It’s not been a vintage week for refereeing in Serie A. Just days after Piero Giacomelli reportedly prompted Lazio to consider pulling out of the campaign altogether after his decision to send off Ciro Immobile and not award them a penalty during their 3-1 defeat to Torino, Cagliari boss Diego Lopez suggested smaller clubs were being penalised by video assistant referees (VAR) in the wake of his side losing Roma in last-gasp fashion.
VAR had been installed to curb officiating controversies, yet it has only served to raise more questions than answers – through no fault of its own. As it were, why didn’t Giacomelli review the penalty appeal and incident that led to Immobile’s dismissal with the technology? And just why did the Roma-Cagliari ref selectively turn Edin Dzeko’s dive into a penalty and let Federico Fazio’s goal stand, despite the clear suspicions of a handball?
All this confusion has made one thing clear – the VAR is being let down by poor protocol. While it can be used to review goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity, a referee then has three options: they can immediately overturn a call based on the VAR’s advice, review the incident themselves on a touchline monitor or stick with their initial decision. It’s this ambiguity and pressure to act quickly that is causing chaos.
“As it stands, the characteristics of various referees reign over decisions and will continue to do so,” wrote former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi in his column for Libero. “If a referee is known not to award penalties, you’ll want VAR in place. It leaves us back where we started. VAR was supposed to mark the end of controversies, but nothing has changed.”
Moggi used the case study of Daniele Orsato’s performance during Roma-Inter all the way back in August, when Milan Skriniar appeared to trip Diego Perotti in the box. Despite there being grounds for the VAR to intervene, the official chose not to use the footage at all. The 80-year-old claimed Orsato had a reputation for not pointing to the spot, and the statistics show the ref has given just 86 penalties, whereas Gianluca Rocchi has awarded almost 100 more with only two more years of experience.
However, the biggest problems with the VAR are its long waiting times and a lack of regulation, which essentially affords the technology free rein to prolong games and allows match officials to fall back into their old ways. Yet its implementation in Serie A has been far smoother than in FIFA competitions and the Bundesliga, where even goal celebrations have been delayed to make way for verdicts.
On the whole, VAR has been more hit than miss for Italian football. It’s easy to forget that the technology is designed to assist referees and not replace them, and in a country where officials were previously figures of hate and ridicule, VAR offers a new scapegoat for losing fans, players and Coaches alike. Who’d have thought boring, backward Serie A could be so innovative, while La Liga is still being haunted by ‘ghost goals’?