During Week Five of Serie A, the VAR system was working exactly as it should. Examples in Inter’s 1-0 win over Sampdoria, Fiorentina’s 3-0 victory over SPAL and a 1-0 loss for Atalanta at the hands of AC Milan demonstrated just how accurate the technology can be in helping the match officials.
Yet while the system is extremely well-designed, the referees that have VAR at their disposal have since proven to be less than adequate in its deployment. The Viola were furious after VAR changed a decision without a “clear and obvious error” in their match with Inter in Week Six, referee Paolo Mazzoleni reversing the choice not to award the San Siro outfit after he went to have a look. The referee would also fail to award a second yellow card to Nerazzurri full-back Kwadwo Asamoah and missed a dive from Federico Chiesa, decisions that would result in the FIGC excluding the official from the following round of matches.
The Viola were at the centre of another row during their 2-0 win over Atalanta last Sunday when the home side were awarded a penalty, as winger Chiesa went down in the box. It was the second call for a spot-kick in that match as Fiorentina’s appeals for handball were waved away early on. Whether the official had the previous denials in his mind or not is impossible to tell, but replays have demonstrated that Chiesa did take a dive in the aforementioned incident, and Paolo Valeri inexplicably failed to consult VAR.
“VAR works and must be applied properly,” Referees chief Marcello Nicchi told Gr Parlamento. “The protocol is the one we approved last year and the referees are applying it. Every now and then someone may not use it, but [Nicola] Rizzoli will take care of that. Those who don’t adhere to the rules will sit out.”
It was a clear reference to Valeri’s failure, but the matchday official is not the only one that must be held to account. Fiorentina have proven themselves to have been positive in the face of much adversity, but Chiesa in in danger of tarnishing their glowing reputation as a young and likeable side if he continues to simulate fouls in the box.
The 20-year-old clearly has a great deal of talent – coveted by sides across Europe in every recent transfer window – but still has a lot to learn. Those who regularly watch the Tuscan outfit will have seen that Chiesa both shines and struggles in equal measure during the 90 minutes, and can easily become frustrated when things don’t go his way.
His natural ability is evident, however decision-making is a skill very much still in progress. This is something that will not have escaped astute boss Stefano Pioli, and he will certainly be taking steps to rectify the issue as an act of diving – whether fully intentional or not – is completely at odds with his approach. However, any problems within this fully united group are kept in-house, the Coach having built up the trust of the players through some very difficult times.
Such a philosophy will see Pioli avoiding verbal punishment of wrongdoing in public, which is what was seen in his post-match comments on Sunday. “Chiesa? He’s young and I think he’ll grow without any problems because he has the numbers and potential of a champion,” the Coach revealed to ViolaNews. “One thing I want to say is that he’s a good lad, always looking for one-on-ones, and takes many shots. He’s not a diver. I didn’t like [Gian Piero] Gasperini talking about him in those terms. I don’t talk about players who aren’t mine.”
Of course Pioli has intimate knowledge of the player that no-one outside of the club could possibly have, and perhaps he would rather name the behaviour as bad rather than issuing the label to the player himself. Such talk would deny Chiesa of the opportunity to improve, and it seems likely that his recent habit for going over too easily will be worked on in order that supporters see an improvement in the coming weeks.
Even Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo once had the reputation of a player who dived, something that the number seven has vastly reduced since his days at Manchester United. “I have tried to address it [diving] myself with some of my players over the years,” revealed Sir Alex Ferguson to the Telegraph in 2014. “When Cristiano first joined us he had that dramatic action but he listened very carefully that you can’t do that and he improved tremendously and has been an even better player because of it.”
The legendary Red Devils boss deployed an approach that must now be replicated by Stefano Pioli, but don’t be too surprised if you don’t hear any criticism of his young star in the press.
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