The Boy Who Cried Wilf: How a Manager’s Challenge System Could Become An Inviting Alternative to VAR

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​Diving has long been the bane of football. You might smirk a little when one of your representatives fools a referee, but few things are more annoying than seeing it happen the other way around.

One man that has been in the news for both right and wrong reasons is ​Wilfried Zaha. Undoubtedly talented, the Ivorian has won his club side many a game this season with moments of individual brilliance. Nonetheless,​ Crystal Palace’s winger has been known to go down more easily than most.

Watford v Crystal Palace  - Premier League


This story goes a little further back however, with a certain game at Vicarage Road a flash point in this recent narrative. Back in December of 2016, Zaha was accused of diving to win a penalty against ​Watford. Mascot ‘Harry the Hornet’ then amused the home support by throwing himself onto the pitch at full time, imitating the former ​Manchester United man.

In the run up to a match between these two sides one month ago, Roy Hodgson defended his much maligned forward — who had been booked yet again for the same issue in their April clash. The ​Guardian reported the Englishman’s comments as he came after Watford for allowing such antics: 

“If you’re asking me whether Harry the Hornet, who I presume is the mascot, should dive in that way, I think it’s disgraceful, because that’s not what football matches are about. If it’s provoking the crowd into looking for something that’s not there, it should be stopped.”

Continuing on, Hodgson fully backed his star player saying: “Wilf Zaha does not dive for penalties. He gets knocked over sometimes – sometimes he gets knocked over or unbalanced without it being a penalty or a foul – because he runs at such speed and has such agility with the ball. But he certainly doesn’t dive.”

Sixty minutes in at Vicarage Road, Zaha was booked…after ‘diving’ for a penalty. 

Watford FC v Crystal Palace - Premier League

It was a game that Palace would go on to lose 2-1, with Zaha scoring their late consolation. After the match, manager Hodgson and club captain Luka Milivojevic suggested that referee Chris Kavannagh had got the decision wrong, with the ​Telegraph reporting:

Hodgson – “It was a pretty clear penalty decision but we didn’t deserve more than a point from the game,”

Milivojevic – “From my point of view that was a penalty,”

Zaha then added fuel to the fire by claiming his critics were merely ‘jumping on the band wagon‘. So, was it a foul or not? Roy Hodgson thought it was. Was the deciding factor in Kavannagh’s call Zaha’s propensity to go down under minimal contact? Only he knows.


With officials already under enough pressure and the FA determining VAR wasn’t necessary for this season’s ​Premier League, wouldn’t it be nice to put more power into the hands of managers? 

Let’s face it, coaches get a tough time of it when it comes to losing games. ‘Well, they get paid enough’ you say? It’s a fair point, but from Graham Taylor’s fateful stint as England boss to the worst dive ever in a match between Universidad de Concepcion and Colo-Colo, something needs to be done.

Don’t pretend this is just an issue that affects Crystal Palace either. While Zaha might be easy meat to bash in with the ‘diver’ moniker, many have had that dishonour before, and many will have it after him.

So, how do we go about changing the landscape? 

challenge flag

The United States might not always do sports correctly, but the coach’s challenge could be a presentable idea. Potentially anglicised to be a manager’s challenge, each boss would be given two opportunities to call out decisions they feel the referee has got wrong. One challenge a half for each side, only usable on penalty fouls.

A few years ago the MLS official website revealed that then ​Stoke — now ​Middlesbrough — coach Tony Pulis was in favour of such an idea, hoping it would alleviate pressure: “It would help the referees, it would help us, the football nation and the supporters.

Aston Villa v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Semi Final:Second Leg

“And it would get the decision right, which is more important than anything else.”

This would add an extra element of entertainment and tension, while ridding the game of cheaters. If any manager was to waste his challenge on a player who is misleadingly adamant about being fouled, each would then question their team selection for the next encounter. 

If a challenge is used incorrectly the first time around, then the second would be forfeited, or the manager could alternatively be sent to the stands. If the Premier League are happy to be VAR-less, then maybe this is a feasible alternativeIt allows for the continuation of passionate, soul filled football, not to mention the opportunity for coaches to redeem themselves.

Until the FA grow a backbone and hand down substantial diving bans, could this be the one? 



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