🎵 Stop-in-the-name-of-VAR; Before I cause you harm 🎵

It’s one of the greatest, purest joys of console football. You’re chasing down an attacker… you see the linesman’s flag go up but the referee is yet to blow for the free-kick… so you Captain Crunch that mother fucker onto a stretcher, knowing you’ve already won the free-kick, and the Xbox / PS4 knows not to actually injure the player because that ‘Time and Space’ isn’t real… like the video below… CRUNCH.

Prior to this weekend, tensions and questions were rising regarding the possibility that someone in real life was likely to get a serious injury from linesmen not flagging when they believe players were offside – running the risk of a sprinting forward meeting a sprinting goalkeeper and WHAMMO. Well, those people are not wrong – but they’re late to the game. This unnecessary risk of injury has been a problem in the game since the advantage rule was introduced in – according to Wikipedia – in 1903.

“1903 – A referee may refrain from awarding a free kick or penalty in order to give advantage to the attacking team.”

It’s not the concept of the ‘Advantage’ rule that anyone disputes, the question is on the construct of the laws of Physics on ‘Time and Space’. During an ‘advantage’ or ‘phase in play’ whilst VAR are analysing various camera angles to bollocks up another decision – is this time real? Or a multi-verse that becomes instantly irrelevant and void once a decision has been made that takes us back to the future? Confusing. Oooh… we have some real life examples to consider thanks to James McLean, Jordan Pickford and Richarlison.

James McLean, Ireland vs Wales, Sunday 11th October

The scene, heading into the final 10 minutes Wales are awarded a corner with the scores at 0-0. Although just an international friendly, it’s a local derby and comes with international bragging rights. James McLean picks the ball up from the corner and launches into a counter-attack. He’s fouled, and in the momentum of his sprint and being pushed off balance, he lunges forward to win the next ball (images above).

The referee gives the free-kick to McLean and Ireland, then chooses to caution McLean for a late tackle – a late tackle that effectively does not exist – as a free-kick was given. It’s only a yellow, so in this instance the referee has deemed this ‘time and space’ to exist, and exist within the linear timeline – multiverse – of real time. To make matters worse, this is McLean’s 2nd yellow card and he’s sent off.

Time after Offence: Real
Severity of Following Offence: Yellow Card

Jordan Pickford, Everton vs Liverpool, Saturday 17th October

Jordan Pickford, Everton and England’s #1 – and since Saturday’s take-down of Virgil van Dijk (VVD) – possibly a club legend to the more hardcore Toffees, and certainly on the Christmas Card list to those hardcore City and Utd fans. The challenge above is nothing short of reckless and dangerous. Look at it. If that’s the height and stance having gone through VVD, how high was he at the point of contact? VVD we know has suffered a serious ACL injury and could be out for the whole season. Pickford should very obviously be sent off ; wait what?

In this incident, ‘Time and Space’ did not exist after the point at which VVD himself was deemed offside from the prior phase of play. It would appear, as defined by the referee at Goodison Park that either:

A) VVD was offside and therefore any event that occurred after this was instantly erased from time like an Avenger in Infinity War.

B) Jordan Pickford’s challenge is not a red card offence – nor even a yellow card offence – as McLean had been booked the previous week.

Fair enough, whilst we do demand consistency from the law makers to the rule administrators to the referees on the field, when a different referee from a different football association has such an awkward decision to make, we as football fans can accept some discrepancy. Right? It was a different referee, the same referee would not show inconsistency : wait, what?

Time after Offence: Imaginary
Severity of Following Offence: Red Card

Richarlison, Everton vs Liverpool, Sunday 17th October

Christ. Both of these challenges were in the same game? What was this, the Merseysi… oh… In truth this was quite a tame Merseyside Derby, no punches thrown, not many 50/50s to write home about. These two incidents stood out like a two-footed, studs showing tackle in the middle of the field.

Richarlison’s “tackle” was reckless and dangerous and was rightly deemed a Red Card. There were little to no complaints from Everton and an apology after the game. Thiago, making his Premier League debut, was the victim and despite finishing the game is expected to be out for a few weeks. The right decision was made. Right? Well…

Moments before Richarlison’s foul – milliseconds in truth – a free-kick was awarded to Liverpool for a foul by Mina. Theoretically, Richarlison’s foul did not exist in ‘Time or Space’, or at least the same referee earlier in the game did not punish Pickford for his challenge when ‘Time and Space’ were in question. So… which is it? It must be – because referees are always consistent – that the referee in question, nor his VAR team, considered Pickford’s challenge to be a Red Card. We know they considered it, because they reviewed the VVD Offside because of a potential Penalty from the Pickford challenge. That means that it’s also not been considered as a ‘Yellow Card’. Are you for real?

Time after Offence: Real
Severity of Following Offence: Red Card

The (Actual) Laws of the Game

So with three contradictory incidents within a week, two with the same referee and VAR, perhaps the actual Laws of the Game can direct us to what the truth is, what the decisions should be, and then who we can point our fingers at to call them out.

A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality must be sanctioned as serious foul play. Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.

So we can all agree, Jordan Pickford’s challenge is definitely a Red Card.

There’s no definitive talk of Time Travel, the Time Stone, Laws of Physics, Time and Space or Dr. Strange within the Football Association’s Laws of the Game – so it’s hard to get a definitive right answer on what DEFINITELY SHOULD HAPPEN. However… the opening gambit to Disciplinary leads us to believe that all Yellow and Red Cards should be awarded regardless of ‘Time and Space’ of their misdemeanour, resulting in the following:

The referee has the authority to take disciplinary action from entering the field of play for the pre-match inspection until leaving the field of play after the match ends.

If, before entering the field of play at the start of the match, a player or team official commits a sending-off offence, the referee has the authority to prevent the player or team official taking part in the match (see Law 3.6); the referee will report any other misconduct.

This says to me that ANY offence caused by a player, manager, or affiliated club member should be dealt with at the time, and that ‘Time and Space’ do exist within the football universe. This is a given for serious offences such as violent conduct, but it’s noteworthy for players receiving Yellow Cards, as they can rack up to Red Cards and suspensions.

The FA declared on Monday that Jordan Pickford would not receive retrospective action for his challenge, as the officials – both on field and VAR – handled the incident at the time. This statement was offered to prevent further discussion and expectations, but did not provide the required clarity on what is right – what should have happened. However by stating that the Officials had the opportunity to officiate on the incident, they’re doing two things: One, they’re allowing the referee team to control the game. Two; they’re backing their referee team rather than causing discontent amongst the ranks. Unfortunately, that means that both referee and VAR believed this WAS NOT A YELLOW OR RED CARD.

What fans really need, what stakeholders really want – is accountability. We want to know what the right decision should have been, so we can be confident in knowing what should happen next time – how players should approach future incidents – what is right. Instead, we’re scared to admit we were wrong, in case of libel action or a loss of confidence in the Officials. It would be a lot more reassuring if Referee HQ could take ownership of these controversial decisions and provide a black and white answer. We wait in hope… in the meantime, here’s how play should have resulted:

James McLean:
Free-kick to Ireland (Morral’s Foul)
Yellow Card awarded to McLean

Jordan Pickford:
Free-kick to Everton (VVD Offside)
Red Card awarded to Pickford

Free-kick to Liverpool (Mina’s Foul)
Red Card awarded to Richarlison