Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-min free to face Sheffield United - is that a failure of VAR?

Son Heung-min: Saw his red card for challenge on Andre Gomes rescinded.
Son Heung-min: Saw his red card for challenge on Andre Gomes rescinded.
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Son Heung-min will now be able to face Sheffield United on Saturday after all.

READ MORE - United will get batter, says Norwood

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is an advocate of VAR (Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage)

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder is an advocate of VAR (Picture: James Wilson/Sportimage)

READ MORE - No surprise Wilder is linked to top jobs

It had been thought the Tottenham Hotspur forward was going to be suspended for the Blades’ first trip to English football’s newest professional stadium, but that changed on Tuesday night when the London club successfully appealed against the red card Son received on Sunday for the challenge that resulted in a sickening injury to Everton’s Andre Gomes.

That decision was itself a rethink, after the video assistant referee advised West Yorkshire official Martin Atkinson to change his original decision, of a booking.

It was easy to have sympathy with Son given his obvious distress after his tackle broke and dislocated Gomes’s ankle during the 1-1 Premier League draw at Everton.

Wilder is a fan of VAR, arguing that once it gets through its inevitable teething problems, it will be a positive for the game.

Stuart Rayner

As the differing verdicts from Atkinson, VAR Anthony Taylor, and the disciplinary panel which met on Tuesday show, it was a subjective decision.

Sunday’s verdict was that Son had “endangered the safety of a player” with the forcefulness of his challenge, but by Tuesday it had see-sawed into wrongful dismissal, probably taking into account the part Gomes’s studs sticking in the turf had played in his misfortune.

So the issue is not with the outcome, more the process.

If VAR is there to review the evidence and come to a considered opinion – and goodness knows, Taylor took his time not just over that, but other incidents that afternoon, to the extent that more than 12 minutes were added to the second half – then what is the point in a further review after the game? Why stop there? Why not appeal against the appeal if it goes against you?

How many times do we have to reconsider a call like that before we accept the decision?

If over-ruling the on-field referee threatens to undermine his authority, going back on the say-so of the man (or hopefully one day woman) sitting behind the bank of monitors in Stockley Park is a further blow to VAR’s credibility, and goodness knows it has taken enough already this Premier League season.

Son’s inclusion will weaken Sheffield United’s chances of victory at the weekend, but that is neither here nor there.

Given the way both sides have started the season, Chris Wilder’s team should and surely will be going to the plush London stadium brimming with confidence.

Next time it might work in their favour.

Wilder is a fan of VAR, arguing that once it gets through its inevitable teething problems, it will be a positive for the game. Some of us are less sure but the decision has been made and we have to abide by it.

But the strongest argument in favour of VAR was that when eye-watering amounts of money can hang on incidents in Premier League matches, being unable to double-check them is wrong.

It is a fair point of view, after all.

That works for black-and-white issues such as offside decisions, albeit the margins have sometimes been tighter than the technology can cater for.

When it comes to subjective calls, like the one to dismiss Son, it is better to put the power in the hands of the referee, giving him the opportunity to go over to a pitch-side monitor and decide for himself, as happens in most other leagues where video replays are used in this way.

Compare the tortuous process as Taylor poured over three minutes of replays on Sunday to decide that Dele Alli accidentally handled the ball in Tottenham’s penalty area – another call which split opinion – with the way Gianluca Rocchi nipped across to watch a replay of Tammy Abraham’s handball in the build-up to what Chelsea thought was Cesar Azpilicueta’s winner in a pulsating Champions League game with Ajax on Tuesday.

Rocchi’s was quick, it was clinical and it was debatable, but then so was Taylor’s.

Most importantly, it was his decision, and everyone in the stadium and watching on television could see it was.

If you believe in VAR, as the Premier League, along with an increasing number of footballing authorities, now do, you have to see it through.

Make the television studio the arbiter of these tight calls and you really should make it the final arbiter.

After all, what evidence did Tuesday’s panel have available to them that between them Atkinson and Taylor did not?

In the early weeks of the season, the VARs resolutely backed the referees until the criticism they went too far in looking after their colleagues started to hit home.

In the last few days, the system has allowed first Atkinson, then Taylor’s judgement to be called into question over an issue where you could make a case for either being correct.

A couple such incidents over the course of the season risks undermining the confidence of and the confidence in those officials at a time when the players are – rightly – being told they need to show them some respect.

With the three-stage process that led to Son’s reprieve, the Football Association risk practising the exact opposite of what they preach.