Colour commentary: Champions League needs VAR

Ronaldo incident gives a bad name to top club competition

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League needs a Video Assistant Referee (VAR). The most prestigious soccer club competition in the world is starting to look really ridiculous without the sport’s latest innovation.

On Sept. 19, in a Champions League match between Juventus and Valencia, Juventus’s Cristiano Ronaldo grabbed Valencia’s Jeison Murillo’s head, in a friendly, non-violent manner following a collision between the two. Referee Felix Brych did not see the incident as it was behind the play, but goal line official Marco Fritz called over Brych to tell him about the situation. He must have suggested a red for Ronaldo because Frych sent the Juventus star off with a straight red.

In simpler terms, Frych gave Ronaldo the red without even seeing anything. He relied purely on Fritz’s word, even though Fritz didn’t even have a good view of the head-grab. If UEFA used VAR, Brych would have been able to watch a replay of what actually happened, and likely wouldn’t have given the straight red.

Errors like this are unacceptable and embarrassing in a competition with millions of viewers around the world. I understand referees can’t see everything on the pitch, and there is human error in officiating, but VAR aims to reduce these errors.

In this past summer’s World Cup, VAR was used for the first time in the competition, with much success. Three of Europe’s top soccer leagues—Germany’s Bundesliga, Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga—all use VAR. I watch the Serie A regularly, so I saw how reluctant management, players and fans were to use it prior to the 2017-18 season, but I also saw how big of an impact it could have.

Italy is notorious for fans disputing referee decisions for months, even years laters. I know A.C. Milan fans who still talk about a blown goal call against Juventus in 2012. But once the Serie A started using VAR, all the post-game “polemiche,” or controversies, in Italy quickly died down. VAR gives referees a second chance to review incidents that they might not have seen well.

Traditional fans say VAR ruins the game; I really don’t understand that. Can you be so traditional that you would really want human error to dictate a game? VAR only does one thing for the sport, and that’s improve it.

The Champions League needs VAR, and until then, it’s just going to keep shooting itself in the foot.

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