When Ange Postecoglou fronted the media at Hotspur Way on Friday afternoon, it came as no surprise that the bulk of discussion focused solely on the use of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) in football.
Postecoglou’s Tottenham benefited from an error made by VAR Darren England in their Premier League clash with Liverpool last weekend, who incorrectly ruled a first-half Luiz Diaz goal as offside in a game Spurs would go on to win 2-1.
England had mistakenly interpreted on-field referee Simon Hooper’s original decision as a goal, and after confirming Diaz was offside, communicated “check complete” back down to the ground. Play then resumed with Liverpool’s legitimate goal removed from the scoresheet.
Postecoglou spoke ahead of his side’s trip to face Luton Town in the Premier League on Saturday, October 7, when he was asked to give his opinion on the implementation of VAR in the Premier League.
The Australian doubled down on a statement made in the direct aftermath of the 2-1 win over Liverpool: that VAR in football is, in its current form, a futile pursuit of an errorless officiating system – and offered up a tweak to the current operating system he would like to see moving forward.
“Whatever I say is going to be seen through the prism of: we were the beneficiaries of a mistake. And we certainly were that,” he said.
“The facts of it are there was a legitimate goal that Liverpool scored that wasn’t given. You look at why it’s not given, because that’s obviously the first thing you question: what’s broken down? Obviously, something has broken down.
“It became pretty clear it wasn’t an integrity issue, it wasn’t a misappropriation of the law. It was an error in communication. A mistake. A mistake that cost Liverpool a goal. That’s what it was.
“I get that it’s an unusual one in that it’s never happened before, but at the same time we’re in a new space with technology, where I think there’ll be a lot of firsts in the way we deal with these things.
“As I said after the game, my view is: we want an errorless, faultless system that I don’t think exists – and will never exist. Unless we want to turn our game into (something) like other codes, where it goes for four hours and we’re explaining every decision.”
“I’m no expert on these things,” Postecoglou continued. “And that’s another thing – don’t ask managers and players about the rules of the game – we don’t know half of them. The referees do. We shouldn’t be commenting on them, because if a referee was commenting on the tactics of a game we’d all be jumping up and down as well.
“At some point, we’ve got to respect their position. And I’m not one who hasn’t complained about decisions in the past, and I probably will in the future… but if they‘re made off the back of mistakes, mate, that’s a part of our game. It’s not supposed to be flawless, in the same way players and managers make mistakes, referees at times will make mistakes.”
But despite wanting to refrain from commenting on how the referees carry out their duties in the Premier League, Postecoglou did put forward one minor tweak to the system that, in his eyes, would be an effective change.
“When I listened to that audio (of the incident) I thought saying ‘check complete’, somebody thought that was a good way of finalising things – and it’s worked up until now – but I would have thought logically you’d say ‘goal for Liverpool’.
“I’m saying that with the ignorance of not knowing how it’s truly set up. But I think when you listen to that, you (think): ‘There are probably better ways of communicating a clear decision in such a big situation’. And I’m hoping that’s what they’re addressing – not the individual (VAR England) who made the mistake. Because I think that’s a dereliction of the game.
“That’s like me hanging out a player to dry just because he made a mistake. My job is to go in there and help that player improve, not to say: ‘You’re never playing again’.”
Later in this press conference, Postecoglou went into great detail about VAR and why he feels the technology doesn’t work in its current form.
Asked if it should be scrapped, he responded: “I would in its current form. I just don’t think that technology is ready for our game.
“I’ve got zero against goal-line technology. It’s a no-brainer and it works for our game.
“Our game is unique. People say, ‘Let’s get referees explaining their decisions’. Oh my God – seriously? Could you imagine sitting there listening to a referee explaining every decision in the game?
“I’m going to the gridiron on Sunday – I love American football. But it’s three and a half hours. The measure of who was a good referee was the ones you never noticed and now we’re trying to make them the stars of the show.
“We’re analysing, in slow motion, yellow cards. We, as managers and players, are the worst for it because we talk about integrity but I bet if you watch a game tonight, the first throw-in, both teams will appeal for it. We’re trying to take advantage and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“With VAR, the more we use it the worse it’s going to get. Clear and obvious error? It seems like everything is getting scrutinised.
“It’s not our game. We’re not rugby – we don’t have those stoppages. What I always loved about our game – especially in England – was the frenetic pace. Why are we trying to take that out? None of us liked it when they were taking too long over a decision and last week it sounded like they were rushing it. Maybe that’s a consequence.
“That suggests to me the technology in its current form is not suitable to our game but I know I’ll be in the minority with that.”
He added: “This is the time where I’m happy I’m 58 and not 38.
“I don’t know what the game is going to look like in 20 years time and I’m not sure I would like it with the way it’s going. I’ve always loved how our game has had more flaws in it.”
Postecoglou and Tottenham will now turn their attention forward to Saturday’s clash with Luton; defeat the newly-promoted side, and Spurs will go top of the Premier League – albeit having kicked off a fresh weekend of fixtures.
Tottenham currently sit one point below Manchester City, having enjoyed an unbeaten run (W5, D2) to the start of the season. Three wins and a draw in September earned Postecoglou a nomination for Manager of the Month; he’s looking to go back-to-back to begin the campaign after taking the honours in August.