Dubai: The beautiful game is now in danger of becoming the bureaucratic game.
Manchester City players mobbed Gabriel Jesus to celebrate the winner against Tottenham Hotspur in the final minute of their Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday evening.
Or so they thought.
For the second week in a row — in only the second week of the Premiership season — the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) had intervened to deny Pep Guardiola’s side a goal after the ball was in the back of the net.
Last week, it mattered little as they cantered to a 5-0 win over West Ham United.
This time around, it is a whole different story in the 2-2 draw with Spurs. The vital ‘goal’ was ruled out because the ball had taken the faintest of touches off Aymeric Laporte’s arm in the build-up. It wasn’t even noticeable to the naked eye in actual time.
It is early in the season and City have plenty of time to make the difference — their dominance in all departments over title rivals Spurs on Sunday showed that they will be in the mix for the title come next May.
But VAR has cost them two points. Last season, that would have cost them the title as they only finished one ahead of Liverpool. Imagine missing out on the Premier League trophy because a new rule denied your side a goal after the ball brushed the hairs on the arm of one of your players in August.
Right or wrong, there are new rules in place this season in England — not only the introduction of VAR and all the controversial baggage that comes with it. There is also a new and unimproved handball rule that states that any goal resulting from handball, accidental or otherwise, must be ruled out.
City were the first to fall foul of this silly stipulation and found out that the referees are following it to the letter of the law.
BBC pundit Danny Murphy voiced what most of social media was thinking when he said: “The new handball rule is ridiculous. That should never on any playing field anywhere in the world be disallowed. It wouldn’t even be seen if we didn’t have VAR.”
Rivals may be loving it this week as they revel in their City’s misfortune, but — and I guarantee it — it will happen to their team at least once this season too. VAR decisions will affect every side for better and worse, and should therefore cancel each other out over the course of the campaign, but there is something more serious, ugly and threatening at large here.
These strict new rules came in and we were worried about them slowing down football, but now they are threatening the very fabric of the game we love.
Getting tight decisions right is one thing, but to rule out a match-winner on a technicality is signalling the beginning of the end of the sport as we know it.