How Has the First Season of VAR Been in the Premier League?

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Chris Howie

Not since the advent of the back pass rule in 1992 has a there been such outcry in Football.

This season’s introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) to the Premier League was brought in with the task of aiding the on-field referee so that they, inevitably would not be at fault for a poor decision or a missed incident that would in turn, cost teams points.

In other words, it was to remove grey areas – make football black and white, and give football back to the players and not the officials. 

In essence, whilst VAR is taking steps to achieve some of these goals, it has thrown up a whole litany of instances which have brought the officials into the spotlight.

Whilst the percentage of correct calls has undeniably gone up, the process in which officials are making them leaves a lot to be desired. Most notably with the focus of offsides. With the aforementioned ‘no grey area’ mantra the PGMOL have opted for, fans have to wait whilst every goal is checked for offside. This means lines are drawn and calibrated onto replay angles, frame rates come into question, resolution of the image, so on and so forth.

With a machine calculating whether you are either onside or offside, there have been numerous occasions when goals have been disallowed because a stud has been offside, like in Wesley’s case for Aston Villa on new year’s day. 

 

Is this in the spirit of the game? Richard Keys and Andy Gray of this parish have raised the point on more than one occasion that ‘the most difficult thing to do in football, is to score a goal.’ Its why the fans ‘pay the money’.

The fans don’t want to have to watch 4-5 minutes of lines drawn on a replay angle, to then rule out goals that require even further inspection – if it takes inordinate amounts of time and many people to check decisions, it renders void PGMOL claims that they will only reverse ‘clear and obvious errors.’

One of the biggest drawbacks the game has started seeing is the reluctance for players and fans to celebrate goals. When offsides are given by lines created by a computer that holds ‘a margin of error’, you can hardly blame them.

Jurgen Klopp, the most animated of managers said recently: “I don’t celebrate goals anymore because you have to wait until somebody says it is a goal.” The somebody in question being the VAR. This then raises further questions about who is actually refereeing and making the final call on decisions.

In a promotional video released by the Premier League at the start of the season, Alan Shearer makes the point that the on-field referee makes the final call. From what we have seen so far this season can one be so sure?

Until fairly recently the PGMOL had been reluctant to allow on-field referees access to the on-field monitors to review situations – instead of relying on the VAR in London’s Stockley Park to make calls on their behalf.

The fact the governing body relented to the pressure that referees should be checking their decisions or indecisions on the pitch is a step in the right direction, but should they have acted quicker? Why the reluctance in the first place?

Despite all of this, VAR should continue to persevere making steps in the right direction. Yes, it isn’t providing clear accuracy on all its calls but its design in protecting the referee and the game from terrible officiating calls is one that should be persisted with.

 

Think of the hilarious example of mistaken identity by Andre Marriner back in 2014, when a case of mistaken identity saw him send-off Kieran Gibbs instead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for hand balling on the line – mistakes such as these would be eradicated. 

A further positive is that the implementation of VAR should slowly see the disappearance of diving – whilst the case for players buying penalties through ‘contact’ still remains a grey area, at least ‘no contact dives’ which result in penalties being awarded should become a thing of the past.

Defenders of VAR claim the system itself isn’t so much the issue, in that it is merely carrying out and adjudicating changes and implementation of laws by humans. The handball rule has become confusing in that attackers and defenders are either penalised differently if in the same box.

If VAR has spotted that a ball has slightly brushed an attacking player’s hand, like in the case of Leander Dendoncker’s disallowed goal against Leicester at the beginning of the season, fan ire should be aimed more at the law change and less at the system carrying out the officiating. 

One certainty is that VAR is here to stay and what is, therefore, clear and obvious is that the game will have to go through a few more changes before VAR in the Premier League can truly be deemed a success.

For example, in the case of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s equaliser against Manchester United back in October, had the striker stopped playing when flagged offside and not chipped David De Gea, Arsenal wouldn’t have scored what was, in fact, the VAR deemed a perfectly legal, onside goal.

This could cause issues where players don’t play to whistles, relying on the VAR instead, which in turn raises doubts for the future of the assistant referee. There could come a time where the game has just one on-field referee and is therefore assisted remotely, yet these are questions for another time. For now, there is a lot left to be desired in the great VAR debate.