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Handyman Thierry Henry says ‘football has a lot to learn from other sports on VAR’

Thierry Henry's famous handball against Ireland© Sky Sports

By Rachel SteinbergSunday World

Thierry Henry is frustrated by lengthy VAR decisions he believes are draining the “joy” from football.

The World Cup winner is not against the technology, but is concerned by how the speed of reviews affects the matchday experience for fans and players alike.

Arsenal’s record goal-scorer was retired by the time VAR was introduced for the 2019/2020 Premier League season and agreed there’s still a gulf between current practice and potential when it comes to the technology.

“In football we’re still behind, we have so much to learn,” he said. “What I can see in American football, in rugby, in cricket or whatever it is, tennis, it’s instant.

“We also know that the referee will give you an explanation, they have a microphone, they talk. Obviously in tennis, are you going to battle with the decision of the computer? If you start to do that, then you’re in trouble.

“With VAR, what I get annoyed with is it’s not quick enough. Then it’s still the decision of someone in a truck or wherever they are, because it’s not VAR that makes the decision, VAR is just there to recall the situation.

“And then the man in the truck will call to the referee to say you made a mistake or you didn’t make a mistake. Sometimes they help, yes, sometimes they help, no, but I can also understand that a human being can make a mistake.

“[Semi-automated offside] in the Champions League, for me, as long as it’s quick, as long as it’s quick and we have an explanation, I can see that the player was offside, you move on.

“What’s annoying is when you get lost in translation, when someone tells you something, another one, the rule changes the week after, it can become tough. We have a lot to learn in football.”

Henry was speaking at the Leaders Week sport business conference at Twickenham Stadium, reflecting on a prolific career that included 228 goals for the Gunners in all competitions.

He joked he was a vocal player and would have “complained about the grass, the wind, myself, the coach, the weather, even if there was a computer, I would have said it’s lying”.

Still, as an observer of the modern game and assistant coach of the Belgian national team, Henry was genuine in his frustration about video reviews that seemed to suck any momentum out of the sport.

“What we want to see is the game going on,” he said. “Another thing that’s very difficult for me is I used to score goals as a player. Sometimes [now] you don’t even know if you need to jump.

“Am I jumping? Am I celebrating? Am I not celebrating? It kills the beat of the joy of the game.”

Though Henry’s thoughts vary when it comes to VAR, his enthusiasm for a different innovation, VR, are more unbridled.

Henry is an investor in Rezzil, a training technology which uses VR headsets to allow elite athletes to train remotely, from drills to rehabilitation exercises. He believes it has “limitless” potential.

“Five minutes or 10 minutes before a game, to review something,” said the 45-year-old.

“Now you consider the goal, you’ll be playing it, you’ll be having it in your head instead of playing it from another view, you have it from your view from that day.

“Instead of replaying it in your mind, you have it. It’s there. It’s you again, considering the goal, and then you work with that. If I was a player, oh my god, I would have used every single minute of it.

“Every single way for me to get a yard, half a second ahead of someone, or understand what happened better than the other guy I would have used this.”

He added: “I’ve always said the game for me is a state of mind. I’m still in it, but it’s a state of mind for me. This is how I breathe, this is how I sleep, this is how I eat. The game for me is everything.”

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