CRAIG HOPE: Match Officials Mic’d Up response shows VAR has become another battleground for hate and division… the show featuring Howard Webb and Michael Owen is insightful and highlights pressure which officials work through
- Michael Owen and Howard Webb have faced criticism for the Mic’d Up show
- The show is insightful and serves its purpose despite its detractors
- It’s a three-team title race… Toney could lead Arsenal to glory: It’s All Kicking Off
One of the strongest arguments for scrapping VAR is not the technology or the people who operate it or the impact on celebrating a goal, but the vitriol that exists around it.
Football is the most tribal sport on the planet, weaponising decent folk who feel it perfectly acceptable to take aim for anyone or anything serving slight on their team. For not-so-decent folk, it is reason to spew insult after insult on social media.
Some of those platforms are fast resembling a sewer. And remember, most comments are only motivated by anger and perceived injustice. Most comments do not necessarily reflect a majority view. The majority, you see, don’t comment.
However, when it comes to VAR, we are witnessing a whole new stream of online poison. Everyone wanted VAR, until we had it. Everyone wanted Howard Webb to speak, until he spoke. Everyone wanted to hear the VAR audio, until we heard it.
This brings me onto Match Officials Mic’d Up, the monthly Premier League Productions show broadcast on Sky Sports and TNT Sports, featuring Webb and hosted by Michael Owen. Here, we have a new lightning rod for the storm of abuse. At least it gives Stuart Attwell a night off.
Match Officials Mic’d Up presenters Howard Webb and Michael Owen have faced criticism
The show gives audiences the chance to hear what is being discussed as VAR monitors incidents during games
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MailOnline ran a story on Tuesday with the headline: ‘Premier League fans SLAM PGMOL’s Match Officials Mic’d Up show as “utterly useless” and a “massive cop out for Howard Webb”… with Michael Owen panned for NOT challenging the former ref’. Owen later responded and said that most people thought the show was ‘insightful and educational’.
Listen, for want of a better phrase, the show is what it is. A half hour run through of some contentious decisions from the past month. Owen is not meant to be a prime Jeremy Paxman, and Webb, while admitting some decisions were incorrect, is always going to be supportive of VAR and its processes. It would be self-defeating if he were otherwise.
And, in agreement with Owen, I thought the show was insightful. My big take-away was the pressure under which VAR officials have to work through so many potential infringements.
Now this could be used as reason to do away with VAR, given how microscopic and lengthy some of it felt. But the officials were calm, as quick as they perhaps could be and, in most cases, correct. My argument for VAR has always been that it gets far more right than it gets wrong, and never under-estimate its impact as a deterrent for foul play, the ‘police car on the motorway bridge’ as Mark Clattenburg calls it.
Could Owen have challenged Webb on some of the calls, in particular Anthony Gordon’s goal for Newcastle against Arsenal? Yes, but that’s not the show. In another format he would have done.
Owen is there as an anchor to link the clips, and he did that well in his first time presenting. It’s an in-house PGMOL production at the end of the day, and we have to accept it for the glimpse behind the curtain that it does offer. The audio is the USP.
But Owen, too, has become a target for insult by association. Elsewhere, though, he is a very good pundit. I may well get an online kicking from some fanbases for saying that, but I think he is. Last season, I took note when he provided an excellent piece of analysis into Patrick Bamford’s glaring miss for Leeds versus Leicester, telling the viewer why the striker had missed and how he could have scored. That is the key to good punditry – ‘why’, not ‘what’.
Again, we come back to Match Officials Mic’d Up. The show is attempting to explain why decisions are made. Isn’t there great value in that? It may be you decide, after watching the process, VAR is not for you. That does not mean the show is ‘utterly useless’. If anything, it has served a purpose.
Michael Owen is not meant to be a prime Jeremy Paxman and is an anchor to link the clips
The show is attempting to explain why decisions are made which there is great value in
The clip of VAR audio from Gordon’s goal against Arsenal was the most watched on social media overnight. And, to no-one’s surprise, supporters of Newcastle applauded it because the award was deemed to be valid, while fans of Arsenal responded with fury, much of it unpalatable tribalism.
That is the thing with VAR. In a world already polluted with too much bad news, it is another battleground for hate and division. It does not matter if they get decisions right, it will always be wrong to someone.
I am, on the whole, a supporter of VAR and a defender of those officials who work with it. Sadly, we have to accept that its existence comes at a rather unpleasant price.
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