How the Players Feel About Use of VAR at the World Cup

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportJuly 4, 2018

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 03:  Harry Maguire of England calls for VAR after a clash between Jordan Henderson and Wilmar Barrios of Colombia during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Colombia and England at Spartak Stadium on July 3, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

Nordin Amrabat has reacted most strongly to the use of video technology at the FIFA World Cup. "VAR is bulls--t" he mouthed into a TV camera, seconds after the referee's whistle confirmed Morocco's failure to win any of their three Group B matches.

He had been angered by an injury-time Iago Aspas goal that was initially ruled offside but overturned after a review by the video assistant referee to salvage a 2-2 draw for Spain.

The emotion of such heartache took over—but Amrabat had shown concerns before, having also had a penalty appeal turned down in a 1-0 loss to Portugal.

"If you don't use it (VAR) every time, then it doesn't work," he insisted.

Myron Naicker @myronnaicker

Nordin Amrabat lets the world know what he thinks of VAR... https://t.co/0ZhQHk6Av4

In such circumstances, it's understandable that Amrabat would be angry at how VAR impacted his World Cup experience, but what does the rest of football think of its introduction?

Bleacher Report called on correspondents in Russia to let us know what the players have been telling them about the technology. It's not all bad.

"I think the new system is good for the World Cup because there can be no mistakes in the box," Belgium and Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini told reporters. "For penalties and free-kicks, it's good. Same for red cards. I think it's the new revolution in football, it's good for football."

Belgium manager Roberto Martinez agreed: "It has brought a good honest assessment of what happens in the box. More situations are being punished."

B/R Football @brfootball

VAR tells it as it is 🎥⛸ https://t.co/K7bvE7BEYR

Perhaps the most high-profile incident that has been reviewed in the box was Neymar's simulation in Brazil's match against Costa Rica.

He was awarded a penalty after appearing to be fouled by Giancarlo Gonzalez, yet on review it became obvious he had deceived the referee. The decision was reversed at the hands of VAR, though somehow he avoided any further punishment.

Before the tournament began, Brazil coach Tite instructed his players they should not speak about decisions made with the help of the video assistant referee. But things are never quite that simple.

After their first match of the tournament, the Brazilian Football Confederation sent a letter to FIFA to complain about the fact they did not call on VAR to rule out Switzerland's goal.

They claimed Selecao defender Miranda had been pushed by goalscorer Steven Zuber.

"We told him to look at the big screen," defender Marcelo said. "But he didn't want to. It's not an excuse, but it was strange."

Miranda added: "Maybe if I had thrown myself, the referee could have seen I had been pushed ... but life goes on." 

But there are other elements of the game being affected, too. Brazil's Philippe Coutinho is aware of how it is changing the behaviour of players.

"You have to be careful how you talk to the referee, how you go up to him," he said. "You may end up harming yourself and the team. That's not what people want. You may end up getting a yellow card.

"You have to remember referees are competent people doing their job, and VAR is there to help them. Our coach Tite has talked a lot to us about it."

Uruguay forward Luis Suarez has a similar feeling.

"There are many attitudes on the pitch that are no longer being protected," he said. "You have to be much more aware of what's in the interest of the team. With VAR now, some things can be sanctioned that would have gone unnoticed."

Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi (R) gestures beside Brazil's forward Philippe Coutinho (2R) as Brazil's forward Neymar lies on the ground after being fouled by Mexico's defender Edson Alvarez (L) during the Russia 2018 World Cup round of 16 football match

New respect for the match officials would certainly be no bad thing, but not everyone sees the situation panning out that way.

Huddersfield Town captain Tommy Smith experienced the technology in last season's FA Cup and has been watching its implementation in Russia. He gave his professional view from the sofa.

"It's a difficult one. I feel sometimes it's more than worthwhile when a bad decision has been given by the official and VAR intervenes to help out the situation," he told Bleacher Report. "But I also feel it can stop the flow of the game and also cause a bit more controversy than is needed.

"I personally think it undermines the job that officials are put there to do and slows down the tempo and emotion of the game with all the stop-starting."

SOCHI, RUSSIA - JUNE 23:  Sebastian Larsson, Mikael Lustig and John Guidetti of Sweden of Sweden appeal to Referee Szymon Marciniak after a foul by Jerome Boateng of Germany on Marcus Berg (not pictured) during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Quarter-finalists Sweden had a situation similar to Brazil's earlier in the competition, when VAR did not help their fight for justice on a big decision.

They felt a penalty should have been awarded during their Group F match with Germany, when Marcus Berg was barged by Jerome Boateng. Sweden lost the match 2-1 but tried not to feel let down by the new system afterwards.

"I guess as a player you have to accept it," midfielder Sebastian Larsson said. "You have to trust the people making decisions."

Team-mate John Guidetti added: "I think the system has been good in the tournament and is a good idea, but then you still have to get those decisions right, don't you?"

Overall, the players seem to see the positives. Yes, there are times when it seems confusing and frustrating—particularly for those inside the stadium. Overall, though, we are getting better outcomes on the major moments.

At the end of the group stage, FIFA Referees Committee chairman Pierluigi Collina indicated 99.3 per cent of 335 incidents had been correctly made with the use of VAR.

Stan Collymore @StanCollymore

World Cup VAR decisions. 95% correct without VAR 99.3% correct with VAR Decisions checked by VAR, 335. That 4.3% difference? Could be your team winning the league or not, a trophy or not, relegated or not. No brainer. VAR is working 👍🏽

And it's not just the justice aspect of the game that has been altered; a new entertainment element is now apparent, too.

Many feared the use of video technology would kill debate, but watching this tournament unfold, you could argue the complete opposite.

England's Raheem Sterling is one of those who feels the matches have become more captivating.

"It's been one of the most entertaining World Cups in a while, especially with VAR," Sterling told England's official YouTube show, Lions' Den. "It brings a different entertainment. When there are penalty shouts and the ref makes that (VAR) sign, it brings another element. It's exciting."

Everton winger Yannick Bolasie told B/R: "I think it has worked all right so far, but I think you could argue it has slowed the games down too much.

"I can see the benefits, and I especially see it helping non-footballing people see how the game can work and why certain decisions are made.

"But personally I am not sure it is ready for the Premier League just yet. I don't see it happening in the short term."

Premier League clubs voted against the introduction of VAR for next season, but as it continues to slowly win over critics at the World Cup, it surely will be only a matter of time before the technology is embraced by every major league.


Additional quotes gathered from journalists Paul Brown and Chris Hatherall in Russia.