VAR taught Ian Poveda a lesson no player should have to learn in Leeds United's defeat by Chelsea
In the second half of Leeds United’s defeat by Chelsea the winger made a dart into the penalty area to reach the ball ahead of his marker Ben Chilwell, who stuck out a boot and inadvertently kicked Poveda.
The contact was not sufficient to take the Whites youngster’s feet from under him and so he continued to chase the ball and eventually tried a shot that was saved.
The International Football Association Board’s 12th law of the game says Poveda should have been awarded a penalty.
It states: “A direct free-kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences against an opponent in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force” and then goes on to list ‘kicks or attempts to kick’ as one of the possible offences.”
It goes on: “If an offence involves contact it is penalised by a direct free-kick or penalty kick.”
Nowhere does it state that Poveda had to go to ground or even be halted or impeded in his run in order to earn a penalty. Chilwell carelessly kicked him in the penalty area.
It was a lose-lose situation for a 20-year-old footballer.
He stayed up, neither the referee nor VAR took any action over the foul and in failing to score from the resulting shot, he was opened up to unreasonable criticism and suggestions of naivety. At 2-1 down with 12 minutes to go, it might have been a pivotal moment for Leeds.
Had Poveda taken the route Gjanni Alioski took when Nicolas Pepe attempted to headbutt the left-back at Elland Road and thrown himself to the ground, it would have been to a chorus of ‘he’s gone down too easily for me’ and accusations of cheating.
The end result is that a young player just starting to make in-roads in the professional game has had his honesty challenged and questioned in a way that could be detrimental to his and the game’s future reputation.
The next time he feels the kick of an opponent in the area, will he take the risk of staying up or risk accusations of cheating, with an exaggerated fall?
And for the umpteenth weekend in a row, football is left debating the efficiency and consistency of VAR, which at times feels more of a hindrance than a help to officials and players.
The introduction of VAR was an opportunity to rid our game of a certain amount of theatrics and the kind of behaviour we all profess to loathe, but in Leeds’ reunion with Chelsea it simply encouraged more of it.
It isn’t the first time that a Leeds player’s lack of flair for the dramatic has arguably cost them.
In the FA Cup last season Gaetano Berardi entangled himself with Alexandre Lacazette and the Arsenal man kicked out, making contact with the Leeds defender. Berardi, a hard man in every sense, made little of it but had he pretended to be hurt, it’s hard to imagine Lacazette getting away with it as he did.
If we want honesty from players, they need to be convinced that kicks and attempted kicks that are either missed or erroneously judged not to be fouls by referees will be picked up and punished by VAR. If that doesn’t happen, expect players to ‘make the most’ of contact and be ‘clever’ in ensuring there is no chance an incident goes unspotted.
And a measure of consistency would help players and referees alike.
This season, at Elland Road, another Leeds central defender was the intended recipient of a kick, by Wolves forward Raul Jimenez, who flung out a leg at Robin Koch in what was reckless at best and looked a lot like violent conduct.
The only difference between Jimenez’ kick and the one that saw Matheus Pereira sent off for West Brom at the weekend, was that Pereira succeeded in making some amount of contact and Crystal Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt showed signs of pain.
The Poveda incident was not unlike one in Brighton and Hove Albion’s recent game against Liverpool, when Andy Robertson attempted to clear the ball and caught Danny Welbeck in the area.
Welbeck went down and VAR intervened to award a penalty.
There’s a school of thinking, that contact is being erased from the game, to its detriment, and it is not an argument without merit but if one of those kicks is a penalty, the other has to be also or confusion and theatrics will reign.