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LONDON (Reuters) – The use of the Video Assisted Referee (VAR) in the Premier League has been vindicated despite several controversial decisions and criticism from fans and pundits, the system’s chief Neil Swarbrick said on Monday.Speaking to the media after the latest round of matches in which Sheffield United had a goal disallowed for offside against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City were denied a penalty for handball against Liverpool, Swarbrick defended the technology.“We are in the infancy with VAR, 12 match weeks into the Premier League season, and you need to give us time to operate and utilise it,” he told Sky Sports. “It is working as we wanted. It’s taken quite a few years for other competitions or sports – the likes of cricket and rugby union – to get to where they are today regarding technology. It doesn’t happen overnight.”VAR was introduced in the Premier League this season after trials in the League Cup and FA Cup. Asked by the BBC how he would rate the use of VAR on a scale of one to 10, Swarbrick said: “I’d give us around about seven-ish. We have more decisions correct with VAR than without it.“If the mark now is seven – early days – in two years’ time I’m hoping for maybe an eight and a half or nine. “We are open to evolving with this – it’s not a case of we’re not budging. We will listen to feedback and where we can improve things, we will do.” Some pundits were less enthralled with the system which has also infuriated fans around the world, mostly for decision-making delays which take up to several minutes.Former Chelsea striker Chris Sutton was one of the system’s harshest critics. “Seven out of 10? Did he really say that with a straight face? Come on, are you serious?” Sutton told the BBC.“There have been so many high-profile, horrific mistakes. They’ve got too much wrong. I wanted VAR to work, I backed VAR, but they are making such a mess of it.”Former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson also pulled no punches in criticising VAR.“It’s been a bit of a disaster,” he said. It’s still a matter of opinion because it doesn’t clear up a clear and obvious error, It’s just someone else’s opinion. “It’s been a complete mess from day one and it’s caused more problems than it’s worth.”
“They forced me to raise my game to a championship level very quickly because of the way they played,” Bryant said of the Spurs. “The systematic approach to the game, their thinking on sequences, they play such a mental game. They play such a mistake-free game. It forced me at a really early age to step up to their level.”The Spurs still have the main cast of characters that fueled Bryant’s internal hunger. They featured Gregg Popovich’s commanding and innovative presence as head coach. They had Tim Duncan’s longevity, though he will sit out with knee soreness. They had Manu Ginobili’s competitiveness and clutchness, though he will also miss the game while recovering from surgery in his groin area. They had Tony Parker’s creativity. All of which helped the Spurs, including Duncan, tie Bryant’s championship ring count (five). The Spurs also eliminated the Lakers in the 2003 Western Conference semifinals and beat the Lakers in a four-game sweep in the first round in 2013, the latter series coinciding with Bryant sitting out with a season-ending injury to his left Achilles tendon. San Antonio did the same to the Lakers in 1999 in the Western Conference semifinals. The Spurs may have beaten the Lakers only by an average of seven points per game. Bryant may have averaged 21.25 points on 44.7 percent shooting during that matchup. But Bryant lent credence to the perception that San Antonio relied on substance over the Lakers’ flashy style.So Bryant spent the following offseason limiting his ball handling so he could become a more efficient player. Nearly 17 years later, Popovich called Bryant “one of the most fundamentally sound players we’ve ever seen.” Popovich added that Bryant and Jordan “are in a class by themselves.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error SAN ANTONIO >> For one last time, Kobe Bryant will step foot in a city that almost became his second home during the playoffs. The Lakers’ star will also face a team that both brought elation and sorrow during his NBA career.When the Lakers (11-41) visit the San Antonio Spurs (41-8) on Saturday at AT&T Center, the game itself will not have as much significance as when the Lakers won four out of seven playoff series against the Spurs between 1999 and 2013.But the moment will conjure up memories for Bryant, whose latest stop on his farewell tour elicited reflections on how the Spurs significantly shaped his quest toward achieving greatness. So much that Bryant ranked the Spurs among the top toughest opponents he’s faced. The other teams included the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls, the Sacramento Kings in the early 2000s, the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals loss and the Boston Celtics in the 2008 NBA Finals defeat. Quote box: “They forced me to raise my game to a championship level very quickly.” – Lakers guard Kobe Bryant on the San Antonio Spurs “You look at those guys who really understood footwork and balance and timing and an uncanny intelligence for the game,” Popovich said. “When you add his abilities and competitiveness, you got quite a package. So I don’t think it had anything to do with San Antonio. He was of the mindset that he wanted to be great and he did it.” Either way, it did not take long for Bryant to offer San Antonio some payback. The Lakers swept the Spurs in four games in the 2001 Western Conference Finals, which included a 45-point effort in Game 1 that still remains a Spurs opponent playoff record.“When I saw him doing what he was doing, I said to myself, I am witnessing basketball greatness,” said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who played with the Lakers from 2000 to 2002. “He was making shots, going around people and dunking on them. He was finishing over the length of David Robinson and Tim Duncan. He was doing a little bit of everything that game and making his teammates better. It was a special to watch.” But not for the Spurs, who also lost to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals in 2002 (4-1) and 2004 (4-2) as well as the Western Conference Finals in 2008 (4-2). Bryant felt the same way when he recalled how “awesome” it was Derek Fisher hit a game-winner with .04 seconds remaining in Game of the 2004 West Finals. But Popovich dreadfully recalled more images of Bryant “fading on the baseline and sticking it to us, dunking over us and guarding somebody when he decided he wanted to stop somebody.” Ginobili described Bryant as “a killer.”“It’s funny you get to see both sides. I heard everything that goes on from Coach Pop and how much he hated the Lakers and how much he hated Kobe Bryant,” said Time Warner Cable SportsNet analyst Robert Horry, who played for both the Lakers (1996-2003) and the Spurs (2003-08). “He thought Kobe was so arrogant. It wasn’t arrogance in the sense that ‘I’m better than you.’ It was arrogance in the sense that ‘I got to have this attitude because I want to be successful and kick people’s butts. I want to be a champion.’”Nonetheless, Bryant and Popovich both gushed about having extended conversations when Popovich coached Bryant in three NBA All-Star games (2005, 2011, 2013), a partnership that will continue in the 2016 NBA All-Star game on Feb. 14 in Toronto. Popovich admitted wishing he could have coached Bryant somehow. Bryant expressed a desire to have spent his career with one established coach.“I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time,” Bryant said of Popovich. “There’s so much mutual respect”Bryant and former Spurs guard Bruce Bowen viewed each other the same way amid. While Bryant averaged 28.6 points on 46.8 percent shooting against Bowen in 22 playoff games, Bowen held Bryant to 26.3 points per game average on a 42.6 percent clip through 32 regular-season contests. Hence, Bryant called Bowen a “great defensive player”“He was angular and extremely intelligent. He understood when to give me a shot, when to trap, when to contest, when to trip me,” Bryant said, laughing. “He was extremely savvy. I looked forward to those matchups because I understood that aside from the physical standpoint, he really did his homework.”Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson dismissively nicknamed Bowen “Edward Scissorhands,” but Bryant insisted “that’s a compliment because of how he uses his hands.” Meanwhile, Bowen said he and Bryant never talked trash. Instead, the two played what Bowen called “a game of chess.” Bowen tried to avoid falling for Bryant’s pumpfakes. He remained mindful Bryant would attack the basket if Bowen fell in foul trouble. Bowen consistently reminded himself all “Kobe needs is a layup” to fuel a scoring outburst. “I respect Kobe more than any other player. He knew I wasn’t out there trying to hurt him. He knew it was about competition,” said Bowen, who played for the Spurs from 2001-2009 and is currently an ESPN NBA analyst. “The most critical aspect of Kobe’s game for me was his mental focus. It was comparable to mine to not allowing things to get to the point where you lose focus off of what’s at hand.”Bryant kept that focus partly because of the Spurs, their enduring consistency driving the Lakers’ star to do the same. All of which partly helped Bryant last 20 NBA seasons.