Jurgen Klopp should know better — calling for replays is dangerous


Jurgen Klopp knew what he was saying. Faced with an unprecedented situation, the Liverpool manager suggested an unprecedented solution; after Luis Diaz’s opening goal in Saturday’s defeat to Tottenham was incorrectly ruled out for offside, Klopp called for the match to be played again. “I think the only outcome should be a replay,” Klopp said. “That’s how it is. Probably will not happen.”

And nor should it. Liverpool have found themselves on the wrong end of the biggest VAR error the Premier League has seen but Klopp’s comments are unlikely to gather much support. Despite the release of the extraordinary audio from the VAR room, which confirmed just how catastrophic the blunder was, the Premier League have no intention of replaying the match. Liverpool have also yet to file a request and are still deciding their next move.

Klopp, though, was happy to entertain a position that Liverpool as a club have yet to take. From their initial statement on Sunday night, Liverpool and Klopp have set out that they want a thorough examination of VAR and for it to lead to much-needed improvements. While Klopp has insisted throughout that he does not want the blame to be focussed on individuals, the audio of the VAR room revealed spectacular failures of system and process.

Amid much eye-rolling after that statement, Liverpool are on the right track here and were right to react so strongly. The objective, for everyone, should be to prevent such a major error from happening again. If anything comes out of this controversial and contentious week, the moment where the VAR officials realised they had failed to overturn Diaz’s wrongly disallowed goal for offside before letting the match continue anyway - believing they were following the correct protocols - should be a moment that leads to change.

That such a clear mistake could not therefore be overturned once play had resumed is one of the several issues at play here, and is clearly the one that is easiest to fix moving forward. That the on-field referee Simon Hooper could not have informed both managers that there had been a miscommunication and a perfectly legitimate goal had been wrongly disallowed is extraordinary. Liverpool believe it is to the benefit of every other Premier League club to call for such a rule to be introduced.

And during a press conference that added another layer of drama to the week, Klopp did highlight this as an ideal solution, but not when it came to the more immediate point of what to do about Saturday and the 2-1 defeat his nine-man side suffered at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The German had generally emerged from the Spurs match with credit: in his post-game interview, he reacted calmly and spoke with sympathy. He understood the immense pressures on referees and that mistakes, ultimately, happen.

There were few clues, therefore, that even after the release of the VAR audio, Klopp would come out and start calling for games to be replayed. For all of Klopp’s points that were measured and sensible, there’s no coming back from calling for a replay, the equivalent of pushing the red button. Bringing such a suggestion into the game, on the basis of human error, sets a dangerous precedent and one that can’t possibly be considered.

Because where would it end? The issues with VAR are systemic and although we are beginning to understand them better, there is no quick fix. Improving VAR and top-flight refereeing will come from increasing the talent pool for officials and having specified skill requirements, while laying down clear and precise structures for communication. Even then, there will still be more mistakes. There are every week, even if they are not as egregious as this.

And when mistakes happen, replaying games is not the answer. Take your pick for arguments against: from time and logistics, to putting even more pressure on referees, to creating the behaviour of teams crying out for a replay after every questionable decision, to what would happen if there was another error in the replay, and even to changing the very nature of sport. But Klopp, clearly, also knows this. The Liverpool manager also accepted in the same press conference that he understood that replaying the game is unrealistic and wouldn’t be entertained by the Premier League, which brings into question why he felt it was necessary to voice it in the first place.

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