There are some changes a-coming in the exciting, wonderful, romantic, marvellous, oh-do-get-on-with-it world of football. Vars will come in next season, possibly, maybe, in a trial run in the FA Cup. If all goes well, they could be in place for the next World Cup in Russia. No, I’m not talking about a nasty disease that players will pick up in dodgy clubs. “Vars” stands for “video assistant referees”.
They will be twiddling the knobs in the background to review contentious incidents – such as red cards, serious injuries, penalty kicks and mistaken identity – and will instruct the referee to alter his decision, if it is deemed that he got it wrong. God knows how long this could take. Full-blooded, hot-blooded games could last all weekend.
And who will judge the judges? If a Var can correct a referee, who will correct a Var when he cocks it up? Jobs for the boys: yet another tier of experts on the bench.
One change that I’d like to see in football is the end of warm-weather training. Why on Earth does the whole squad have to swan off every New Year to Dubai? I’d pay money not to visit Dubai ever again, but every Prem club considers it a vital training exercise. And it’s perhaps a chance for some of the owners to have a close-up view of the rubbish players and the crap manager they’re spending a fortune on.
The theory is that they’ll bond better, as if they weren’t already living in each other’s pockets. The other theory is that they need to get used to playing in hot weather. Why? They’ll still come back to shit weather in England. It could be another two decades of global warming before the English spring becomes tropical. And we don’t play here in summer anyway.
I’d much prefer them to stay here and practise their skills in training. I scream every time yet another free-kick goes straight into the wall or another corner goes straight into the hands of the goalies. What do they do all day on the training pitch?
Why don’t they try having no wall at all? It would give the goalie a decent sight of the ball, and there would be no risk of deflections. They repeat the same old dead-ball situations, regardless of whether they work. The corner-taker puts his hand up, as a signal, as if he knows what he’s doing.
These trips are, of course, jollies for the coaching staff, a chance to go off to the sun and lie around a pool, and I’m sure there’s a commercial element: meeting sponsors and supporters. But does it work, football-wise, to improve or refresh the team?
To find out, I commissioned a survey of all the Prem clubs that have done warm-weather training over the past ten years, comparing the results of their five games before they went with their five matches after. The results are still being processed and the Dafts on my staff – the “data analyst football technicians” – are still to produce the final report, but the evidence so far suggests the following:
1) Players staying at home, in their own beds, with their own wives, even having to get up in the night to change nappies, results in them being fresher and more keen to get out of the house quickly in the morning to get to training.
2) Five days in Dubai cooped up with the squad, especially if rooming with the smelly, farting reserve goalkeeper or the big-headed flash bastard striker who has the hairdryer on night and day, does appear to have a deleterious effect on energy and enthusiasm levels.
3) Overall, the results after warm-weather training were 27 per cent worse than before.
The Daft committee is therefore proposing to all clubs that they save the money spent on warm-weather training for players and instead have warm-weather training for fans. Fans are the ones who need to be perked up at this time of the year, after a winter sitting in freezing stadiums. Tests have demonstrated that five days in Dubai will improve fans’ chanting and cheering by 17 per cent, making them wittier, louder and more enthusiastic. In the next five games, the team will gain an extra three points. Bring it on.
This article appears in the 15 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain