this point – but controversy was not something associated with the prior 50 minutes of football. Until we had the temerity to score a ‘goal’ of course. There we were in Leicester, Wolverhampton and many other places all over the world, jumping for joy at our first Premier League goal of the season, courtesy of our Belgian midfield brawn, Leander Dendoncker. It was, perhaps, fortuitous in it’s creation, but there appeared little to no controversy about it. Off we all trotted for the restart.
Leicester players and fans included of course. There were no arguments, no pained expressions of injustice. Not even a futile raised hand from a defender, the most forlorn look in football after the concession of a goal. But there was a VAR, to put a half to proceedings and any notion of celebration. There are a number of strands which make this particular decision contentious and VAR as a whole:
A) What seems to have caused the most outrage is the decision itself. This is not so much a VAR issue, but the new handball rule, a rule designed to remove ambiguity, which appears to have created even more. Effectively, the decision was correct, as contact with the ball was made with a hand, regardless of intent, directly resulting in a goal. This isn’t necessarily comparable to situations that happened elsewhere over the weekend and frankly, comparing the incident to Billy Sharp’s goal is moot too – it is still open to interpretation. Football is a grey sport and many have pointed to the ‘leeway’ for ‘ricocheted handballs’ outlined in the rules as well. Which brings me to my next point…
B) The rules appear to contradict each other. It may only be in reference to situations that lead to goals that the strict handball rule applies, but you can see why there is confusion.
C) My understanding of the use of VAR is to correct ‘clear and obvious errors.’ I don’t think anyone can claim that situation to be clearly and obviously wrong. So why is it being picked up?
D) This appears to be the most strongly-held opinion, which is of the impact VAR has on the simple emotion of the game. Now as someone who doesn’t believe that football is entirely about the screaming and gurning that goes on in the aftermath of the ball hitting the net, I didn’t really subscribe to the belief that this was too much of an issue. Many a wicket in cricket has been overturned, muting celebrations and as a cricket fan, I’ve succumbed to this with no issues. Then yesterday happened. This was probably due to the nature of the decision, but my God was i angry.
There’s much more opportunity for consternation as VAR interrupts games across the season but it feels a little harsh to be the first to suffer the first real controversy, especially in the context of the game.
This was a good away performance, in the aftermath of a mammoth journey back from the edges of Europe just a couple of days earlier. We weren’t fluid, but we were obdurate and maintained a threat with our effervescent front two. We still had the better of the chances against a side who played with a greater intensity for the most of part who look well coached with plenty of talent. A 3-point headstart would have been welcome.
From an individual perspective you can look no further than Willy Boly as our most imperious player. It was genuinely quite funny watching Phil Neville clutch at straws trying to pick out what was good about Leicester, but the simple fact was Wolves didn’t give them an inch, barring Vardy’s single opportunity created by a shanked volley from Maddison. Diogo Jota did everything but score really and could do with working on his finishing based on yesterday’s efforts.
It was last season’s team and it was last season’s performance – hardworking, difficult to breakdown and incisive when the occasion arose. We were robbed, but fortunately we have United next up in the league – I fancy us there.