KEIR RADNEDGE in LONDON: Gianni Infantino has admitted that he had not been as confident as he had appeared about the implementation of video assistance for referees at the World Cup.
The implementation of VAR at the finals in Russia in June and July was a major success, possibly the single most notable development for which the finals will be remembered in years to come.
Infantino had promoted VAR’s introduction from almost the start of reign as president of world federation FIFA in the spring of 2016 when the technology was still in the testing phase.
Controversy had pursed its experimental application in major European leagues, such as Germany, in the run-up to Russia.
Infantino always expressed confidence in VAR. However he indicated, for a FIFA World Cup conference at the Grosvenor Hotel in London’s Park Lane, that privately he harboured his own concerns.
He said: “We were a little brave, maybe almost crazy, in introducing VAR. We were criticised for it before the World Cup. But, after the World Cup, everybody in the world realised it’s the future. Not because we say it is but because the World Cup showed clearly that it helps.
“I was afraid it would disrupt the game but it didn’t. It cleaned and helped the game. There was not one red card for a brutal foul, not one.
“I’m not sure if down to VAR or because everyone became nice all to each other. But players and coaches knew that whatever they did would be seen and that there would be consequences. It helped clean the game for referees who are doing an incredibly difficult job.”
Infantino believed that the success of the World Cup had vindicated his vision for his presidential era.
He said: “When I was campaigning to become FIFA president one of my slogans was that I wanted to bring football back to FIFA and FIFA back to football. I had a feeling this had been lost. This gathering [in London] with so many coaches is exactly the essence of this.
“Sometimes we forget what football is about. We get into political things and forget that we have to focus on events on the pitch.
“The World Cup was amazing . . . it was a great celebration of football. It worked very well off the pitch and was very exciting on the pitch as well – with France winning and Croatia in the final, representing all those who dream about this magic of football.
“Croatia is not a big country, not a football powerhouse, but they went to the final.
“We had 30,000 Peruvian fans travelling to Ekaterinburg – that was amazing – Japanese fans celebrating and cleaning the stadia, Senegal fans the same, Panama at their first World Cup.”
Now there was a need to look ahead which meant considering how the rest of the world might catch up on Europe.
Infantino said: “The last four World Cup winners are all coming from Europe. We need Asian and South American teams to play and to win. We need Africa in world football. We need the whole world to be involved and must focus and concentrate on football development around the world.
“This is our priority going forward in FIFA because football is the only true global game.”