Tottenham Hotspur didn’t deserve to win their match against Newcastle United on Sunday at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and they didn’t, falling to a Joelinton goal and losing 1-0. However, there was yet another controversial VAR-related decision that might have earned Spurs a point in that match, and has left Tottenham fans still talking.
In the second half, Toon defender Jamaal Lascelles tripped and fell into the legs of Harry Kane, taking him down inside the box. Match official Mike Dean declined to make a penalty decision, and the incident went to VAR, which upheld the (non) call on the field.
After the match, the PGMOL (Professional Game Match Officials board) issued a statement on the incident.
“It was considered not to be a penalty by the on-field referee. As this was a subjective decision, the VAR deemed that there was not enough evidence to overturn the original call and so stuck with the on-field decision.”
However, that’s not what Harry Kane said in quotes given to the media after the match. As reported in Goal, Kane suggested that Dean told him something entirely different — that he actually didn’t see the incident. Kane said that the decision not to award the penalty was “hard to understand.”
“[VAR] is there to help the referee on the pitch. Mike Dean said that he just didn’t know, he couldn’t see, so that’s where the VAR is there to help him out. If he had said ‘no penalty’ and the VAR was a 50-50, then you can agree. But I don’t know what his conversation was with them upstairs, if he said he didn’t see it or not.
“I’ve watched it back and find it hard to understand how it hasn’t been given. It’s just like if a goalkeeper comes out, uses his arms and trips you up – it’s a penalty. I kind of tripped over his arm and then his body fell into me.
“Whether it was deliberate or not, from my point of view it’s hard to take. But I said last week [after the Manchester City game] that with VAR sometimes you are going to get the rub of the green, sometimes not. The offsides are definite because there is a kind of guarantee. The 50-50 ones are always hard. It’s never going to take away that speculation because, like this one, it’s always a matter of opinion.”
Yeah! So that’s a contradiction! There does appear to be a pretty blatant difference in between the account told by Dean (and by extension the PGMOL) and what Kane heard on the field. That, to my mind, is pretty telling.
It’s stupid enough that VAR is apparently not being used to overturn match official decisions except under what appears to be a wholly subjective and ridiculously high threshold for “clear and obvious error.” You can also look at the foot stamp on Manchester City’s David Silva by Jefferson Lerma in the same light — a pretty damn clear and obvious penalty that nevertheless didn’t get called as a penalty on the field, and with VAR declining to overrule.
However, Kane said that Dean told him on the pitch that Dean didn’t see the incident. In that case, I don’t know how you can’t look at the replay of that incident and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t a penalty. And if VAR isn’t going to be used to adjudicate potential penalties where the incident is not seen by the match official, why the hell is it even an option to be used in those situations? It also brings up — once again — the idea that Mike Dean may have told a different story in his official report to protect his own ass.
VAR is clearly not going to be the panacea that everyone hoped it would be. The way the rules — handball, penalty, etc. — are being enforced makes you wonder whether the rules are there as much to protect the reputations of the match officials rather than make the correct calls. Tottenham didn’t deserve a point from that match against Newcastle, but in a fair and equitable system that includes VAR as a way of reducing (if not eliminating) errors by officials, it continues to be somewhat baffling that the tech wasn’t used in that way on Sunday.