Craved and anticipated by all, the technology that was seen in the World Cup, tested in the Champion’s League, tried in Italy and expected to be perfected in England, perfected in the greatest, most funded league on the face of the earth. The stage was set, and the curtains drawn. Exuberant fans undone by last season’s non-calls had their tails high in their backs – the saviour had arrived. But a different narrative was being brewed. At least that’s what they thought. Video Assistance Referee (VAR) has been on show since day one of the 2019/2020 English Premier League season, and saying it hasn’t been great would be the understatement of the century. Questions of what could have been prior to the inception of such newfangled technology have often been asked. After all, World Cups won with forearms and ‘clotheslines’ went unpunished in the box. Those days were now gone for good… but were they really?
The dissipation of VAR has been the talking point of the English Premier League in each of the 12 weeks of fixtures to date. ‘How is it humanly possible for them to be getting it so awfully wrong?’ was the question on the lips of fans, players and managers alike. Conspiracy theorists will formulate dubious conclusions, but to the outsider looking in, it may make far more sense than some of the foolish explanations the FA has so far sought to put forward to justify some decisions made. John Lundstram forgot to cut his toenail before Sheffield United’s game versus Tottenham Hotspur and it cost his team 3 points, as such was the margin which ultimately ruled him offside in the build-up to a goal. Fast forward a few hours later and reigning champions Manchester City wept openly as a genuine shout for a handball offense in the box was adamantly waved away by referee Michael Oliver – a similar offence earned Chelsea a penalty in their game against Ajax literally three days earlier. Which was the correct call? Football is not a game in black and white and as such, making decisions with that approach will set you up to fail miserably. What we can agree on though is if we’re constantly seeing conflicting decisions from individuals with identical training and guidelines, it will ultimately result in widespread confusion.
Assistance means HELP!
The technology is magnificent, and its addition can still make the league better. However, the consistency and transparency surrounding controversial calls are the reasons for the cries of foul. As is the case with all forms of technology, a lot is left on the effective and efficient use of it. The officials monitoring the use of VAR have drastically underperformed and continue to do so. Their expertise on the game itself is obviously limited to officiating as they’re basically referees behind a screen. Having said this, the same decisions that they would have made on the pitch are reflecting when they are behind the screen and this should not be the case. Video-Assistance-Referee, as the “A” states ‘Assistance’, is there to help with their decision – not to make the decisions for them, nor to be ignored while they decide. Both are to be working in tandem to make a transparent decision that can be understood by all without requiring prolonged explanations.
A wise decision would be putting former players alongside referees in the VAR booth and urge referees to visit the pitch-side screens more often (no referee has used the pitch-side screen this season). Maybe then actual players would have an idea why calls were made/not made. Millions of dollars are pumped into the league each year and with television rights coming in from all angles of the globe, it won’t be long before corruption enters the discussion.
At the current rate, rules in the league will be changing weekly and what we thought we knew will fast become mere illusions. The English Premier League will have only one winner (VAR) and the remaining teams will be sore losers whining in assumptions of what could’ve been.
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