Cristiano Ronaldo’s trolling of VAR highlights joyless nature of new football technology
The prolific Portuguese forward steered home a left-footed finish to put Juve 3-0 ahead in a classic encounter that the Serie A champions would eventually win 4-3, after a storming Napoli comeback was canceled out by a spectacular Kalidou Koulibaly own goal.
But fans expecting to see Ronaldo’s iconic pirouetted ‘Si!’ celebration after his goal were left disappointed, as he instead wheeled away before making the ‘VAR’ signal and sarcastically urging the crowd to calm down.
The unusual celebration came after the Juve number 7 was denied a goal against Parma on the opening day of the season when VAR ruled out the strike for offside by a wafer-thin margin.
While there was nothing to indicate any infringement with Ronaldo’s goal against Napoli, he nonetheless jokingly urged fans to restrain their joy until the strike was confirmed.
Footage of the crowd even showed some supporters imploring Ronaldo to pull out the trademark celebration, although they were to be disappointed as he merely walked away smiling with teammates.
The moment in Turin might be considered light-hearted and minor, but coming as it does amid the broader debate on the use of VAR it adds to the question as to how much of a killjoy the technology will be to the outbursts of emotion that adorn the game.
The increasing introduction of VAR – which covers ‘clear and obvious’ errors by the referee in the key areas of goals, penalty decisions, red cards and mistaken identity – will widely be welcomed by fans across Europe if it can rule out the most blatant of injustices in the game.
But there is a fine line between ensuring that fairness prevails and micro-managing the fun out of football.
Ronaldo’s disallowed goal against Parma would be a prime example – a few millimeters of shoulder blade offside and the goal was ruled out by VAR.
The decision was correct by the letter of the law, but led to questions over how much VAR should be used to apply increasing scrutiny to laws that seemed straightforward before.
Now that VAR means we can detect a toenail being offside, should the offside rule itself be adjusted so that it benefits more the attacking team, and involves an advantage such as ‘daylight’ having to be between the attacker and defender?
Moreover, how can decisions be made more quickly and better-communicated to fans in the stadiums, who are often at a loss as to what is going on when VAR is being applied?
There is the counter-argument that, along with instilling more fairness into football, VAR actually adds excitement in the tension provided by waiting for decisions to be confirmed or rejected.
But at the moment, the interludes being placed into games and the prospect of fans and players having to curb their celebrations for fear of someone being a millimeter offside seem like too high a price to pay.
Ronaldo’s VAR-trolling celebration on Saturday night may seem trivial, but it highlights questions over the role the technology will play in football, for better and for worse.
VAR is here to stay, but if it deprives us of such iconic celebrations as Ronaldo’s ‘Si!’, it could mean an increasing chorus of ‘No!’ from fans.