Despite beating Tottenham Hotspur 4-3 in what was an utterly bonkers nightof Champions League football at the Etihad, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City went crashing out of the competition last week.
It was a night that would have made all those of the BT Sport hierarchy relieved, as this fixture alone justified the ever-rising television subscriber fees football fans continue to pay.
For me, sadly, the radio had to make do, though I must say I will never forget hearing about the delirium and devastation that unravelled in Manchester in what was perhaps the ultimate see-saw game.
Spurs went into the second-leg a goal to the good, but four goals in the first twelve minutes and a fifth just 10 minutes later meant the comparatively dull first-leg quickly exited the memory. Indeed, no other Champions League
tie had seen four goals go in inside 12 minutes before – this really was an evening to remember.
But it was VAR, which is set to be introduced into the Premier League next season, that stole too many of the headlines the morning after. Two incidents – Spurs’ third goal and City’s chalked out fifth goal – took centre stage as bewildered fans and managers looked on.
Even though the tie finished 4-4 on aggregate, Spurs went through on away goals, meaning Llorente’s unorthodox
goal in the seventy-third minute – which sent the North London side through – was almost as controversial
as they get.
Guardiola and the City players signalled for hand-ball. Just as it should have been, the decision to award the goal went under scrutiny by the group of video referees tucked away in their booth many miles away. The goal stood – Llorente was judged not to have handled it. And yet it was only the morning after that news broke showing an angle that had at the time not been available to the VAR officials, clearly showing the stand-in Spurs frontman handling the ball before it flicked off his hip and in. There is some doubt that VAR, introduced to eliminate ‘clear and obvious errors,’ made the correct decision on this occasion.
This sets such a concerning precedent as the technology will be adopted in domestic competitions next season.
Fast forward to the ninety-third minute, and with the scores level on aggregate, Spurs were heading through due to their away goals. Sterling slots the ball home into the bottom right hand corner, sparking pandemonium in the usually reserved Etihad. The Spurs players collapsed to the ground. Guardiola embarked on a skip down the touchline, reserved by mangers for nothing but the career-defining moments.
Yet within two minutes, the goal had been disallowed as Sergio Aguero was correctly adjudged to have been offside
in the build-up. Picture exactly the scene just described but flip the role around. Guardiola, crouching, hands
on his head, his players reduced to the ground.
Aguero was offside – VAR made no mistake – however this does not change the fact that Llorente’s decisive goal
should perhaps not have stood. The fact that the Spurs fans in the stadium long after full-time could be heard singing ‘VAR, my Lord’, to the tune of ‘Kumbaya’ was rather telling.
The very thing VAR was meant to eliminate – luck – ended up being in Tottenham’s favour, and noticeably so. It is almost as if we need Video Assistant Referees to examine the decisions made by the Video Assistant Referees examining the on-field referee’s decisions.
Or, alternatively, dare I say it, the decision should just be left to the man in the middle, the on-field referee. It may sound harsh, but in the end these dodgy decisions do end up balancing out. The supreme delight in scoring a controversial and wrongly allowed goal in the final minute is as good as it gets in the football world, and nothing should be able to take it away.
Yes, nothing is worse than conceding a goal that shouldn’t have been in the final minute, but next time it will be
your turn to benefit from a controversial decision, I promise.
Image: Hadi Abyar via Wikimedia Commons