Speed up VAR or drop it
World Cup can't use video referees if they're too slow
Tomorrow, a small number of men in suits could make or break the upcoming World Cup.
The game's lawmakers, the International Football Association Board, will vote on the VAR's role in Russia.
Based on yesterday's farcical evidence, the VAR shouldn't be used in the World Cup at all.
Even the name is something of a misnomer. VAR stands for Video Assistant Referee.
But the referrals are confusing, the assistance is sketchy and there is no video. The last point is critical. Footballers and fans are essentially blindfolded within their own environment.
The hopeless use of the VAR in Tottenham's 6-1 demolition of Rochdale in their FA Cup fifth-round replay at Wembley undermined the very essence of sporting spectacle.
Everyone on the pitch and in the stands were uninvolved.
They were confused and disengaged as secret messages were passed between the referee's earpiece and the invisible men monitoring their replay machines.
Supporters inside stadiums must share an emotional connection with matchday events as they unfold, in real time, but the interminable delays and lack of communication at Wembley disrupted the dynamics.
Fans were left out of the loop as the VAR dominated the bizarre FA Cup contest.
The new technology disallowed two goals, turned a free-kick into a penalty and intervened so many times, referee Paul Tierney spent more time with his finger in his ear than a CIA agent.
Most of the decisions were justified, which misses the point entirely. Football needs to be correct as often as possible, but not at the expense of its spontaneity. At least two minutes had elapsed before Erik Lamela's "goal" was chalked off. The VAR had picked out a foul from Fernando Llorente in the build-up.
Several replays were needed before a decision was finally taken. But the VAR should only intervene when "clear and obvious" errors are spotted, which raises several questions.
What's a clear and obvious error? Who decides? Who intervenes? The subjectivity involved at every level of the VAR process is little different to the subjectivity involved at each level of the game itself.
From Wembley to the Jalan Besar Stadium, every foul and infringement will be judged differently. The VAR can minimise mistakes, but it'll never eradicate them. Football is a sport of opinions, not certainty.
Even then, the game's subjectivity is still less important than those two minutes of delays and confusion.
During that period, Spurs footballers and fans still celebrated together, the definitive communal experience in team sport. What else were they going to do?
As Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino pointed out: "If I can't shout when we score, because we have to wait two minutes for a decision, will I buy a ticket?"
And he's right of course.
Football isn't a genteel game of cricket waiting for an lbw decision. Nor is it like waiting for Hawk-Eye to determine the outcome of a second serve or for the Television Match Official to decide if a rugby try stands.
Football is faster with fewer stoppages. It's a game of sudden, intense and tribal reactions, which cannot be bottled and stored for an indeterminate length of time until the VAR makes a final ruling.
Like a toddler dashing for a toilet, there should be an immediate and joyous release.
The VAR's need for speed is incalculable. When the game's lawmakers vote tomorrow, the overriding concern must be the VAR's tortoise-like process.
Decisions should be reached within seconds. If the common view is that such a swift response isn't possible, then the VAR should skip this World Cup. Asking all concerned parties to put their emotions on hold - for several minutes - is too much to ask in a combustible setting, particularly if they have no idea what's going on.
At Wembley, those VAR delays took away the basic right of every paying punter inside the stadium.
They couldn't see. They had no access to the replays that the referee was privy to.
In Italy, the VAR has been similarly criticised for excluding fans from the replay process and officials are now considering showing the decisions on big screens at Serie A games.
It's the only way forward.
Speed and inclusivity might ensure the VAR's long-term success. Video replays will reduce (most) human errors, but they cannot isolate footballers and fans.
Isolation leads to resentment and animosity, which wouldn't bode well for the World Cup.
So screen all replays inside stadiums. TheVAR will shine only on TV.