One of the most controversial moments of last night’s Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City came after just 12 minutes. Danny Rose, diving to challenge a shot by Sergio Aguero, deflected the ball off of his arm and out of bounds for what looked like a corner kick. Certainly, none of the Manchester City players thought it was anything, as none of them tried to lobby match official Bjorn Kuipers for a penalty.
But then VAR kicked in, Kuipers went to the monitor to review, and surprisingly awarded City a penalty kick, and a yellow card to Danny Rose for handling the ball. Thankfully, it didn’t matter — Hugo Lloris saved Aguero’s spot kick, and Spurs went on to win the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal tie 1-0.
Afterwards, Danny Rose addressed the play, admitting that the ball hit his arm but questioning the call itself and praising his captain and teammate Lloris for bailing him out.
“It did hit my arm and I didn’t think my arm was outside my body. But the referee said it was and if VAR wasn’t there, I would have got away with it. But he’s given it and luckily Hugo got me out of trouble. Even though it was after 13 minutes, it was a game-changing save.
“I’m not sure I can complain. I haven’t seen it again. It did hit my arm but it certainly wasn’t intentional. I’m just grateful Hugo saved it and we kept a massive clean sheet, scored at the end and have something to look forward to next week.
”It’s unnatural to try to defend a shot with your arms behind your back and I’m not sure that’s something the manager would be promoting. But there’s not much I can do, I have to learn from it.”
The play once again put VAR in central focus, or rather the ways in which VAR seems to be leading to results that weren’t really how it was intended to be used. Case in point: it was used (successfully?) to award a penalty to City that was at best extremely marginal, used again to (successfully) to confirm that Son Heung-Min did not dribble the ball out of bounds before scoring Spurs’ goal, but was not used after Fernandinho shoved Harry Kane’s head into the ground twice after a challenge.
I kind of like Rose’s reaction to this, to be honest. The ball did clearly go in off his arm, but he was lowering it at the time, it was close to his body, and there’s not a lot he could’ve done about it considering his proximity to Aguero at the time of the shot.
Rose seemed bemused by both the call and the controversy that ensued about it. I think he’s right — there was clearly no intentionality to that handball, but the ambiguity in the rules of the game over what constitutes a handball and what doesn’t is maddeningly vague. VAR doesn’t help with that at all — in fact, it without rule clarification going forward we’re only going to see more of these kinds of situations.