The VAR conundrum

by   |   18/04/2019  14 Comments  [Jump to last]

I've never been a fan of VAR.

For one, it doesn't remove subjectivity – far from only being used to interfere with refereeing decisions where the VAR outcome is clearcut, it is often being employed on issues where the end result is simply replacing the ref's opinion with that of someone else who seemingly bears no accountability.

For two, it takes the emotional spontaneity out the game. Is anybody looking forward to next season having to put your emotions on hold after an Everton goal is scored while you check the scoreboard for a number of seconds to see whether the goal is to be reviewed?

VAR is here to stay, unfortunately, but, in the meanwhile, I'd love to understand certain aspects of it. In particular, I don't think I have ever heard an explanation of how far back in the game a VAR can go in considering whether to cancel out a goal.

Take tonight's Man City - Spurs game: what if Aguero, instead of knocking the cross in straight-away for Sterling to score, had instead juggled the ball on his head, knocked it on to his thigh, did some keepy-uppy, and then crossed. Would it still have been disallowed? What, more realistically, if there had followed a 4- or 5-pass sequence before the ball was set up for Sterling?

To remove the inevitable inconsistency in referrals on the particular issue of offside goals, is there a case then for only deploying VAR to judge only the final pass? After all, refs make incorrect decisions all over the pitch and VAR is not used to get them corrected. Nor is VAR used to halt a game whenever the ref misses an offside.

The history of football has always been one of contentious decisions, where incorrect decisions have determined outcomes. It's only a sport and we've all had to live with it. Obviously, VAR can lead to more correct decisions, but let's not kid ourselves... the real reason for its introduction has been the amount of business money now swilling around the sport. And it comes at a cost — to lovers of the game and the excitement and intense spontaneous emotions it generates.


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Reader Comments (14)

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Barry Connor
1 Posted 19/04/2019 at 12:26:43
I understand all the points you are making but still think VAR should be used.
My reason is that no system will eliminate subjectivity and what really matters is that all concerned should be prepared to accept the decision made by the referee, whether he uses VAR or not.
Sadly, in football the acceptance of decisions made by the referee is virtually non-existent - whether it be by the players, management, supporters or press.
Contrast that with Rugby Union. VAR is accepted as working satisfactorily, not because it is more sophisticated than the football version, but because everyone has signed up to accepting the decision of the referee once he has seen the VAR replay. Disagreements still take place (who can be certain whether the ball has been grounded for a try when there might be 16 burly forwards lying on top of the ball ?) but the decision is accepted and isn't followed by a witch hunt against the VAR system.
VAR is a tool intended to help referees do their job (an extra pair or pairs of eyes if you like) but the ultimate decision is with the referee and if his authority is accepted (as it is in rugby but not in football) then the system is a positive contribution.
Rob Halligan
2 Posted 19/04/2019 at 15:03:02
Steve, during the recent Southampton v RS game, the RS equaliser came after one of their players (can't remember who) received the ball, in an albeit very close offside position, which was not flagged for offside. A sequence of 3 or 4 passes followed before the ball was finally put in the net.

On the Monday morning Dermot Gallagher on ref watch on SSN said the goal would not have been reviewed as VAR would not have gone back 3 or 4 stages. If a player receives a pass in an offside position, and it's not flagged, then it should be given as offside following a review, irrespective of how many passes follow.

So yet another dodgy decision that went in the RS's favour. They must be dreading VAR next season.

Joe Corgan
3 Posted 19/04/2019 at 15:36:25
I wrote an extensive comment on VAR on a thread last week. Here it is once again:

VAR need not be a bad thing but in its current guise it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Despite that, I’m sure we’ll be very happy when we benefit from it.
The first question that needed to be asked about VAR is whether we need it at all. Do fans really want every decision to be 100% correct all the time or do we, on some level, enjoy the debate and discussion when a bad decision is made? I’ve never heard the footballing authorities address this question.

VAR has three problems as I see it. The first is simple: it ruins the universality of football. Until the introduction of goal-line technology, the rules were the same regardless of whether you were playing in the Champions League or for a Sunday pub team. It’s something of a shame that that is no longer true. [Update: After I originally posted this, some respondents commented that the laws of the game are not universal due to the way they’re differently interpreted across the league pyramid. The point remains, they’re all still playing from the same rule book.]

The second issue is one of subjectivity. Goal line technology works because it’s binary. The ball has either crossed the line or it hasn’t. When you add technology which still leaves decisions open to debate, one wonders whether it is really necessary at all. Pundits and fans alike can watch endless replays and still disagree as to whether something is a foul or a good tackle. Or whether something is a deliberate or accidental handball. Contact alone doesn’t equal a foul, and I believe the laws of the game are so badly written (or enforced) that VAR only adds a level of uncertainty, rather than removing one.

The third and final issue is one of the matchgoer’s experience. VAR replays are not shown within the stadium and fans are not always aware of what is happening. Indeed, in last weekend’s FA cup semi final, a VAR review was called for a possible red card decision yet fans didn’t know which player, or even team, was under review. Why can replays not be shown within the stadium? To prevent crowd incitement? Why does rugby not have the same issue? Their video referee decisions are shown on the screens at the stadium. The answer, of course, is that the referee’s decision is ultimately subjective and we’re back to point number two.

An optimist would say that the introduction of VAR into the Premier League, and its use at 19 times per weekend should lead to its continuous tweaking and improvement. Perhaps the laws of the game will be made clearer to make decisions less subjective and perhaps, one day, replays will be shown on the big screens. At the very least, the screens should display graphics indicating what and who is under review. One can hope.

James Stewart
4 Posted 19/04/2019 at 15:56:46
It should be extremely limited otherwise the game will just become a stop start bore. The current state of it is a mess. Especially in the CL. You could limit the number of var challenges per team like in tennis to at least dial it down a bit.
Steve Carse
5 Posted 19/04/2019 at 18:46:45
Rob (2), I wasn't aware of the RS-Soton incident but I'm not sure Gallacher is right in what he said. After all where is it stated as to the number of passes to be considered following the transgression before that transgression IS seen as determining that such a goal was to be disallowed? He's implying it's something less than 3! In which case let's make it easier and quicker to resolve by applying VAR only to the pass to the scorer. In this case Sterling's 'goal' on Wednesday would have stood -- even if unfortunately so too would the RS goal at Southampton.
Gerard McKean
6 Posted 19/04/2019 at 19:04:35
Your point is well made, Steve.

Aside from not removing the subjectivity of many decisions I have dark suspicions that VAR could be used in the service of its masters. Man City and its fans are not popular at UEFA; apparently the referee was NOT shown the camera angle that proved that Llorente’s arm had propelled the ball onto his hip. I wonder why?

Similarly UEFA did not at all like the idea of 5 English teams qualifying for the Champions League after Istanbul. Collina was duly called out of “retirement” to make sure Everton did not progress out of the qualifiers. If VAR had been operational he would still have seen something to disallow Ferguson’s perfectly valid goal.

Jer Kiernan
7 Posted 19/04/2019 at 19:13:52
I am not a huge fan of VAR but I do believe it is a great opportunity to clean up a sport which is rancid with corruption, cheating etc. from Blatter and Platini to Henrys hand ball to the below mentioned "amabassador" for the sport something needs to change

This however will only happen as long as it is "blind" to prestige reputations etc and it brings fair play and irradicates the game of blatant cheating bastards who have no concept of "sport" are a disgrace to themselves, the sporting world and indeed their own families I would suggest (yeah I mean you Mr Time personality of the year!!)how do you explain that shit to your kids ???

At least Lance Armstrong hit behind the fckin truck while he banged up these scum do it in full view of a nation and get clean away with it. Penalties should only be awarded when a DELIBERATE foul is commited, Enough of some bias pundit desperately trying to find excuses for this cancer on the sport

I do suspect if anything it will work the other way and the game will become and endless video replay and footballers little more than ballet dancers,

I thoroughly enjoyed the other nites game as a neutral but did not feel the same appreciation of VARs decision as I did for the goal however it was in the end the right decision

I cant think of a better way to clean the game up and level the playing field than VAR as long as its not corrupted like most things in the game

I live in hope

Tony Everan
8 Posted 23/04/2019 at 18:35:24
Good article Steve , there are major problems now with refs and linesmen, there will be problems with VAR too, but less so.

I think the bigger clubs will suffer most with it as refs can melt at the likes of Man U. I am hoping it is predominately used for offside decisions. With grey area argiebargies, tackles, shirt pulling etc it needs to be clear cut to make a VAR decision.

I think a PL database of 'correct' adjudications needs to be constructed to act as a precedence for decisions. Refs and VAR officials will need to study it and pass a test thereon to adjudicate.

Mike Gaynes
9 Posted 23/04/2019 at 18:58:30
All of the arguments against VAR sound very, very familiar to this Yank -- they were all used, essentially word-for-word, to oppose the deployment of what's called video review in American sports.

Untraditional. Ruins the excitement. Takes away "talking points" and debates about calls. Overrules the refs. Too technical. Won't help. Too many long delays. It'll be a complete mess. And the fans just won't accept it.

But within a strikingly short time, video review has become fully accepted and integrated into the American sports experience. Baseball, the NFL, pro and college basketball, college football and hockey -- plus of course MLS -- have all been through their technical difficulties and growing pains with replay, but there is almost no one left here who wants to go back to the old days.

It's not perfect, and never will be. There are still times when it takes way too long, and there are still disputes, but there are even more times when the fans now wish there was a video review possible. The wrong team advanced to this year's Super Bowl because of an obvious bad call that, by rule, could not be reviewed at the time. That rule was promptly changed.

Even the less-than-perfect review systems are considered vast improvements on what we had before, and replay is being extended. More and more plays are now subject to review, and the overwhelming majority of sports fans here consider that a good thing.

I predict that in 5-10 years PL fans will wonder what all the controversy was about, if they remember it at all. VAR will be considered as natural as it is here.

Mike Gaynes
10 Posted 23/04/2019 at 19:15:49
Joe #3, I'm the one who contested your point about the universality of football rules, and I still do. I have reffed at every level from pro and college to youth leagues and indoor. Champions League footy and Sunday league footy are, and always have been, played under differing rules interpretations -- for substitutions, for pitch size, for equipment, for what is or isn't a foul or a card. And the rule book isn't always the same -- in the US each state has a high school rule book that layers over the FIFA book on subs (including required subs for yellow cards), game length, sportsmanship requirements and others. I'm assuming the same is true in Britain.

And if footy's universality isn't ruined by the fact that my Sunday league allows open subs and plays on a 95-yard pitch, or because many school leagues use a two-man referee system, then it will certainly not be ruined by VAR.

John McFarlane Snr
11 Posted 23/04/2019 at 19:18:29
Hi Mike [9] firstly, I would like to thank you for your gesture the other day, it was much appreciated. However, I hope your prediction that, 'in 5-10 years fans will wonder what all the controversy was about', is a non-starter.

At the age of 80 I would welcome being around in 5-10 years, but I'm certain that if VAR is operating I won't be around Goodison Park.

Brian Wilkinson
12 Posted 28/04/2019 at 01:20:51
Most of the big sky darlings will not want var coming in.

For me we have to do something to stop the blatant cheating, week after week.

Niasse must be baffled how he has served a ban for simulation, along with a West Ham player, yet no other Premier league player has since been punished.

If used right, var could benefit the majority of premiership teams that seem to get the shitty end of the stick.

I am all for var, it is something the game needs.

Tony Everan
13 Posted 29/04/2019 at 19:15:36
I am waiting for the sky 6 to throw a spanner in the works to try to get it delayed.
Steve Carse
14 Posted 09/06/2019 at 14:10:51
Another recent illustration of the downsides of VAR -- Lingaards 'goal' against Holland. On two grounds: one, was he definitely offside, and two, the lengthy celebrations before fans realised it might be chalked off.

Can't say I'm looking forward ot VAR's introduction. I fear that many goals will end up being chalked off, where either the ref's subjective opinion is overridden by the VAR official's equally subjective opinion, or where the vagueness of many of the game's rules leave decisions open to interpretation.

As a for instance of the latter point, one of the best goals at Goodison Park last season was Richarlson's overhead kick against Man Utd. I'd wager that next season if that type of goal was to be repeated the VAR official would disallow it for dangerous play, simply because what constitutes dangerous play in such instances is not clearly defined and because the official will not wish to permit a goal to stand in most instances where there is any case for striking it out.

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