Marcelo Bielsa silent on Patrick Bamford's disallowed Leeds United goal decision but his thoughts on rule confusion are all on record

Want to criticise the VAR decision that disallowed Patrick Bamford’s goal against Crystal Palace? Get behind Jurgen Klopp, Gary Neville, Tony Cascarino, Paddy Kenny, Jermaine Beckford, Mark Halsey, Gary Lineker, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Ally McCoist, Jermaine Jenas, Robbie Savage and Bamford himself.

Monday, 9th November 2020, 4:45 pm
NO COMMENT - Marcelo Bielsa refused to be drawn on Patrick Bamford's disallowed goal after Leeds United's 4-1 defeat at Crystal Palace, but his thoughts on rule confusion are already on record. Pic: Getty

The talking heads were all shaking in disbelief on Saturday evening after watching Bamford score a really lovely goal, only to have it ruled out because the top of his arm was offside.

Almost all of Bamford’s six-foot frame was onside but he made a crucial error. His crime was to point to where he would like Mateusz Klich to play the ball and, even though you cannot score with your arm so he was not gaining or seeking an advantage with the offside limb, a change to the handball rule means that the top of the arm, a part of the body a player can score with, can be deemed offside.

Ridiculous, scandalous, absurd and all the other words denoting general discontent have all been thrown around ever since Mike Dean made the decision at Stockley Park, by those in the queue.

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The manager whose player and team were on the wrong side of the VAR call, is not to be found in the queue.

One day, a match official or VAR might do something that pushes Marcelo Bielsa to the point where he tears up his self-imposed ban on commenting on refereeing decisions but, if this didn’t, then we could be waiting a long time.

He wouldn’t utter a word of dissent last season when Gaetano Berardi was wrongly sent off at Millwall or when, during the return fixture, officials failed to spot the ball leaving the field of play before the Lions were awarded a penalty.

That particular incident angered director of football Victor Orta so much he earned an FA ban for his half-time tunnel remonstration with the referee.

On Saturday evening Bielsa was, of course, asked about the ruled-out goal and his answer was the expected one.

“Whatever the referee whistles, he whistles and I never comment on his decision,” he said. “If the rules need to be changed there are a lot of people dedicated to this.”

But Bielsa’s feelings on the confusion that has arisen from rule changes and the use of VAR were already on record before Bamford raised his arm at Selhurst Park.

It’s not his style, nor does he consider it within his remit, to offer outright criticism of football’s new technological toys and rule interpretations.

He would just prefer clarity and less room for error which, in turn, would require less technological correction of human judgement.

“There are two situations in football which generate doubt,” he said on October 1, referencing handball and offside. “Evidently they are not perceptive to the referees.

“I’m not the required person to be making suggestions but I think if the rules were simplified and they were closer to the perception of humans, everybody would be grateful.

“Technology has helped massively in sports, there is justice and everyone is closer in opinion, that’s not to say VAR does not make mistakes, in inverted commas.

“At the same time it has brought long game stoppages which perhaps is going to take longer to get used to and I don’t know if that is a good thing. I imagine, but I wouldn’t know how to do it myself, that you don’t have to admit the error or injustice, but to make the rules more flexible so there is more margin for error, more than flexible, to simplify, to leave less margin of doubt and if there is less margin of doubt there will be less use of technology.”

Less, for Bielsa, is more.

But this is not his fight and he will not be drawn into it, not even when it costs his team.

Bielsa’s job is to coach Leeds United and he, respectfully, politely but quite firmly, hands the job of solving confusion over officiating to the game’s authorities.

“In the search for perfection you know where it starts but you never know where it ends,” he said.

“You are wiser if you try to simplify things rather than to make them longer and more complicated. Maybe my thoughts are probable, I’m sure the people in charge will find answers. If there is a specialist in this matter he may come up with arguments against what I’m saying and make my point void.

“To simplify, for me it would be great if when there’s a handball or an offside everyone agrees and knows it’s a handball or offside.”

Can we ask for any more than that? Is anyone really asking for any more than that?

Roy Hodgson, unable to offer sympathy to Bamford and Leeds owing to his own unpleasant experiences with VAR, pointed out on Saturday that trial by television has simply been replaced by trial by video referees.

We have swapped one intolerance of imperfection for another and, perhaps, we should have been more careful about what it was we were wishing for.

“If you asked me what the offside rule is I couldn’t tell you,” said Bamford. “It is my job to stay onside but I just don’t know.”

If Bamford, a professional footballer of undoubted intelligence with years of experience at a good level of the game, doesn’t know, if decisions leave us scratching our heads and scrambling for updated rule books, are we really better off than we were before?

One of the worst takes that now saturates football discussion is ‘the game’s gone’. A young defender with brightly coloured boots – the game’s gone. A dive from an opposition player, a non-league youngster with an agent, anything that doesn’t conform to our accepted standards of behaviour or an ex-professional turned pundit’s experience of dressing-room culture – the game’s gone.

It is tossed around so liberally that it no longer has impact or meaning. Yet there are occasions when it could be used, occasions when it feels like the game has genuinely been polluted or snatched from us, as fans. The £15 pay-per-view charge is a good example.

The removal of good goals, goals that would have been admired for the excellence of their build-up and execution, goals that would entertain neutrals as well as the partisan, for reasons that require some serious mental gymnastics, is another example.

The game is not gone but, at a time when fans can’t be in stadiums and personal connection to football is being eroded as the Covid-impacted weeks and months drag on, it feels like it’s going to a less enjoyable, less understandable and relatable place.