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LaLiga Real Betis Balompié

The continuing controversy of VAR in Spain

MIAMI (22 December 2020) The mere mention of VAR in Spain brings forth a variety of comments. When coaches criticise VAR, they are usually fined and sanctioned. The continuing polemica of VAR in Spain was once again on full display this past Sunday at the Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes in Granada, where home side Granada CF were awarded a penalty in the 14th minute of the first half for a alleged foul by Betis’ Guido Rodriguez that was a complete fantasy.

Source: La Liga highlight video.

Replay showed with clear and convincing evidence that Granada’s Colombian forward Luis Suarez fell in the box without any contact from Betis defender Guido Rodriguez. The match commentators on BeIN Sport Español were in complete disbelief that the referee would allow the penalty to proceed after consulting with VAR. Yet, inexplicably, that is exactly what match referee José Maria Sánchez Martínez did.

Almost three minutes passed between the time Sánchez Martínez pointed to the spot and the time the penalty kick was taken. During that time, Sánchez Martínez is seen talking via his headset, presumably with the VAR officials in Madrid. The VAR official in charge of the match was Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva, an ex First Division referee.

Iglesias Villanueva was the VAR referee in charge. Shown here officiating a Barcelona-Espanyol match from 2014.

The video replay, which was available from several angles, clearly showed there had been no contact and it was assumed by the matchday announcers that the call would be overturned and the yellow card rescinded. That is not what happened. Roberto Soldado converted the pentalty for a 1-0 Granada lead. Granada would go on to win 2-0.

Yesterday, La Liga overturned the yellow card that was given to Betis’ Guido Rodríguez after he complained to the referee about the penalty being awarded.

What is interesting is that the VAR official, Iglesias Villanueva, was quoted back in April to the effect that many plays fall into “grey areas” and the video review should not interfere (with the match official’s call on the pitch).

Hay jugadas grises que el videoarbitraje no debe abordar porque transformaríamos el fútbol en otra cosa”.

Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva, VAR referee, La Liga

That quote was from an online chat from the Gallego Football Federation that Iglesias Villanueva participated in April. The complete video, in Spanish, can be found here. He went on to say that people think that VAR is the “Holy Spirit” but there will continue to be controversy. His quote certainly manifested itself on Sunday.

It’s one thing for the referee to be in a bad angle and not see exactly what happened. Referees are human and everyone makes errors. However, in the context of video assisted review being deployed, where there is time to review a critical call and from multiple angles, there is simply no excuse to make such a glaringly bad call, one which had a direct impact on the game.

This is not the first time that VAR has been under fire in Spain. Its administration and the results it produces have been heavily criticised, especially when it seems to favour one team over another. VAR needs to be looked at and rethought in La Liga, because as it stands, it is a complete embarrassment and is putting the competition in a bad light.


By Ken Russo

While my background is in the legal industry, the skills acquired and fine-tuned in law practice are now applied to focus on the sport of football. Russo Soccer aims to inform, educate and engage on news and relevant issues in the game.

Um advogado por formação, concentro meu trabalho nos negócios, comunicações e operações de equipes no futebol mundial. | Abogado con fundación avanzada en comunicaciones, enfocado en los negocios del fútbol y las comunicaciones. | Je suis un avocat experimenté dans les affaires de football.