Bangkok Set For It’s Var-y Big Derby. Port FC v MuangThong United Preview.

 

“We don’t play football anymore….everything is about VAR VAR” – Mario Gjurovski

 

If l made whatever the football blogging equivalent of new year’s resolutions are, then this season’s would have been to try and avoid talking about VAR as much. Last Saturday as l sat down to watch Port’s trip to Suphanburi and thought about what was going in this preview l reluctantly concluded that a fair bit of it, was going to be taken up talking about the way VAR calls had impacted the opening three games of MuangThong’s season. Come the final whistle of a 2-1 defeat that was flipped on its head by VAR it felt completely unavoidable. So, strap in (again) as we run through the (occasionally) good, bad and utterly bizarre of VAR in Thailand.

We might as well start with the good.

If VAR exists to show us what we miss from the first viewing, then it was absolutely on the money giving a penalty to Muangthong v Ratchaburi in the Friday night game last round (clip here). Viewed in real time everyone, including the referee, seems to miss what happened. There’s a tangle between Chatchai (4) and Pawee from a Muanthong free kick that leaves the Ratchaburi man on the ground in the box. What only becomes clear with a replay is that the Ratchaburi skipper has lashed out whilst on the ground, kicking the Muangthong man. It’s an incredibly stupid and vindictive thing to do and was rightly punished with the penalty that allowed Muangthong to take the lead.

Equally the MTU to make it 1-1 (clip here) v Prachuap in round one is good VAR, Popp (19)’s onside when the initial cross is played but he is offside if there is contact from Mirzaev (10), there isn’t and the goal rightly stands.

I’d add the penalty awarded to Supanburi to the list to correct calls (clip here). Jaturapat (15) is the last man, on the line and the ball ends up striking his arm as he jumps to his left and the ball arrives where he was initially standing. The result is to deny Suphanburi a goal and a penalty is a fair punishment. Where we get into the complexity of VAR is with the red card. Some have pointed out the similarity to Reece James’ penalty and red card at Liverpool, the big difference is the Chelsea man’s arm is moved with intent to stop the ball crossing the line, Jaturapat appears to be unaware. Of course, it’s opening up a minefield of interpretation regarding when there is intent and l’d really rather not have to watch officials attempt to solve them. I’m also not sure the double punishment, in this case, was merited.

In a similar vein, the late penalty Prachuap equalize with v Muangthong came about after a Chatchai handball in the box (clip here). It’s one of those where some people will tend to argue for or against it. In the main depending on if the penalty has gone for them or against them. It’s much the same as the one Bangkok United earnt and missed against us. The problem with these calls is what constitutes a natural position for the defender’s arm, is always going to be subjective. The rule makers tried making the situation an absolute with any contact between ball and arm being a pen and it was a disaster. I think both were penalties. However, the current set of rules are always going to cause debate and provide examples, once we get into the marginal, where ball strikes a very similar positioned arm and on some occasions results in a penalty and on others doesn’t. We can’t have absolutes on subjective calls and are we really any better off when things still come down to an officials decision but with a 5 min delay added to the game, rather than just going with the on field call?

The penalty not given in first half injury time at Supanburi for a shirt pull on Bonilla (9) is an equally divisive one (clip here). For me, it’s a clear pen. The defender pulls Nelson’s shirt denying him the movement to strike the ball. Do that anywhere else on the pitch and get seen, it’s a freekick and so  do it in the penalty area, get seen and it should be a penalty. Others disagree and again we see that ultimately VAR is trying to be the absolute authority on matters that will always be subjective.

If you’re going to have an omnipresent all seeing eye then its probably a good idea that its….. you know…….omnipresent and all seeing. Rather than what we have now where which seems to be at times neither.

Firstly it doesn’t seem to be omnipresent as shown by the first Chonburi goal in the el classico of the fallen, the league’s youtube highlights and much of the initial complaints focus on a possible offside that even if not clear with the naked eye in real time, VAR gets it right as the video replay and addition of lines, showing the attacker to be onside. However, the real issue occurs just before the goal highlights cut in on the youtube coverage. As there’s a blatant handball by a Chonburi player. Not only is the system blind but those covering the league seem to want to hide the shortcomings of their system.

The one they didn’t see. Chonburi handball in the build up to the first goal.

 

While the lack of ability to see everything is shown by Ports 58th penalty shout at Suphanburi (clip here), the system is ultimately deeply flawed if, as here, a player stood in the line of sight of a camera and their limited number mean there are no alternates that can provide conclusive proof. Given the league needed a bailout to get the system to where it is, there’s very little likelihood of additional cameras any time soon. And given how long reviews take already do we really want the extra time more angles would add. I suspect it hasn’t hit the Supanburi players arm but the system isn’t working if it only operates fully on some parts of the field or dependant on where players are stood.

And now for the really bad (clip here) Where do you even start with the total joke that ended up with Muangthing getting the penalty from which they equalized v Chonburi. It was the perfect chance for VAR to show its usefulness, as the ref makes an onfield call of penalty. Anyone with experience of the game beyond playing under 7s needs one replay to see he’s made a mistake and Junior Eldstål gets the ball. It’s the clear and obvious error that VAR exists to correct. Instead, what occurs is unfathomable and would have caused outrage in any major league around the world. It’s simply not occurring in a major European league. All those claims that Thailand can get its football to the level seen in Korea and Japan, forget about it whilst this is the norm. The absolute best case scenario is that an entire officiating team is incompetent, not one of those looking at replays, saw what happened and could say “hold on, l think the defenders got the ball there”. That it’s been followed by nothing, no come back, no demotions or suspensions or attempts to get the officials trained to be of a better standard and a deafening silence from the media is a major factor in why so many that give Thai football a try, quickly decide they’d rather get their football fix of a weekend, sat on the couch watching the Premier League.

I don’t have an answer that can simply rectify the situation. Way back when the concept of VAR was first becoming a reality l was all for it, on the condition that it didn’t change how the game flowed. I still think it’s a good idea, in theory, it can even work in practice, as we saw at the Euros in the summer passed. Hardly surprising when you have Europes best referees supplemented by a couple of world allstars (If such a thing exists in officiating). However, what we have here in Thailand is a long way from that. Rather what we have is a total mess, inconsistent, at times fussy, at others myopic and all too often long winded, the game is regularly stopped for 4 or 5 minutes, even in one case l saw 8 minutes, to conclude the review while back at the Euros “Uefa [kept] a chart of the average time taken when VAR intervenes. After 36 matches it was at the lowest [experienced] …..at about 100 seconds per intervention.” The main thing that needs to change is getting the thing done quicker. It was brought in to stop clear and obvious mistakes. If you can’t make your mind up one way or the other in say 2 or 3 mins, then it’s not clear and obvious, the on field call should stand and get on with the game.

Gjurovski points to the lack of information given to clubs on how rules will be applied, you’d hope the officials have a better idea but fear they don’t.  To admit that the officials in the league aren’t up to operating the system, or that there are few in number who are, just doesn’t seem to be an option with the resultant loss of, that oh so important, “face” to a Thai organisation. Besides to turn it off might gain the league some attention (some of which will be positive from those against VAR) but will also only serve to make Thai football look even more tinpot than normal. Then once it’s gone how do you decide that you’ve reached the point to turn it back on? Whilst officials can’t improve at something they don’t do. And lack of experience playing under VAR conditions will only see the officials and league fall further behind local rivals. Sadly, l feel we’re best served to stick with it (as poor as it is) and pushing for improvements in the implementation and standard of those who use it or to put it another way, blindly hoping it all magically gets better.

 

Muangthong United 

Mario Gjurovski, impressive management style. Terrible sock game.

 

If l alienated half the readership before l really got going, using a Mario quote and some more of you with another lengthy VAR rant, l might as well keep going. Right now the greatest asset Muangthing posess is Mario Gjurovski, who looks like he could become a top coach, destined for far greater things than this league, if he wants it.  While the Samut Prakan Don’s Masatada Ishii has (rightly) had heaps of praise this season for his achievements with a limited squad, stripped of key players due to budget limitations, Mario has done much the same, in his first appointment, without over 150 games of J league experience to call upon, with a more limited squad and seen two key players leave with limited attempts to replace them. Former loanee (from Port) Chatmongkol moved on to BG Pathum United and when Derley’s wage demands couldn’t be met he headed to Ratchaburi. Derley has been replaced by Adisak (11) who returned to his parent club having spent last season on loan with us. As good as he is, it’s telling that he’ll probably be the only Thai striker to play as the figurehead of a club that finishes in the top half.  While circumstances mean that there was simple nobody signed to replace Chatmongkol and the squad so far has looked bereft of anyone to undertake the defensive midfield role. Rather what we have is a well drilled unit, programmed to play some pretty football and attack. Its main strengths are three attacking midfielders in Sardor Mirzaev, Teeraphol Yoryoei (6) and their standout player so far this season Willian Popp, who has four goals. For its merits going forward this is not a team that enjoys or has the personnel to spend long spells on the back foot. They’ll offer up chances and we should look to control the ball as much as possible. At Prachuap they conceded their first goal as Dos Santos is picked out with a nice flicked through ball from Mota but Rocha (3), Chatchai and Suporn (5) are all near by and combine to do nothing ( we can go for the full set and say Somporn (1) in goal really should be doing better if he’s the national team keeper some have hyped him up to be). Its these moments at the back and they’ve occurred consistently for Muangthing, that Port will need to take advantage of.

 

Willian Popp, MTU star man this season

Port

 

The game v Suphanburi really became a bit of a non event with regards to figuring out where Dusit is going with the side after the sending off. What was pleasing to see was that from that point on everyone on the field dug in and put a shift in trying to get something from the game.  Where once the collection of individuals rather than a team label, would have been true of Port.  Here no heads went down and everyone fought till the final whistle. A few stood out to be worthy of mentioning. Tanaboon (17) had what was possibly his best performance in a Port shirt, it was a throwback to the levels that earned him the reputation he has and hopefully we see more of it. Nelson Bonilla put in an absolutely huge performance, got a goal (yet again), was robbed of a penalty and was at his spikey, combative best. Just an absolute pain in the arse for the Suphanburi defence all night as he ran himself into the ground, having seemingly taken the red card as a personal affront. If there were flashes of him back to his best last season, its looking almost the norm currently. While Phillip Roller (33) seems to be flying a little under the radar so far, there hasn’t been the big stand out performances of last season at Ratchaburi but he’s been absolutely superb, playing at points everywhere on the right flank. And finally Nurul (13), after a couple of seasons where he seemed to lose his way, the little fella was everything you’d want from an impact sub on the night and long may it continue.

Phillip Roller, quietly impressive so far.

 

Prediction

 

Right now, I suppose what the league needs is one of these big games to pass without VAR being the main talking point postmatch. And I hope that’s the case win, draw or……..who am l kidding? Lets destroy the soulless McClub vermin…. 3-1 to the hero’s of Klong Toei.

 

Today its been annoched that this game will be played without fans. The match will be shown live on AISPLAY (possibly limited to AIS network users) at 1700 on Saturday 2nd October, 2021. So the best way to watch with fellow Port fans is to head to The Sportsman on Sukhumvit 13 who will show the match on a big screen.

 

Club statement re-attendance.

James Clarke

James Clarke

Originally from England, James first came to Thailand in 2010 to escape big cities and spend time on beaches away from crowds. He now divides his time between living in Bangkok and wishing he was living in Bangkok.

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