What a VARCE!

What a VARCE!

A week’s a long time in football. It’s even longer when you realise it’s time for another international break. Yes, another one. In the absence of top-level domestic football, let’s discuss VAR. Specifically, another VAR cock up. To VAR or not to VAR has been a debate ever since it was introduced into our game years ago, and last week saw the debate heighten. So now is the time to look at VAR. The good, the bad, the future. The Lowe-Down.

The Controversy:
If you’ve been at all locked-in to the footballing world in the past 10 days, you’ll have not been able to avoid the chatter around VAR and the latest blunder. On 30th September, Spurs entertained Liverpool in what looked to be a barnstormer of a game between two attack-minded and inform teams. However, just like the drunken uncle who ruins the birthday party, VAR stole the show. In the first half, Liverpool forward Luis Diaz ran through on goal, slotted the ball past the goalkeeper but was deemed to be offside and the goal was disallowed. As with all goals, VAR checked the goal and confirmed to the on-field referee “check complete” and Spurs resumed play with a freekick. Unbeknown to the thousands of fans in the ground and many more watching on TV at home, the VAR team had made a monumental mistake and more importantly knew this. Shortly after the game, PGMOL released a statement acknowledging there had been a “significant human error”. Liverpool published their own statement and privately demanded the release of the audio footage which was then made public on Tuesday 3rd October.

The audio footage was damming, revealing that the Replay Operator had flagged (excuse the pun) to the VAR official that Spurs had resumed play with a freekick and asked the VAR official “are you happy with this?”. Panic soon spread across Stockley Park as they realised they had inadvertently confirmed to the on-field officials that their offside call was correct when, in fact, they knew it to be incorrect within seconds. The consequences, Liverpool had been denied a legitimate goal.

The fall-out from that VAR decision has been extraordinary. Such incompetence enraged fans and called into question the competency of not only the VAR officials but VAR itself. There’s no doubt that VAR in its current form has lots of flaws and I’ll explore these.

Lack of Consistency:
One thing that has been around in football for longer than Roy Hodgson (sorry Roy!) is the complaint that referees are not consistent. The accusation has been that a penalty one week, isn’t given the next and so on. Now, with VAR and the ability to analyse decisions in slow-motion, surely this could be the end of the inconsistencies? Wrong. Unfortunately, humans are still humans, and no amount of VAR will change that. What do I mean by that? The head of the PGMOL Howard Webb confirmed in an interview yesterday that the same incident can be treated differently dependent on the game. He was explaining this in light of Mateo Kovacic’s first (and only) yellow card offence against City where his tackle could have been given as a red card. Webb explained how the referee and VAR treaded carefully given this was early on in such a big game whereas VAR had intervened substantially to send Chelsea fullback Maio Gusto off earlier this season for a similar tackle. Sadly, consistency will not be drastically improved whatever happens with VAR.

Subjective Matters:
VAR intervenes on subjective matters such as red card offences. These offences are not always black and white and are often up to interpretation. In the Spurs vs Liverpool match, Curtis Jones’ tackle was looked at for a potential red card. Upon advising the referee to review the monitor, VAR first showed an image of Jones’ boot on Bissouma’s ankle as if they’d found a piece of critical evidence. Got ya! They then showed the referee slowed-down footage of the incident and finally the tackle in full speed but the damage had been done. The referee reversed his decision and awarded Jones, what Jurgen Klopp described as, a “slow-motion red card”.

Having listened to the audio for the Luis Duiz offside goal and the Gusto red card, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a 2008 Call of Duty game lobby. Officials talking over each other, rushing through a decision as if it’s of little to no importance. The communication of “check complete” given to the on-pitch official in the Liverpool match is a prime example. What check? What were we checking? What’s the outcome? At no point did the VAR official say “check complete, you can award the goal”. Communication prevented the VAR team from correctly advising the referee to award a legitimate goal. Such incompetence should be easily preventable.

This is the one that often gets lost in the analysis of VAR and its an important one. Yes, we all strive for perfection in decision making by both referees and VAR officials and what a place it would be if we were to achieve that perfection. However, VAR has a profound impact on the spectacle of the game for us, the fans. We’ve always loved a game that flows and have been frustrated with referees stopping the game for niggly fouls. Supporting a lower league club means I know that I can celebrate a goal completely safe in the knowledge that some man in Stockley Park isn’t going to press his red button and scupper my joy. It’s the reason we all watch football and these moments can be ruined by VAR.

With VAR seemingly here to stay, here are my solutions to improve its implementation:

1.     1. Communication is key. To avoid many errors in the future, we can simply improve the communication between the VAR officials and the referee. A set script that goes something like this would suffice: “Checking for possible offside, the on-field decision was offside. … Red number 7 was, in fact, onside and you can award the goal. Award the goal, check complete”. That’s not so hard is it?

2.     2. Increase the scope of VAR to be able to assist in reviewing possible second-yellow card offences, given the impact of receiving two yellow cards equals a red card. As it stands, VAR can only intervene on goals, offsides, red cards and mistaken identities. In addition, the threshold for an error must be “clear and obvious”. Increasing the use of VAR to cover instances where a player could receive a second yellow card and ultimately a red could have seen Kovacic be, justifiably, sent off for two yellow cards this weekend.

3.     3. Do not use still images or massively slowed-down footage of tackles to present to the referee for viewing. Curtis Jones’ red card is a perfect example of this. VAR officials showed the referee the still image of Jones’ boot on Bissouma’s ankle before showing him videos of the tackle. His tackle was a foul and a yellow card in real-time, however using still images we saw how his foot rolls over the ball and catches Bissouma on his ankle thus making the tackle seem far worse than it actually was.

4.     4. Change the threshold of error a referee has to make for VAR interference to “probable”. With this change, the referee would have to have made a “probable” error. The current “clear and obvious” threshold is high, which I know is to limit VAR involvement, but perhaps it is too high. The downside of this would be that more decisions would be reviewed, thus potentially slowing the game down further, however more errors would be corrected.

5.     5. Change the laws of the game surrounding VAR. Now, hear me out on this one before you think I’ve gone crazy. The current FIFA and IFAB rules and laws of the game do not allow for the game to be stopped to go back to change a decision once play has restarted. This rule meant that the officials in the Spurs vs Liverpool game, despite knowing the error they had made, could not go back to correct this error. Howard Webb confirmed that the IFAB are currently reviewing the laws of the game specifically around VAR’s involvement so watch this space.~

Overall, VAR is here to stay. Once you open the box and unleash it, it’s very hard to put it back in. I believe the solutions I have provided would improve how VAR operates and the effect it has on our game. Personally, I would ditch VAR and would only implement the semi-automated offsides. The game will always have controversies and for better or for worse, I preferred it when we simply blamed the man with a whistle and weren’t complaining about a system. I’d also never like to hear the words “clear” and “obvious” used in conjunction again!


Fantasy Football Questions – Weeks 3 and 4:

What are the best six signings from clubs outside of the top 7 in the Premier League?

Moussa Diaby – He has added significant pace and power to Villa’s attack and has allowed for greater variation in their play. He’s a perfect foil for Ollie Watkins and suits Emery’s style perfectly.

Murrilo – From what I have seen, Forest have signed a ball-playing, agile and marauding centre half who has the raw ingredients to become a Premier League mainstay.

Beto – Beto has been a real handful for Defenders and has stepped up in Calvert Lewin’s absence this season. Adding more goals to his game will ensure he becomes a Toffees fan favourite.

Ward-Prowse – James Ward-Prowse always looked to be the perfect David Moyes player with his set-piece abilities. However, Ward-Prowse has played a bit further forward this season and this has unlocked an aspect to his game we hadn’t seen as much at Southampton.

Edson Alvarez  - Another West-Ham midfielder makes this list. Alvarez has been tidying everything up behind West Ham’s forwards. Tidy in possession too, he’s a big upgrade on Soucek and him and Ward-Prowse have filled the Declan Rice sized hole in the Hammers midfield.

Dahoud  - It wouldn’t be a complete list of smart signings without mentioning Brighton would it? Dahoud has gone under the radar since signing for Brighton but has slotted in seamlessly in his five appearances this season. Plus he was signed on a free too.


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