Brazilian centre forward Jo made a one man bid to introduce a winter break to the English game while he was at Everton, on loan from Manchester City. He flew home for the festive season – and ended any chance he had of establishing himself at Goodison Park.
The frequently wayward striker now seems to have knuckled down. He has been in such good form for Brazil’s league leaders Corinthians that some have advocated for his recall to the national team.
Last month he hit the headlines for a different reason – scoring the winner against Vasco da Gama in a manner that sparked a controversy in the Brazilian game.
A Corinthians cross from the left took a deflection, and may have been dropping inside the far post. But with a centre forward’s instinct, Jo was taking no chances. He hurled himself at the ball, attempting to chest it over the line. But he got there just too late, and the ball went in off his forearm, right up against the far post.
The official standing on the goal line did not see the offence. He would have needed X ray vision to look through the post and get a clear view. And so the goal stood.
The next day the president of Brazil’s FA, Marco Polo del Nero, announced that VAR, the video referee, would be in operation in time for the following weekend’s fixtures.
It was, of course, a foolish promise. Brazil has been authorised to experiment with VAR, with the original plan for the resource to come into effect some time next year. There was no way that the initiative could be implemented at less than seven days’ notice. There are logistical issues – the need for the stadiums to possess a space in which the video referees can do their work. And also, as early experiments have shown, VAR is not easy; the protocol of when and how it can be used requires in depth training and preparation, or else there is the danger of the technology causing more problems than it solves.
The Brazilian promise was quietly forgotten. But from this week, VAR is a part of South American football. It is being introduced for the semi finals of the Copa Libertadores, the continent’s Champions League, which stage their first legs on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In this case Conmebol, South America’s UEFA equivalent, trust that they have done all the necessary groundwork. Course have been held to prepare the officials, and steps have been taken to reduce possible confusion between the man in the middle and his video back up. One semi final has a Brazilian referee, with a Brazilian on video duty, while the other is an all-Argentine affair. It would seem logical for fixed teams to be used in the future.
Even so, there could be teething problems. One of them is obvious. The officials might have had thorough training, but what about the players? These are high pressure games for those involved (River Plate and Lanus, both of Argentina, contest one semi final, while the other pits Barcelona of Ecuador against Gremio of Brazil).
With plenty at stake, how will the players and coaches react to this important novelty? Will they remember that the video resource is only available in certain situations? (Goals, penalties, red cards and cases of player identification). Moreover, are they aware that they are not allowed to call for the use of video, and that doing so by making a gesture of a square with their hands is a punishable offence? If a yellow card is applied every time this happens, then the chances increase of ending the game with fewer than 22 players on the pitch.