By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – There are great goals, lucky goals, own goals, winning goals and now, in the era of VAR, we have the ‘provisional goal’.
No game has so far highlighted the new situation more than Wednesday’s extraordinary Champions League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
A late winner from Raheem Sterling sent the Etihad stadium into delirious celebration and City manager Pep Guardiola raced up and down the touchline, leaping into the air, punching the sky in wild jubilation.
City thought were in the semi-finals of Europe’s premier competition and their outlandish dream of a quadruple of titles was still very much alive.
Then — as Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir signalled the goal had been over-ruled following video review — Guardiola fell to his knees, head in hands, in utter despair.
The Spurs players who had moments before been on their knees, dejectedly acknowledging their exit from the competition, were suddenly resurrected, embracing in the knowledge that they, not City, were heading to a last-four clash with Ajax Amsterdam.
The new system worked. It did what it was introduced to do.
“VAR was 100 percent correct in its decision making. Everyone thought it was a goal, the change in emotions in a split-second was incredible to see,” said former Spurs captain Gary Mabbutt.
So, instead of television studios discussing how Sergio Aguero had been offside before he crossed to Sterling to complete a famous hat-trick and rather than Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino trying to watch his words while lamenting such an injustice, VAR ensured the correct decision was eventually made.
Distraught City fans, who had not seen the replay, turned to journalists in the press box, to ask whether it was the right call.
Yes, they were told, Aguero was indeed offside.
End of story. No bitterness, no hate campaign against the referee, no decades-long sense of injustice.
And yet, for all the drama of those minutes and the accuracy of the final verdict, it was also hard not to wonder how City fans, or any other team’s supporters, will ever be able to celebrate a last-minute winner with such wild abandon again?
Sure, a long-range thunderbolt is unlikely to need a review. Nor would a curling free kick into the top corner.
But any situation where offside might be a factor, or handball, or a push in the penalty area and fans are going to want wait to see if the dreaded TV signal from the referee is displayed before they are sure the game has been won.
We are now in the era of the provisional goal.
It is something that NFL fans have become used to — the partial celebration before the wait for confirmation. Then either a second celebration, without the spontaneity of the original, or the deflating over-rule.
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has been one of the few bosses to question whether the technology is a risk to the spirit of the game and to his credit, he still maintained a degree of scepticism even after his team benefited so much from VAR.
“The decision to include VAR in football is going to change the game a little bit. I am pro the basis and trying to help the referees and maybe one year ago I was a little bit worried,” he said.
“Today my feeling is the same, when it is for you you need to accept. When it is against you, you need to accept.”
English fans will have to get used to the provisional goal experience as VAR will be introduced in the Premier League next season.
On the evidence so far — it will reduce the number of unjust goals, help get more decisions right and will inject its own drama into the game.
But it will be fascinating to see how fans, players and coaches react to goals.
Will they modify their behaviour and hold back their emotions, waiting for the ultimate verdict?
Or will they, like City and Spurs fans on Wednesday, commit themselves to the torturous wave of emotion VAR can provide?
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Toby Davis)