Piranha tanks and The Matrix: Why ex-Sheffield United boss Neil Warnock's VAR plans are doomed to fail
and live on Freeview channel 276
To gaze upon Neil Warnock is to consider a man with the exact face of Livia Soprano. If his managerial career has taught us anything, it's that he possesses a comparable emotional volatility too.
The precise moment at which Warnock's eyebrows made a bolt for freedom may remain a mystery that endures beyond the inevitable heat death of the universe, as, presumably, will their final destination - (although I do like to think of them living a quiet, beach-dwelling life of margaritas and boat restoration in Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, a la Andy Dufresne) - but certainly more than a few onlookers will have joined the Steel City Psycho in browless wonder after seeing his proposals to transform video technology in football.
VAR, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Well, according to Neil, absolutely nothing. But never fear, for here he is to nip our woes in the bud with a nifty homemade graphic espousing five simple changes that he believes can redeem the sinners at Stockley Park. As far as manifestos go, it is hardly the Declaration of Independence.
Still, if what they say is true and video did indeed kill the radio star - and in football's case, any semblance of rationality - then we can at least rest easy in the knowledge that Warnock is waiting in the wings, shillelagh in hand, eager to knock some sense into the acolytes of that smug pitchside monitor in turn. (Side note, found out the other day the Hans Zimmer worked with The Buggles on that song. Who knew?)
And in fairness to VARnock, the technology under its current guise feels less like the revolutionary arbiter of justice that we were promised and more like a self-service checkout with dyscalculia presided over by the Three Blind Mice of nursery rhyme fame. Everybody expected HAL 9000, and instead we've been left with a malfunctioning Tamagotchi. But just how much of a difference would Neil's quintuple-headed masterplan make to our perpetual state of doom and/or gloom?
Set a 30-second time limit for decisions to be made
Because what every panel of people incapable of thinking straight or making rational decisions need is an added element of TIME PRESSURE. If you want VAR to work effectively the last thing you can afford to do is turn it into a task from The Crystal Maze.
This is like trying to solve a senatorial filibuster with a live hand grenade. You might as well place the lads in Stockley Park in a sealed perspex box, slowly fill it with water, and tell them that when the klaxon sounds a shoal of piranhas will be released. All it will do is engender panic and a distinct 'headless chickens in a fallout shelter' vibe that any position of authority can really do without. That being said, soundtrack the whole debacle with the Countdown clock and I might be swayed.
Stop using slow-mo replays that often make incidents look worse
This is actually a fair point. Last week, we were treated to an all-time great vox pop from our Scottish neighbours in which some random bloke on the street claimed that VAR has a tendency to make 'a peck on the cheek look like a porno'. You could spend an entire lifetime wrangling the written word and never come close to making an observation as astute.
Certainly, slow motion replays can exacerbate the severity of incidents by honing in on the worst moments, and to that end, Warnock is right to suggest that we should place a greater emphasis on the broader context in which they occur. But to do away with slow-mo entirely feels a touch rash, like watching a child crash a pedal bike repeatedly and deciding the best course of action is to remove the stabilisers.
Change the offside rule so there must be daylight between an attacking and defending player
This is a bad idea. The thing about the offside rule is that it is always going to be a marginal issue. Wherever the boundary is set, there will be an exact point at which a player is no longer onside. This notion of 'daylight' is floated constantly and yet all it means is that rather than drawing magic marker lines on freeze frames, we'll be zooming in looking for photonic molecules instead.
And that's to say nothing of the huge advantage this would give to attackers, or for that matter, the fact that a proper decision would be all but impossible unless there was a camera directly in line with the incident. Get some perspective and consider perspectives, Neil!
Allow refs freedom to use common sense and end the era of 'robot officials'
Big fan of the wording here, which makes it sound as if humanity has fallen to a scourge of mechanical overlords, and that its only hope is to afford Paul Tierney the luxury of stopping play and bringing it back when a clear and obvious error has been made. It's like The Matrix meets the hazard perception section of a driving theory test.
Nevertheless, this is actually a fair shout from Warnock, and the only nagging reservation to my mind is whether or not Premier League officials actually have any common sense within them to implement.
Appoint an independent group of ex-players and coaches to operate the technology
Look, the biggest issue with VAR is that it is operated by humans, and to a certain extent, for that exact reason, it doesn't really matter which fallible meat bags are twiddling its various knobs and dials. Would it benefit refereeing as a whole to have greater input from those that have played football at the very highest level? Probably, yes. But would those same ex-professionals still be prone to errors, disagreements, and general inconsistency? Also, yes.
Sometimes, when I hear pundits talk about the need for former players in the VAR booth, I am reminded of those men you meet in smoking areas who insist that they know the secret of how to beat a grizzly bear in a fistfight And hey, maybe they do. But then again, maybe they would just get mauled into submission trying.