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The History of the VAR in World Football and its introduction to Liga MX

Based on news around the league this week, we could see the now world-famous VAR be introduced to the Liga MX in the next few months. Here’s a quick intro to the new technology and all of its virtues and vices

Tigres UANL v Monterrey - Torneo Clausura 2018 Liga MX
Referee Jorge Perez in action during the 17th round match between Tigres UANL and Monterrey as part of the Torneo Clausura 2018 Liga MX at Universitario Stadium on April 28, 2018 in Monterrey, Mexico.
Photo by Azael Rodriguez/Getty Images

On June 4, Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla announced that some new technology would soon make its debut in the Liga MX.

Rumors and reports began circulating through this past Clausura about the VAR’s (video assistant referee) introduction into the Mexican league, and it was confirmed in Bonilla’s presentation to all Liga MX teams at the league’s annual draft in Cancun.

Liga MX President Enrique Bonilla at the 2018 Liga MX Draft.
Source: MedioTiempo

Unfortunately, the next day, it was announced that the VAR itself might not be ready for the start of the 2018 Apertura season, due to the league needing certification before it can begin its use. Former World Cup referee and current Comisión de Arbitraje President, Arturo Brizio Carter, revealed they aim to get getting certification for the league by July or August.

”We have to demonstrate the training of the referees, the theme of the stadiums, to check the technology, the communication between television sets with the supplier,” Brizio Carter said, according to Record.

For the use of the VAR to be possible, all Liga MX teams must make room somewhere in their stadiums for its monitors and personnel to work, forcing all teams to possibly spend money on adapting their respective stadium to the VAR equipment.

The VAR (video assistant referee) has catapulted itself into the game of soccer over the past few years. Video and real-time replay technology has been called on to be implemented into the modern game for several years now.

Unlike its American football and basketball counterparts, soccer didn’t really have a way for officials to review and/or reverse a call. After constant blunders and referee errors on big stages, most famously the 2010 World Cup (remember that Tevez goal against El Tri?), most people thought it was finally time for technology to be introduced to the beautiful game (some people didn’t, we’ll get to that later).

The VAR is a team of three people made up of the actual video assistant referee, his assistant and the replay operator, according to Goal. They work with a bank of monitors with different camera angles to review a questionable play, whether it be a goal, offside, foul or otherwise.

Since its inception last year, it has quickly gone global. It is being used in the FA Cup, Bundesliga, Serie A, Primeira Liga, Copa Libertadores and was used during the 2017 Confederations Cup. Major League Soccer has also been using the VAR since August 2017, and yes, you guessed it, it will be used at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

The bank of VAR monitors usually stand off to the side of the pitch for the referee to analyze the play in question from different camera angles, similar to what viewers see at home during instant replays.
Source: Sports Illustrated

Per Milenio, the VAR has actually already made its debut in Mexico, with it being used in this past U-13 Torneo Primavera final. Morelia beat Leon, 4-1, after penalties in the finale of the first U-13 tournament organized by the Mexican Football Federation, and referee Luis Enrique Santander was in charge of reviewing a questionable play that ended with Morelia player Edwin Avalos receiving a red card.

VAR’s Polarizing Presence:

The VAR overall has proved to be a positive rather than a negative in the leagues it has been used in. ESPN concluded that the use of the VAR in MLS correctly overturned 33 calls out of 49 reviews in 137 regular season games. Similarly, Bundesliga officials correctly overturned 37 of 48 incidents in the first half of this past season. It has gone from controversial to almost universal acclaim from fans and figures in Germany, Italy and Portugal where VAR is also used.

ACF Fiorentina v Spal - Serie A
Daniele Orsato referee consults the VAR during the serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and Spal at Stadio Artemio Franchi on April 15, 2018 in Florence, Italy.
Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

However, despite its positives, it does have its fair share of issues and naysayers. Mexican internationals Marco Fabian and Carlos Salcedo were witnesses to a controversial decision in the 2018 DFB-Pokal final when German referee Felix Zwayer consulted the VAR and still went ahead and awarded Bayern Munich a corner kick rather than a penalty kick after Frankfurt’s Kevin-Prince Boateng struck the leg of Bayern’s Javi Martinez inside the box, a foul seen by pretty much everyone.

The Mexican national team was also on the wrong side of things when the referees incorrectly disallowed Hector Moreno’s goal against Russia in the 2017 Confederations Cup, even after using the VAR.

Then there is the issue that not every debatable decision will get reviewed, and El Tri were also witnesses to that when no review was called for after Portugal’s Pepe pushed over the same Moreno inside the box in Mexico’s third-place match with A Seleção in the same tournament.

But perhaps no bigger complaint leveled against the VAR is that it takes away from the flow of the game, an opinion shared by many, including the current Mexico coach.

Officials in Serie A were also troubled by the amount of time it takes to consult the VAR to make decisions, but Nicola Rizzoli, a former referee overseeing the VAR project in Italy, found that the average time to make decisions had over time shortened from 2:35 at the beginning of the season to 1:15.

So, is the VAR a good thing or a bad thing for the Liga MX? It depends on who you ask. It has its issues and doubters, but as with any piece of new technology, enhancements have been made and it has obtained a pretty good reputation in Europe. Only time will tell how it fares in the World Cup starting next week, the biggest stage of them all.

For now, it seems Liga MX fans (the ones that follow us on Twitter anyway) are happy with the inclusion of the VAR. 63 votes is not nearly a large enough sample size for this debate, but it serves as an optimistic view of how the league is accepting and adapting to changes to a historically traditional game.