KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —– In all the excitement over the appearance of VAR in European club competition one significant consequence went unnoticed: the disappearance of Michel Platini’s army of additional assistant referees.
This week UEFA brought forward its implementation of video assistance for match officials from next season’s planned start because of demand from the clubs after the system’s perceived success at last summer’s World Cup finals in Russia.
One of the consequences was that the European federation declared the goal-line assistants redundant. They were nowhere to be seen along the clear dead-ball lines in Manchester and Rome on Tuesday and then in Amsterdam and Wembley on Wednesday.
No-one has expressed any regret at the loss of officials whose role was generally misunderstood by coaches, fans and media.
The AAR system was originally pushed through the lawmaking International Football Association Board by UEFA on the instigation of its then president Michel Platini.
The former France captain and manager was vehemently opposed to the introduction of any form of technology, even the goal-line version after the ‘phantom goal’ by England’s Frank Lampard at the 2010 World Cup which persuaded then-FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter to reverse his own resistance to technology.
Advocates for the AAR, alongside Platini, were the then UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino and the federation’s Italian referees boss Pierluigi Collina. The latter pair are now the most enthusiastic of VAR supporters at world governing body FIFA as president and referees’ chairman respectively.
Back then they insisted, like their then-boss Platini, that the AARs were valuable back-up for the referee by providing insight into penalty box incidents from different angles and, by their very presence, reducing illegal challenges at corners, free kicks, etc.
The most contentious contra-issue emanated from the regulatory imposition which prohibited the AARs from making any gesture with hands or arms. This created the perception that, in the words of arch-critic Arsene Wenger, “they contribute absolutely nothing except block the view of the fans.”
The world’s other five confederations felt like Wenger and were never tempted to copy the system. Apart from the questionable concept itself, no other confederation had the financial resources which enabled UEFA to train up and pay a phalanx of further match officials.
Hence, after Platini’s removal following a financial scandal, UEFA used AARs alongside goal-line technology at the Euro 2016 finals in France. But they were absent this week in the Champions League when VAR made its European competitive debut. As UEFA brings VAR further into play so the AARs will retreat, ultimately out of sight and into the dustbin of football history.
They will not be missed.