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Champions Journal was granted exclusive access to a small room that plays a huge part in today’s game: UEFA’s VAR Remote Centre. In what amounts to the football-officiating equivalent of mission control, here’s what we discovered about how things work behind the scenes

WORDS Dan Poole | PHOTOGRAPHY Richard Julliart

The lights have gone down; ten minutes till show time. Our lead is on stage before curtain-up, pacing a little. Now he sits behind a desk and is shifting slightly in his chair; his fingers are tapping out a gentle rhythm on the desktop. It’s not nerves we’re witnessing, though. This is adrenalin. He’s ready to perform.

Marco Fritz will be the video assistant referee (VAR) for tonight’s Matchday 5 game between Villarreal and Manchester United, joined by an assistant VAR (or AVAR) and two replay operators. They’re all in the VAR room at UEFA HQ in the Swiss town of Nyon; the carpet is grass green and a large pillar stands in the centre, reminiscent of the old Wembley.  

Five minutes to go and headphones are on. Three minutes to go and Roberto Rosetti, UEFA Referees' Committee chairman, enters the room and gives both seated refs a supportive squeeze of the shoulders. One minute to go and Fritz presses the large red button in front of him that allows him to talk to on-field referee Felix Brych, for one last audio check. And it’s a good thing he does – because Brych can’t hear him. 

Fritz calls over Alessandro Arduino, VAR project coordinator. Arduino has already been busy tonight: snow in Ukraine has necessitated red lines on the pitch and an orange ball for tonight’s game between Dynamo Kyiv and Bayern München; that, in turn, has meant recalibrating the VAR tech to recognise these two new colours. Now he’s back on the phone to resolve the lack of sound at the Estadio de la Cerámica; Brych is going to need a new headset. There’s no panic in the room, but there is palpable tension. The clock’s ticking…

The TV pictures show that Brych has reappeared. Are we back in business? Fritz is back on the red button, a bright red border appearing around his screen to signify that he’s opened communication. “Eins, zwei, drei…” A pause. Furrowed brows. Then: “Perfekt!” Good to go. 

In the VAR room, the lights are low but the stakes are high

“It’s not what you need but we know it can happen,” Fritz says afterwards of the tech teaser. “You have to stay calm because the match is about to start. We have to be ready.”

In truth, technical issues are few and far between in the VAR Remote Centre. It was introduced for EURO 2020, driven by the pandemic-fuelled need to reduce numbers at each venue. However, it proved so successful that it has been retained and is now used for all UEFA club competitions where possible (some venues don’t have the necessary fibre optics to make it work). There are six VAR stations, divided by partition screens, in the main room; there are two more in a separate space in the building. The replay operator, trained in Hawk-Eye, has access to all the cameras in any given stadium, which are connected via a dedicated fibre link that ensures no more than a 50-millisecond delay to the pictures.

“It’s better because we can use a pool of VARs, the best in Europe,” says Rosetti of the new set-up. “Quality is the priority. We had an excellent EURO but now the target is to try and maintain the same level.”

Fritz, meanwhile, needs to be satisfied that he’s making the right decisions. With the match kicked off, he’s watching a live feed from the stadium’s main camera and can hear everything the referee and his assistants are saying in his headphones. If anything happens and Fritz wants to take another look, he’s got another screen lower down that has a three-second delay and provides four different camera angles. He’ll let the AVAR know that he’s checking something out (as the AVAR needs to watch for any further incidents, should the game still be in full flow) and then either returns to watching the game in real time or investigates further.

If the latter, he’ll asks the replay operator to give him what he needs: different angle, pause, slow motion, zoom in, normal speed, multiple repeats – take your pick. He also lets the on-field official know what’s going on: “Right decision, well done, carry on”; “Delay, we’re still checking something.” If it’s deemed that intervention is necessary, the VAR will either communicate that to the referee to implement the necessary decision or ask him to head for the pitchside monitor, depending on the gravity of the situation. Now the ref can tell the replay operator what he wants to see and make the final decision himself. 

At half-time in the game from Spain, Fritz exits. “I go outside, where there’s no one, and just walk,” he says. “I don’t want to speak to anyone, not even my AVAR. I just want three minutes to clear my head, then start again.” Which he duly does, with no major incidents to deal with in the second half. Does that mean he’ll sleep well tonight? “No! I always have a lot of things on my mind. It’s a good thing that today we had the early match, because I’ve got time to relax now.”

“You have to stay calm because the match is about to start. We have to be ready”

That’s not the case for the VAR teams who are now in the room ready for the later kick-offs. All manner of European languages fill the air, including some heavily accented Mancunian English coming from the station that’ll be monitoring LOSC v Salzburg. We overhear one end of the conversation between the VAR and the referee team, led by Anthony Taylor. “Evening boys, how are we? Bloody cold? Oh no!”

As the games get under way, it’s fascinating to observe proceedings. One VAR is chatty with his colleagues, commenting on how the game is shaping up during breaks in play; another removes his headphones briefly at one point, exhaling after a tight offside call. At half-time, a couple of VARs want to take another look at key moments from the first half. It’s like any job: reassurance that you’re doing well gives you the impetus to keep doing so.

Fritz also thinks it’s important for VARs to bolster their colleagues on the pitch. “If I can give confidence to the referee, it feels good for them. Not 500 times during the match and not for every decision, but every 20 minutes, why not?” It benefits Fritz too. “Because I’m not in the stadium – I’m here – but I want to feel part of the team.” 

Rosetti sees the same benefits. “The referees are very happy about VAR; they can be more relaxed,” he says. “In my time, every match was life or death. My last-minute speech with my colleagues before a game would be, ‘We must see everything.’ There was no possibility to watch again. Everyone else could, but not us. This was the paradox.”

At full time, after fist bumps and back slaps, the officials zip up their green-and-black UEFA tracksuit tops and head out into the crisp Nyon night. “Perfect football doesn’t exist, it’s impossible,” muses Rosetti. “In this job, there is always room for improvement. We’re never satisfied.” 

The lights have gone down; ten minutes till show time. Our lead is on stage before curtain-up, pacing a little. Now he sits behind a desk and is shifting slightly in his chair; his fingers are tapping out a gentle rhythm on the desktop. It’s not nerves we’re witnessing, though. This is adrenalin. He’s ready to perform.

Marco Fritz will be the video assistant referee (VAR) for tonight’s Matchday 5 game between Villarreal and Manchester United, joined by an assistant VAR (or AVAR) and two replay operators. They’re all in the VAR room at UEFA HQ in the Swiss town of Nyon; the carpet is grass green and a large pillar stands in the centre, reminiscent of the old Wembley.  

Five minutes to go and headphones are on. Three minutes to go and Roberto Rosetti, UEFA Referees' Committee chairman, enters the room and gives both seated refs a supportive squeeze of the shoulders. One minute to go and Fritz presses the large red button in front of him that allows him to talk to on-field referee Felix Brych, for one last audio check. And it’s a good thing he does – because Brych can’t hear him. 

Fritz calls over Alessandro Arduino, VAR project coordinator. Arduino has already been busy tonight: snow in Ukraine has necessitated red lines on the pitch and an orange ball for tonight’s game between Dynamo Kyiv and Bayern München; that, in turn, has meant recalibrating the VAR tech to recognise these two new colours. Now he’s back on the phone to resolve the lack of sound at the Estadio de la Cerámica; Brych is going to need a new headset. There’s no panic in the room, but there is palpable tension. The clock’s ticking…

The TV pictures show that Brych has reappeared. Are we back in business? Fritz is back on the red button, a bright red border appearing around his screen to signify that he’s opened communication. “Eins, zwei, drei…” A pause. Furrowed brows. Then: “Perfekt!” Good to go. 

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In the VAR room, the lights are low but the stakes are high

“It’s not what you need but we know it can happen,” Fritz says afterwards of the tech teaser. “You have to stay calm because the match is about to start. We have to be ready.”

In truth, technical issues are few and far between in the VAR Remote Centre. It was introduced for EURO 2020, driven by the pandemic-fuelled need to reduce numbers at each venue. However, it proved so successful that it has been retained and is now used for all UEFA club competitions where possible (some venues don’t have the necessary fibre optics to make it work). There are six VAR stations, divided by partition screens, in the main room; there are two more in a separate space in the building. The replay operator, trained in Hawk-Eye, has access to all the cameras in any given stadium, which are connected via a dedicated fibre link that ensures no more than a 50-millisecond delay to the pictures.

“It’s better because we can use a pool of VARs, the best in Europe,” says Rosetti of the new set-up. “Quality is the priority. We had an excellent EURO but now the target is to try and maintain the same level.”

Fritz, meanwhile, needs to be satisfied that he’s making the right decisions. With the match kicked off, he’s watching a live feed from the stadium’s main camera and can hear everything the referee and his assistants are saying in his headphones. If anything happens and Fritz wants to take another look, he’s got another screen lower down that has a three-second delay and provides four different camera angles. He’ll let the AVAR know that he’s checking something out (as the AVAR needs to watch for any further incidents, should the game still be in full flow) and then either returns to watching the game in real time or investigates further.

If the latter, he’ll asks the replay operator to give him what he needs: different angle, pause, slow motion, zoom in, normal speed, multiple repeats – take your pick. He also lets the on-field official know what’s going on: “Right decision, well done, carry on”; “Delay, we’re still checking something.” If it’s deemed that intervention is necessary, the VAR will either communicate that to the referee to implement the necessary decision or ask him to head for the pitchside monitor, depending on the gravity of the situation. Now the ref can tell the replay operator what he wants to see and make the final decision himself. 

At half-time in the game from Spain, Fritz exits. “I go outside, where there’s no one, and just walk,” he says. “I don’t want to speak to anyone, not even my AVAR. I just want three minutes to clear my head, then start again.” Which he duly does, with no major incidents to deal with in the second half. Does that mean he’ll sleep well tonight? “No! I always have a lot of things on my mind. It’s a good thing that today we had the early match, because I’ve got time to relax now.”

“You have to stay calm because the match is about to start. We have to be ready”

That’s not the case for the VAR teams who are now in the room ready for the later kick-offs. All manner of European languages fill the air, including some heavily accented Mancunian English coming from the station that’ll be monitoring LOSC v Salzburg. We overhear one end of the conversation between the VAR and the referee team, led by Anthony Taylor. “Evening boys, how are we? Bloody cold? Oh no!”

As the games get under way, it’s fascinating to observe proceedings. One VAR is chatty with his colleagues, commenting on how the game is shaping up during breaks in play; another removes his headphones briefly at one point, exhaling after a tight offside call. At half-time, a couple of VARs want to take another look at key moments from the first half. It’s like any job: reassurance that you’re doing well gives you the impetus to keep doing so.

Fritz also thinks it’s important for VARs to bolster their colleagues on the pitch. “If I can give confidence to the referee, it feels good for them. Not 500 times during the match and not for every decision, but every 20 minutes, why not?” It benefits Fritz too. “Because I’m not in the stadium – I’m here – but I want to feel part of the team.” 

Rosetti sees the same benefits. “The referees are very happy about VAR; they can be more relaxed,” he says. “In my time, every match was life or death. My last-minute speech with my colleagues before a game would be, ‘We must see everything.’ There was no possibility to watch again. Everyone else could, but not us. This was the paradox.”

At full time, after fist bumps and back slaps, the officials zip up their green-and-black UEFA tracksuit tops and head out into the crisp Nyon night. “Perfect football doesn’t exist, it’s impossible,” muses Rosetti. “In this job, there is always room for improvement. We’re never satisfied.” 

The lights have gone down; ten minutes till show time. Our lead is on stage before curtain-up, pacing a little. Now he sits behind a desk and is shifting slightly in his chair; his fingers are tapping out a gentle rhythm on the desktop. It’s not nerves we’re witnessing, though. This is adrenalin. He’s ready to perform.

Marco Fritz will be the video assistant referee (VAR) for tonight’s Matchday 5 game between Villarreal and Manchester United, joined by an assistant VAR (or AVAR) and two replay operators. They’re all in the VAR room at UEFA HQ in the Swiss town of Nyon; the carpet is grass green and a large pillar stands in the centre, reminiscent of the old Wembley.  

Five minutes to go and headphones are on. Three minutes to go and Roberto Rosetti, UEFA Referees' Committee chairman, enters the room and gives both seated refs a supportive squeeze of the shoulders. One minute to go and Fritz presses the large red button in front of him that allows him to talk to on-field referee Felix Brych, for one last audio check. And it’s a good thing he does – because Brych can’t hear him. 

Fritz calls over Alessandro Arduino, VAR project coordinator. Arduino has already been busy tonight: snow in Ukraine has necessitated red lines on the pitch and an orange ball for tonight’s game between Dynamo Kyiv and Bayern München; that, in turn, has meant recalibrating the VAR tech to recognise these two new colours. Now he’s back on the phone to resolve the lack of sound at the Estadio de la Cerámica; Brych is going to need a new headset. There’s no panic in the room, but there is palpable tension. The clock’s ticking…

The TV pictures show that Brych has reappeared. Are we back in business? Fritz is back on the red button, a bright red border appearing around his screen to signify that he’s opened communication. “Eins, zwei, drei…” A pause. Furrowed brows. Then: “Perfekt!” Good to go. 

In the VAR room, the lights are low but the stakes are high

“It’s not what you need but we know it can happen,” Fritz says afterwards of the tech teaser. “You have to stay calm because the match is about to start. We have to be ready.”

In truth, technical issues are few and far between in the VAR Remote Centre. It was introduced for EURO 2020, driven by the pandemic-fuelled need to reduce numbers at each venue. However, it proved so successful that it has been retained and is now used for all UEFA club competitions where possible (some venues don’t have the necessary fibre optics to make it work). There are six VAR stations, divided by partition screens, in the main room; there are two more in a separate space in the building. The replay operator, trained in Hawk-Eye, has access to all the cameras in any given stadium, which are connected via a dedicated fibre link that ensures no more than a 50-millisecond delay to the pictures.

“It’s better because we can use a pool of VARs, the best in Europe,” says Rosetti of the new set-up. “Quality is the priority. We had an excellent EURO but now the target is to try and maintain the same level.”

Fritz, meanwhile, needs to be satisfied that he’s making the right decisions. With the match kicked off, he’s watching a live feed from the stadium’s main camera and can hear everything the referee and his assistants are saying in his headphones. If anything happens and Fritz wants to take another look, he’s got another screen lower down that has a three-second delay and provides four different camera angles. He’ll let the AVAR know that he’s checking something out (as the AVAR needs to watch for any further incidents, should the game still be in full flow) and then either returns to watching the game in real time or investigates further.

If the latter, he’ll asks the replay operator to give him what he needs: different angle, pause, slow motion, zoom in, normal speed, multiple repeats – take your pick. He also lets the on-field official know what’s going on: “Right decision, well done, carry on”; “Delay, we’re still checking something.” If it’s deemed that intervention is necessary, the VAR will either communicate that to the referee to implement the necessary decision or ask him to head for the pitchside monitor, depending on the gravity of the situation. Now the ref can tell the replay operator what he wants to see and make the final decision himself. 

At half-time in the game from Spain, Fritz exits. “I go outside, where there’s no one, and just walk,” he says. “I don’t want to speak to anyone, not even my AVAR. I just want three minutes to clear my head, then start again.” Which he duly does, with no major incidents to deal with in the second half. Does that mean he’ll sleep well tonight? “No! I always have a lot of things on my mind. It’s a good thing that today we had the early match, because I’ve got time to relax now.”

“You have to stay calm because the match is about to start. We have to be ready”

That’s not the case for the VAR teams who are now in the room ready for the later kick-offs. All manner of European languages fill the air, including some heavily accented Mancunian English coming from the station that’ll be monitoring LOSC v Salzburg. We overhear one end of the conversation between the VAR and the referee team, led by Anthony Taylor. “Evening boys, how are we? Bloody cold? Oh no!”

As the games get under way, it’s fascinating to observe proceedings. One VAR is chatty with his colleagues, commenting on how the game is shaping up during breaks in play; another removes his headphones briefly at one point, exhaling after a tight offside call. At half-time, a couple of VARs want to take another look at key moments from the first half. It’s like any job: reassurance that you’re doing well gives you the impetus to keep doing so.

Fritz also thinks it’s important for VARs to bolster their colleagues on the pitch. “If I can give confidence to the referee, it feels good for them. Not 500 times during the match and not for every decision, but every 20 minutes, why not?” It benefits Fritz too. “Because I’m not in the stadium – I’m here – but I want to feel part of the team.” 

Rosetti sees the same benefits. “The referees are very happy about VAR; they can be more relaxed,” he says. “In my time, every match was life or death. My last-minute speech with my colleagues before a game would be, ‘We must see everything.’ There was no possibility to watch again. Everyone else could, but not us. This was the paradox.”

At full time, after fist bumps and back slaps, the officials zip up their green-and-black UEFA tracksuit tops and head out into the crisp Nyon night. “Perfect football doesn’t exist, it’s impossible,” muses Rosetti. “In this job, there is always room for improvement. We’re never satisfied.” 

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