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Jeff Winter: Instead of ridding problems, I think VAR has increased them

31 Oct | interview | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Jeff Winter: Instead of ridding problems, I think VAR has increased them
Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Speaking to Betway, Jeff Winter says Wayne Rooney and Vincent Kompany were right to blast officials for officiating at the weekend.

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Did Antony deserve a red card for his challenge on Jeremy Doku? 

Antony can consider himself very fortunate that he didn’t get a red card. I think his body language showed that he didn’t want to be on the pitch, and his petulance came out. The thing that probably saved him was that Doku was able to ride the attempted kick. It wasn’t a tackle it was a kick, and he managed to ride it. It’s very borderline but the petulance is terrible.

I would probably have gone yellow but as I said it was the opponent’s reaction and that of the other players that helped save him. If it had provoked a mass confrontation situation, then a referee would have probably given him the red card.

During Sunday’s Manchester derby, was it a foul on Rodri from Rasmus Hojlund? 

I saw the decision and it is a foul. However, the call opens a can of worms as some of the pundits are turning around and saying ‘Well, if that’s a foul, then there’d be five penalties in every match!’. Perhaps the only way to stop the holding and blocking, though, is to actually have five penalties in every match!

Those decisions are described as ‘soft’ nowadays, but a penalty is a penalty and there are no such things as soft and hard ones. It’s a spot-kick at goal, and they go in more often than not. We’ve all watched football for a long time and it seems to be getting worse. 

From a refereeing point of view, they have an assistant on the touchline who can’t see much at all and, sometimes, 16 or 18 players can crowd the penalty area with 12 of them crowding the six-yard box. The TV has the benefit of zooming in to a specific area, but the referee’s attention could be in other parts of the penalty zone as there could be five or six separate fouls going on.

Not every foul should be a penalty or a free-kick to the defending team, but it’s got to be stopped. If we saw more of them being penalised, you’d think the penny would drop. Hojlund’s foul was a penalty in the letter of the law, but if the referee or VAR had been looking at something different, there might have been more offences taking place.

Jamie Carragher argued that, in slow motion, things always look worse than they are. Is he right?

Jamie Carragher is dead right. When two players threw themselves in a crunching tackle in the old days, it was considered good for the game and the fans loved it. We’re now, however, slowing everything down and watching players slide into tackles with high velocity, with one foot just above the ball. It’s not necessarily an over-the-top tackle, but it can look like that when it’s slowed down to a freeze-frame. People are saying they don’t want football to be re-refereed, but that’s exactly what’s happening in my opinion. 

VAR, to me, was introduced because pundits were screaming about the amount of mistakes referees were making, but in reality they weren’t making anywhere near as many as was perceived. VAR was brought in on the back of incidents like Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland. The match officials had no way of seeing that, and we wanted that sort of thing eradicated. I think VAR is now looking for problems. We’ve all sat in stadiums or in front of a TV screen and wondered what was happening. I was at a game yesterday and there were two penalties in the game and a few more reviews. 

There were 50,000 people sat there waiting for what happened next. The players and managers didn’t have a clue what was happening, either. I think we’ve all overreacted with VAR as football is no longer officiated by a guy in the middle holding a whistle. Referees look confused now. As we know from recent evidence, those in the VAR room can look even more confused!

Jamie is spot-on. You get one perspective if the ref sees an incident in real-time, but if he misses something and has made an error, then that’s fine. However, when a decision is analysed from ten different angles in slow motion before a red card comes out, then it’s no longer clear and obvious. If it’s that close to being right or wrong, then that’s the margin for error everyone would accept. 

Football is not a game of chess! It’s a fast, flowing, all-action game. We’re slowing it down to almost a science. I watch CSI programs on TV, and I feel like football is turning into that. Every aspect of a tackle is looked at forensically while the fans sit there twiddling their thumbs. I’m not a fan!

Do you think VAR is a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’? Everybody wanted it when it was introduced, but now there’s an element of the grass not being greener.

I warned everybody to be careful what they wished for 20 years ago! We’ve seen other sports where forms of VAR work, like cricket, tennis, and so on. Those sports, however, are stop-start games, whereas football is all-action. You can have an overruled penalty decision at one end, and due to the pace and skill of modern players, the same thing can happen at the other end 10 seconds later.

I think we’ve created a monster, but other parts of the world seem to utilise the assets of VAR. At home, however, there seems to be a drama every week. We used to see two pundits arguing about a penalty on a Saturday night, but we’ve now turned almost every televised game into an analysis of VAR. Instead of ridding problems in football, I think VAR has increased them.

Wayne Rooney criticised officials for not awarding Birmingham a penalty following an apparent foul by Southampton goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu on Oliver Burke. Mike Dean also called it “embarrassing”. Do you agree?

I can’t disagree with Mike Dean. In football, we say that goalkeepers are an overprotected species. There seems to be a reluctance to treat ‘keepers the same as other players, and when a goalkeeper comes out with a fist flying, then that’s more aggressive than any attacker trying to head the ball slightly late. We’ve had a few of those incidents this season, like Onana on the opening day.

Nothing was given on that one, but a penalty was given during the same incident in another game. The Birmingham v Southampton game didn’t have VAR, but football as a whole didn’t have VAR for over a century and calls like that were correctly give. People say that refs always take each others’ side, but that’s not the case. Refs just look at it through an officials’ eyes. When there is a mistake, and that was one in my opinion, I always ask why the ref got it wrong and you can be unsighted sometimes because a player is blocking your vision and your assistant can be a long way away. 

Decisions aren’t always given, but that one looked clear. It was embarrassing, but that’s not a slight on the referee as he only got one decision wrong. As a former referee, I know that people recognise you, and it’s you who gets the flack. 

I don’t want to get emotional talking about what could have happened if the penalty was given as anything could have, but it is a major decision and Birmingham should have had a penalty. If a defender made that tackle, then he would have got a card one colour or another. If a ‘keeper is coming out and charging into someone in a punching action, we know he’s not actually trying to punch the player, but we’ve seen plenty of examples of defenders raising their boot very high and they’re not trying to kick a player in the head, but it’s them who faces the consequences. Wayne Rooney had every right to be upset about that.

VAR needed five minutes to rule out Jay Rodriguez’ goal against Bournemouth. Should decisions take that long?

There are two ways to look at it – if it takes longer to get the decision right, then you can argue it’s worth waiting for rather than rushing into it and getting it wrong. There has to be a happy medium. People can exaggerate how long decisions take, but if it actually was five minutes, then that’s ridiculous. It goes back to the clear and obvious errors – is it obvious if it takes five minutes? I’m going to speak against the laws and the rules here because of the interpretations, but people say you can’t with offsides. I’m sure we’ll come onto the Luis Diaz decision at some point, and on some occasions you can argue with it.

But it’s the same with offside, they have supposedly got the technology to approve, to a millimetre, if someone is offside or not. I’m not talking as an ex-referee now, I’m talking as a fan. I don’t go to football matches to find out that a goal from 25 yards is going to be ruled out because someone had size 10 boots on instead of size nines. I think the offside law needs looking at because going back to when I first took my badges, you always said there had to be daylight between the attacker and defender. I’d personally go back to that.

If it’s that tight and it’s taking five minutes to do that, surely you get to the stage where the benefit of doubt has to be given to someone, and in the old days the attacker always got the benefit of the doubt. Now we’re looking at slide rule technology that appears on occasions not to work.

I’ve been to a number of games where you’re sat in the stands and you’re stood like spare parts at a wedding. It’s not good for the image of the game. I watch non-league football, and the attitude is different, people say the referee has got this or that, you’ll have your arguments where everyone thinks they’re right and most are wrong. But that’s football and more enjoyable. We have gone for the wanted perfection, and as we’ve found out the wanted perfection is far from perfect.