Former Atletico Madrid midfielder Milinko Pantic believes VAR (Video Assistant Referee) is a great way to achieve “justice” in the game, and wishes it had been around for his most famous performance at Barcelona 21 years ago.
The Yugoslavia-born Pantic arrived at Atletico Madrid in 1995 at the age of 28, thanks to the then manager Radomir Antic, who knew the midfielder from their days at Partizan.
Atletico had been a club that teetered on the brink of relegation just a season before, but Pantic was among newcomers that, with stalwarts like Diego Simeone, sparked a surprise run to the La Liga crown in 1995-96 under Antic.
The club completed the double that season with a Copa Del Rey victory, but Pantic’s greatest individual moment with the club arguably came a season later.
In the Copa del Rey quarter-finals Atletico faced off against Barcelona, with the first leg finishing in a 2-2 draw.
Then at the Camp Nou, Pantic scored four times – a feat never equaled or surpassed by a visiting player – to seemingly put Atletico on track to make it through to the semi-finals.
However, a hat-trick by the Brazilian great Ronaldo, along with a goal from Luis Figo and a winner from Juan Antonio Pizzi saw Barcelona advance towards what would eventually be a triumph in the competition.
Pantic feels robbed because he believes there was offside in the build-up to Pizzi’s winner, which ultimately spoiled a historic performance by the midfielder.
“I am the only one who has scored four goals for Barcelona at the Camp Nou,” Pantic told Goal. “I know there are other players who have achieved it but nobody as a visitor.
“What can I say about that? It still hurts me a lot. Especially for me, I think football was not fair to me that day but we have to admit that Barcelona had a great team.”
When asked about VAR and the goal, Pantic said he was certain it would have been ruled out under review.
“Absolutely yes, because there was offside on the goal by Juan Antonio Pizzi. I’m very sure that it would have changed.”
While VAR has its detractors, the midfielder is a strong supporter of review, citing it’s a much more equitable system than what came before.
“It’s a wonder, for the poor it’s a great invention,” Pantic added. “We’ve won the lottery. Because it’s been seen that more justice is being done, and that’s why I’m in favour. And it’s very fun and I’m convinced that as time goes on it will go improving, it will be faster. We just live the first year with VAR but I like it a lot “.
Atletico have had some low moments this season, most notably in the 4-0 hammering at the hands of Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
However, they remain just a point behind Barcelona in La Liga, and are on track to advance to the knockout stage of the Champions League.
And Pantic feels his former team-mate Simeone has assembled the most talented group of players in the club’s history, though they need to improve on their performances thus far.
“[Simeone] has players like Koke and Saúl Ñíguez who are fantastic, world-class players like Antoine Griezmann, budding phenomena like Rodrigo, expensive players like Thomas Lemar, Vitolo, who I loved during his time at Sevilla,” he added.
“You can not say that you do not have players for anything else. There are many good players, so I think the team could play better.
“They have to achieve their goals because they are very complete players, Any of them can play in the top teams.
“I think this is the best Atlético team in history and I’m not the only one who thinks that.”
Though he thinks this side is more talented, Pantic enjoys his old title-winning side from 1995-96, claiming they were a humble team that, despite their lack of stars, achieved their goals through sheer determination.
“It’s hard to compare,” Pantic said. “We played different football. I’m a coach and I always say that each team is the reflection of their coach, Ours was Antic’s mirror and this is Simeone’s, which is totally different.
“In a matchup, I’d say our team because it was a humble team, without stars, but we knew what we wanted on the field”.