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Of Scudetto and VAR

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Of Scudetto and VAR

There is something poetic in Inter taking the Scudetto while the world is living, adapting, and trying to recover from a pandemic that has changed lives. It changed mine, to the point that the struggle might stop me from celebrating this incredible joy with my few fellow Sydneysiders Interisti.

It is the narrative of Serie A. It is the narrative of fiction. There is a hero, there is a villain, there is a quest. And the narrative comes naturally, it is not propaganda. It is Juventus, the villain, the club that takes steps forward and stomps in stools and keeps winning with the smell of faeces coming off their shoes. Because winning is the only thing that matters. If they can get an unfair advantage, they will. History shows, time and time again, that this has happened.

And then there is Inter. The romantic hero set to fail and become legend. Tempered by a hostile environment, pressured by the unfriendly media. The underdog that does not conform. That makes its diversity, its strength. From day one. The club that you can’t help not to fall in love once you are in it. Because of its values, because of the feats it must face, because IT-MUST-NO-WIN. And it does. Occasionally. But what a great victory for the history books. Like our society recovering, thanks to the indomitable human spirit, from a pandemic that bent all of us to be enslaved by our home’s walls.

The pandemic has taken away 3.4M people around the world. People lost family members and friends. Many lost their income. They were forced to divide. The pandemic has put distance between them. It has deprived people of the joys of experiencing life in the open, sport, and all the emotions involved. Sport continued, for necessity and for a sense of duty. If you live sport as entertainment, you live it to escape the daily routine. Life can be tough. We need to sit down and love something bigger than us, something immortal, that lived before us and will live after us. This is what sport is. These are our clubs. If you live sport as your job, you are still suffering from the hard truth smashing up your face: the economic model of football is failing. And, despite some attempts, the solution has not been found. Clubs are asking for sacrifices to their staff members. It is a Band-Aid on a landmine injury. There is a need for a new revolution. Economical, this time. And it needs to work straight away. Because the last revolution, in-game revolution, has yet to work properly.
VAR. Video Assistant Referee. A tool to minimise human error. Victim of human error. Like in Juventus-Inter.

I must bring this forward. I think there is a sense of shame in using VAR. The concept that referees are unable to “hurt” Juventus is alien in me. I’m more inclined in believing that…why do we need a referee if we’ve got VAR? This is what the refs must be feeling when they run on the field. They are humans with some level of ego, like every human being. In the spotlight. And every decision that they make will be judged, and talked about everywhere, from TV shows to the bar on a Monday morning. On the spot. And for days to come. The referee of Juventus-Inter took some decisions that were overturned by the VAR. Not one “bad” decision, but several. And to be fair, while I was watching the game, I was like: “OK, they are applying the rule book without interpretation”. Which is a good thing, in my opinion. If the contact is there, it is a penalty. Let’s see what are the episodes that changed Juventus-Inter.

Juventus’ penalty for a foul by Darmian on Chiellini. Darmian’s arm was around Chiellini, so Chiellini fell. The ref does not call for it. Penalty given by the VAR. We can argue with Chiellini’s fall, but the contact is there. Penalty is fair.

Penalty for Inter for foul of De Ligt on Lautaro. The stomp on Lautaro was there. It was unintentional. Lautaro had lost the ball. The referee did not stop the play. Penalty given by the VAR. I believe this is a fair rule, because De Ligt does not seek to hurt Lautaro, who is not involved anymore in the play, but he unintentionally does. Other people might not see this as a penalty foul. Football should review the rule, but right now, with the rules in place, this is a penalty.
I stop for a second. I read about former players saying that those are contacts that, before VAR, if seen by the referee, were not severe enough for something extreme as a penalty. But that is the thing, there are many referees and many interpretations. A contact must not be subjective, for the sake of the sport, for its credibility, for the repercussions that a global sport such as football, especially in Italy, has. Contact is there, penalty is given.

Lautaro’s goal. The referee stops the play before Lautaro puts the ball in with an overhead kick because he sees Lukaku pushing Chiellini away. The replay shows that Chiellini is using his arm, pressed on Lukaku’s body, to help himself and jump towards the ball. Then Danilo pushes Chiellini away. The ball, from Chiellini’s head, reaches Lautaro, the ref blows, the keeper stops, but Lautaro is already in the air, and scores. There is no foul by Lukaku. The referee should have not stopped the play. The goal should have stood.

Chiellini’s own goal. Chiellini falls, claiming that Lukaku pushes him to reach the ball. The ball hits Chiellini and gets in the net. The referee blows for Lukaku’s foul, but the goal stands thanks to the VAR, which sees Chiellini’s hand anchored on Lukaku’s shirt, while Lukaku never touches the defender.

Cuadrado’s penalty, Juventus wins 3-2. When Cuadrado kicks Perisic, falls, and the referee gives the penalty, something else happens. The linesman was nine meters from the action and saw clearly what happened. And apparently, saw nothing different from what the referee, on the other side of the play, blew. But why did the VAR not call the referee to the monitor? This has no explanation. Calvarese made a lot of mistakes, including Bentancur’s red. Irrati, at the VAR, helped him mend those errors. But this failure of the system, at the end of the game, that gave 3 points to Juventus, is unexplainable.
It is great for me, because I can write my little feature article and point out the narrative of Serie A. But it is awful for Serie A and its reputation around the world.

It is not the first time, and it won’t be the last, that a football game is influenced by the tool that was designed to remove human errors from the game. A bit like the gun law, football needs to review how the VAR needs to be used to improve football. Fans might not like a game that gets stopped many times for the referee to check a monitor, but that is better than having to “endure injustices”, and write empty words, like mine, about football controversies.

To improve the sport, and end the climate of suspicion that afflicts Serie A, Juventus and its supporters, the true victims of the big monster that Juventus is since…1905?