The standard September break for internationals saw both Bournemouth and Bristol City, our top two teams in the English pyramid, without a game last weekend, writes Gareth Davies.
For City, their manager Lee Johnson and those that descend on BS3 every other Saturday, there was a chance to reflect on a promising opening month to 2019-20 after a poor start which saw star defender Adam Webster sold to Brighton and a 3-1 home loss to Leeds.
Jay Dasilva was then ruled out long-term with a fractured leg, although a striker was finally forthcoming in the shape of Stoke’s Benik Afobe. Despite any initial misgivings in regard to Afobe, the former Wolves and Bournemouth man has impressed thus far and after six games, City are about where they should be – in the play-off places.
The Cherries, as mentioned, a former club of Afobe’s, have also endured a mixed start to the season with a win, a draw and two defeats from their opening Premier League matches. Eddie Howe’s side also progressed, just, in the EFL Cup after a win over Forest Green via penalties.
Bournemouth’s long-serving boss will be looking at this latest ‘rest period’ from competitive, domestic action, to give key personnel such as Lewis Cook and club captain Simon Francis further valuable recovery time, as the duo near a first team return after suffering knee injuries in 2018-19.
The break will also mean that Cherries supporters, and those that follow other Premier League teams in general, will be spared the ignominy of talk focusing almost exclusively on VAR and how it’s haphazard implementation and use is ruining the beautiful game.
Referees are part of the spectacle, without doubt, but the fact that the man in the middle and those in a London office block have dominated debate, airtime and column inches, like this very piece, gives a massive nudge towards the fact that something isn’t quite right.
My view, for what it’s worth, would see VAR abolished and never come back because the sheer speed and nature of football means that the constant stop-start routine of decision referrals is harming the spectacle for supporters both watching live inside stadiums and on television too.
The adoption of goal line technology should have been football’s lot in terms of outside interference on decisions, but no, instead of tackling more pressing and far reaching issues such as racism or corruption, it was decided that sanitisation should take place on the pitch.
So far, the VAR system, which was introduced to eradicate errors which were ‘clear and obvious’ by match officials, has caused nothing but further confusion. Only last weekend, referee Kevin Friend was anything but an ally to Aston Villa after disallowing Henri Lansbury’s goal against Crystal Palace because VAR was checking for a penalty claim. Jack Grealish was subsequently booked for diving and the ‘goal’ was chalked off.
Correct me for being cynical, but how on earth are decisions like this going to improve standards in our game? Frustrations boiled over on and off the pitch, which despite being wholly unacceptable, were a direct result of meddling with the decision of a referee.
So far, Bournemouth themselves have twice been impacted by VAR – with their opening day draw at home to Sheffield United seeing the Blades net a late goal which should have been reviewed for handball. Somehow it wasn’t, but against Leicester in the Cherries’ most recent clash, Callum Wilson was subject to an awful, red-card tackle from the Foxes’ Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans.
A VAR review was called after the incident, but incredibly, Tielemans stayed on the pitch. This prompted an angry verbal volley from Bournemouth skipper Steve Cook who blasted the current system post-match.
“There is no point in VAR,” he fumed. “If there’s going to be discrepancies in the game then it should be down to the referee, linesmen and the fourth official.”
Well said, Steve.
Former top-flight official Keith Hackett also waded into the debate by revealing that the current system is ‘untenable’. He went on to add that officials were being made to look ‘foolish’ by VAR not doing its job properly.
Hackett is absolutely correct in his assumption, although of more concern would be the fact that football as a whole, not just referees, appears injudicious currently with VAR causing far more problems than it was ever intended to eradicate.
The Independent’s Chief Sports Writer, Gareth Davies, provides insight into the biggest sporting stories in each edition. To read more from him and the other writers at the Independent, including Tom Howe, Andrew Clayton, Craig Bratt and Noah Barco, pick up a copy from your local newsagents for just £1.50, or subscribe via https://www.indyonline.co.uk/digital-editions/