The 2019/2000 season will see the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system into the Premier League. With the ever decreasing standards in match day officials, will this be the turning point in reducing the number of poor decisions being made?
Despite the investment in VAR technology, what we have seen so far this season, suggests that things are not going to improve at all. There have been some dreadful incidents that have compounded one key issue, a lack of clarity in the rules of the game. If a VAR decision continues to generate heated debate as to whether the correct call was made, then it has simply failed to deliver,
The A-League in Australia was the first “top flight” competition to use VAR. the first game played was between Melbourne City and Adelaide United. The game past without incident and VAR was not required.
Seria A (Italy) and Bundesliga (Germany) introduced VAR for the 2017/18 season, with La Liga (Spain) following suit at the start of the 208/19 season. The FA have tested the use of VAR in England, in a number of FA Cup and Carabao Cup during this season.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) included, on a permanent basis, the VARs into the Laws of the Game on 3rd March 2018. At the time their use was optional for competitions. The Premier League and the UEFA Champions League decided not to use VAR for the 2018/19 season. UEFA had a change of heart in December of 2018 and announced that VAR would be used from the knock-out stages, which commenced in February of this year.
The Premier League have also confirmed that VAR will be introduced for the 2019/20 season, pending IFAB and FIFA approval. The announcement to hasten the introduction of VAR came after a controversial ruling by referee Simon Hooper. He disallowed a goal scored by Southampton. Mark Hughes was less than complimentary in his post-match interview.
When is VAR used?
The use of VAR is to assist the on-field referee in 4 keys areas of the game:-
- Penalty decisions
- Direct red cards incidents
- Mistaken identity
The role of the VAR is to assist the referee to determine whether there was an infringement that means a goal should not be awarded. As the ball has crossed the line, the play is interrupted so there is no direct impact on the game.
The role of the VAR is to ensure that no clearly wrong decisions are made in conjunction with the award or non-award of a penalty kick.
Direct Red Card Incidents
The role of the VAR is to ensure that no clearly wrong decisions are made in conjunction with sending off or not sending off a player.
The referee cautions or sends off the wrong player, or is unsure which player should be sanctioned. The VAR will inform the referee so that the correct player can be disciplined.
How does VAR work?
When an incident occurs, the referee contacts the VAR panel, via his headset, or the VAR panel recommends to the referee that a decision/incident needs to be reviewed.
Initially, the video footage is reviewed in the VAR control room. The VAR then informs the referee what they have witnessed on the video. They then give advice on what the referee should do.
The on-field referee can decide to review the footage himself, using a monitor placed on the sidelines, or he can accept the information given to him from the VAR. Once a decision is made the “appropriate” action(s) are taken.
This sounds all well and good. Having the advantage of several video angles and slow motion, one would assume that the correct decisions would be given. Yet, time and time again there is more controversy after a VAR decision is made. A very strong case could be presented that VAR has made muddy waters even murkier. What was supposed to remove any grey areas from the game has made it a lot worse.
Has VAR worked in Spain?
A recent article on SkySports looked at the statistics to see if VAR was working correctly.
La Liga referees chief Carlos Velasco Carballo was quoted as saying “The essence of football has not been damaged, the number of interventions and time of revisions has preserved the fluidity of the game. But we still need to work on prevention, aggressive play and unifying criteria.”
There is still a large amount of criticism of the system in Spain, with a number of controversial decisions still being made.
What is important to remember, especially for the Premier League next season, is that La Liga’s protocol for the use of VAR, was only for when a referee has made a clear error. Referees were told to officiate as if it doesn’t exist by VAR Director Carlos Clos Gomez.
Controversial VAR decisions
Many had hoped that the introduction of VAR would see poor decisions being eradicated from games. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. Many decisions made (or confirmed) via the VAR system has left players, managers, fans and TV pundits astonished.
The Carabao Cup semi-final between Spurs and Chelsea raised a number of key questions regarding the validity of the system. Spurs won the game via a Harry Kane penalty, a decision hotly disputed by Chelsea.
Kane was upended by Kepa in the Chelsea goal. The VAR official instructed the on-field ref to halt play. A 10-second review of the footage resulted in a penalty being awarded and a yellow card being shown to the goalkeeper.
Simple enough you might think, but no. The review now had to consider if the Spurs striker was onside. This took another 83 seconds (93 seconds in total) following the original foul.
The assistant referee verbally communicated that he thought Kane was offside. Michale Oliver decided against stopping the play as there was a goal scoring opportunity. We should take into consideration that assistant referees have been instructed not to flag if they are in any doubt, as an offside decision can be reviewed, should the goal scoring opportunity be converted!
During last weeks PSG Man Utd game, VAR came under more intense scrutiny. The on-field referee was alerted by the VAR under the “serious missed incident” protocol. After a review of the footage, Man Utd were awarded a penalty.
Rules of Game
The ability to have access to instant replays, should, in theory, make life easier for match day officials. Yet as we can clearly see, there is still plenty of discussion regarding some of the decisions being made via VAR.
Neymar was very quick to voice his own opinions regarding the Man Utd penalty decision. Yes, he had a vested interest in questioning the decision., although he probably has a very valid point.
If we return to the Spurs penalty incident, we have an on-field official that was convinced Kane was offside, yet the resulting decision was to say he was onside. There is no doubt that video footage captures the action for us all the see. Given the number of cameras present for each televised games, there must be many different angles available. One would think that this would be sufficient to make a correct decision. Again no. We still have to factor in the human interpretation of the rules of the game.
Never a week goes by without either a handball or offside decision is crucial to the outcome of a game. If VAR is here to stay, then the powers that be must make the rules of the game clear for all to understand. There should be no grey, things should be back and white and remove as much human interpretation as possible.
Players are at the mercy of each individual referee making decisions in real time. What is handball for one, isn’t for another. The same is carried over for what is or isn’t a yellow or red card. The biggest debate here is if its a red in the 80th minute, why isn’t it red in the 8th. Surely a red card incident warrants a red card regardless of the time it occurs during the game.
VAR is here to stay. Certainly in the short term. Is that a good thing or not? In some ways, yes and others no. If it was to produce the correct decision time and time again, with no error rate, then I would suggest almost every football fan would support it.
In its current form, it can, and often does, raise more questions than answers. This is not what the fans (or players & managers) want. They want certainty that the correct decisions are being made.
American Football is fast becoming a sport completely monitored by a video review system. More and more plays are being reviewed as match officials are less inclined to make an on-field decision, as they are worried about getting it wrong. This has had, in my opinion, a massive negative impact on the game. For a game that has a scheduled playing time of 60 minutes, taking 4 hours to complete is just unacceptable. Granted there are other reasons why the game time is longer than the playing time, but the ongoing review process pushes “game time” out longer and longer.
I, for one, have no desire to see this happen with the beautiful game. As a traditionalist, I am happy to accept the on-field match day officials may need some assistance in getting the big decisions correct. What I am not prepared to endure is the way the game is managed via a VAR team who take far too long to make incorrect judgements.
Additonal Game Change Proposals
We should also take time to reflect that a number of suggestions have been put forward to the ruling bodies to reduce playing time to 60 minutes. These suggestions include stopping the clock every time the ball goes out of play, just like the NFL.
Personally not for me. This seems just as daft as the US TV companies demanding the goals were made bigger for the World Cup finals to make it easier to score and more enjoyable for US-based spectators!
It will be fascinating to see how the VAR system is introduced into the Premier League next season. What instructions the match day officials will be under for its use, and how many poor decisions are still made.
In closing, it would be remiss of me not to mention that VAR will be at Molineux for the FA Cup game this weekend. Fingers crossed it is either not required, or the correct decisions are made if it is called upon.