So another round of Premier League matches and another round of ridiculous VAR interventions. This last weekend alone we had: two goals disallowed, one a last minute ‘equalizer’, and a penalty award overturned for a marginal offside decision in the same game between Leicester and Southampton; Jeff Hendrick’s ‘opening goal’ for Burnley disallowed at Stamford Bridge for a marginal offside call; Everton being denied a penalty after Theo Walcott was seemingly caught by the arm of Brighton’s Lewis Dunk while Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a goal ruled out, rightly as it turned out, for handball; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s yellow card, for an admittedly reckless challenge, being upgraded to a red after a seemingly lengthy video review; while West Ham being denied an equalizer at Sheffield United was more to do with the ridiculous re-interpretation of the handball rule even though it was VAR that made the final decision.
While in essence all of these decisions were probably correct to the letter of the law, the too-frequent interventions, the long delays while decisions are made and the inability of fans to be able to celebrate a key moment in a match for fear of another interminable review, are unquestionably adversely impacting the spectacle that we all (used to) enjoy so much.
Speaking after the game at the King Power, legendary former Manchester United goalkeeper and father of Leicester keeper Kasper, Peter Schmeichel, said: “I was at a match that saw two goals celebrated then disallowed, a pen given and then not given, so tight that you could argue that it all should have stood. We need to get rid of this ridiculous system.” While Match of the Day host and former Leicester striker, Gary Lineker said: “‘Penalty given to Southampton but the dots came out and ruled offside. Decision went for my side but it was b******s.”
Week in and week out we are seeing decision after decision being reviewed in situations that no one realised needed reviewing in the first place. VAR was introduced into the Premier League with the clear remit that it was only to intervene when the officials had made “a clear and obvious error” in one of four key areas: goals, penalties, straight red cards or mistaken identity. Instead of a useful support tool for the matchday officials, what we are getting is a virtual re-refereeing of the games by the officials sitting in their darkened room in Stockley Park.
So far this season there have been 68 (yes 68!) goals/ incidents directly affected by a VAR review, and it is anyone’s guess how many reviews there have been in total. While we are reliably informed by the powers that be in the Premier League that correct decisions have increased as much as 10% compared to last season, the spectacle of the game has undoubtedly been impacted in a negative way. There are so many reviews that it makes you wonder how referees ever got through a game in previous seasons, given the level of clear and obvious errors they seem to have been making in each and every match?
Additionally the length of time it is taking to make these decisions is simply too long. If a decision can’t be made in 20-30 seconds, is it really “a clear and obvious error”? This for many supporters is the crux of the issue with VAR, ie the seeming nit-picking of decisions that in the past would have simply been accepted as the referee’s interpretation. The decisions that are being made with goals being ruled out for toe nails and armpits being offside are causing more controversy than if the decisions had been allowed to stand.
It needs to be made explicitly clear when VAR should intervene and when it shouldn’t. In other sports that have successfully implemented video review technology systems, including both codes of rugby, cricket and tennis, it is usually through a process by which the officials, or even the players, call for a check. In the Premier League it is the officials watching in their remote location who decide when they feel they should intervene.
Beyond the overuse of the system however is the experience for the fans in the stadium. Anyone who has had the misfortune of seeing a VAR decision live, which let’s face it is likely to be the majority of people who have attended a Premier League game this term, will have witnessed how mood-destroying it is, especially when being utilised to determine the legitimacy of a goal.
Instead of being able to celebrate or feel a sense of deflation depending on your allegiance, we instead are treated to a minute or so (being optimistic here!) watching the referee standing with his finger pressed to his ear-piece; while we are not even trusted to see a replay of the key moment. Surely if VAR is so accurate at correcting errors the crowd being allowed to see what had happened might actually help us to accept the eventual judgement?
Football and its officiating have always inherently carried an element of subjectivity such as with regard to intent in a tackle, whether a player is interfering with play or the deliberateness of the use of the hand, therefore the fundamental question is whether we can live with that? Certainly having seen the alternative I am 100% sure I could!
While it would appear unlikely that VAR will be scrapped altogether, certainly not in the infancy of its introduction, surely the Premier League authorities have to find a way to limit its overuse and to stop it from doing further damage to the game we all love.