New UEFA Show ‘Man in the Middle’ Reignites Intriguing VAR Questions Over 2019 Champions League Final Penalty Decision


A UEFA tweet regarding the 2019 Champions League penalty decision has brought feelings of anger back for some fans of Tottenham Hotspur. Having beaten Ajax against all odds to reach the biggest night of their careers, the final became a nightmare very quickly. Moussa Sissoko was adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty area and it is now claimed that the Video Assistant Referee did not look at the incident again.

UEFA ‘Man in the Middle’ Reveals 2019 Champions League Penalty Decision Not Looked at by Var

UEFA TV have a section entitled ‘Man in the Middle’ where officials and media alike take a look back at VAR  decisons starting from early 2019. If you are easily annoyed then you might want to look away now!

The very first episode looks at the 2018/2019 UEFA Champions League Final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in Madrid. With the officials microphoned up, it is an interesting insight into what they hear from the VAR room, what the on pitch officials are saying and the reactions of the players.

The penalty kick that Moussa Sissoko gave away in the first minutes of the match, was not reviewed by VAR, it transpires.

VAR Confirmed Penalty Decision as “100% Correct”

Firstly, here is the list of the team that officiated that 2019 Champions League Final:

Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Assistant Referees: Jure Praprotnik, Robert Vukan (both from Slovenia)
Fourth official: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Spain)
Video Assistant Referee: Danny Makkelie (Netherlands)
VAR Assistants: Pol van Boekel (Netherlands), Felix Zwayer (Germany)
Offside VAR: Mark Borsch (Germany)

Sadio Mane hit the ball toward Moussa Sissoko who was coming back into the penalty area. The ball struck Sissoko in his armpit, although his right arm was held out high and wide away from his body. Damir Skomina did not hesitate to give a penalty kick. What is then heard is the VAR official, Danny Makkelie stating that they are checking a possible offside but that:

“The penalty decison is correct. Absolutely 100% correct.”

In the same episode, Skomina in a later interview says he was ‘relieved’ as he felt it was a penalty. There is no request from the VAR team to ask the official if he would like to take a second look. Maybe in 2020 and with the handball rule having changed, then that decison would not have been taken. Spurs fans have had an old wound opened with this episode but the wider implications ask a pertinent question.

Time Has Come for Officials to Face Tougher Scrutiny Over Decisions

The handball incident is now long gone and Tottenham Hotspur went on to lose that final with a timid performance, one that ultimately started the wheels in motion for the eventual departure of Mauricio Pochettino as Spurs never fully recovered from the defeat.

What will be interesting to see is if this series on UEFA TV continues. VAR was brought in to help officials get decisions right. It was brought in to help officials with decisions where it was clear and obvious an error had been made. It is always worth remembering that, at full speed in a match, tackles, handballs and penalty calls can look different than when viewed in slow motion.

What has happened is that VAR has muddied the waters somewhat. Tackles flying in that look like red cards are being ignored by VAR, diving is now seemingly missed despite the presence of VAR; the handball rule and offside rules are being talked about now more than ever before. In the recent Premier League Match between Leeds United and Crystal Palace, Leeds United’s Patrick Bamford was ruled offside due to his arm being offside. VAR deliberated over this for minutes and it was clear that no part of the strikers’ body that could legally score a goal was offside. VAR, however, gave the offside.

The officials are rarely held to account though. Managers are interviewed after matches involving such decisions and sometimes fined for comments deemed to be unprofessional. Yet when managers have seen VAR get decisions wrong , it is no wonder that they show their ire when asked about these decisions. In regard to the Bamford incident, Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker tweeted:

“That’s another ridiculous VAR offside decision to disallow Bamford’s goal. I actually loathe the way it’s being implemented.”

Although this first episode of ‘Man in the Middle’ looks at incidents from a year and more ago, this is a precedent that should be implemented. Let’s see a weekly report with videos that show everyone with full transparency how and why these decisions are taken. Admitting errors is the best way in any walk of life to start making things better and making things right.

Let’s have no more of officials hiding behind closed doors. VAR is there for all to see and, therefore,  it should be for all to see and hear how and why these big decisions are taken. The sooner we can have this transparency, the better for all concerned with the beautiful game that is football.

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