For years, the Premier League has been portrayed as the league that all players treated as the pinnacle, the league that makes a career. The excitement, the multitude of title competitors and the non-stop action are just a few attractions the Premier League has to offer. With this being said, surely the ‘best league in the world’ should have the most advanced, revolutionary technology around?
The 2019/20 Premier League season will be the first to present the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), after the clubs voted unanimously in November 2018 to establish the system. After its successful use in the 2018 World Cup, fans were eager to see it implemented, week-in, week-out. After certain abysmal decisions in the 2018/19 season it was deemed the next logical step in the elevation of English football.
One of the key factors for the addition of VAR and what was said to be the decision that ‘crossed the line’, was the disallowed goal by Southampton striker Charlie Austin. Austin thought he had doubled the Saint’s advantage with a deflected strike midway through the second half.
However, after consulting his assistant, Harry Lennard, referee Simon Hooper decided Southampton defender Maya Yoshida was standing in an offside position and had deflected the shot past Foster. Which led to the infamous post-match interview where the English striker released a seething rant.
“You go on about VAR this and VAR that, help the officials out. Clearly they need help. We play in the Premier League, the best league in the world, the most-watched league in the world.”
The undoubtedly poor decision was arguably enough to tip the scales in VAR’s favour but such an unexpected and passionate outburst caused the world to take note. This, as well as hundreds of other poor decisions, is the reason why football is in the so-called ‘mess’ it is in now. However, is the introduction of VAR the antidote to solving all incorrect decisions made during our beautiful game?
In order to answer that question, we have to see both sides of the system we know as VAR, starting with the positives. Beginning with the obvious, which is that no more perfectly good goals can be unfairly ruled out. With numerous checks on every goal scored and every goal disallowed, it means there’s a 99% chance of the correct outcome. Gone are the days when your team would have a goal disallowed for offside when in reality, they’re painfully onside. Which can be the difference between relegation and staying up, Champions league places or Europa league places and finally, arguably most importantly, Champions or second place.
Secondly, the use of VAR is said to add a sense of suspense and excitement during a match. The wait, build-up and stomach-turning gap between the ball hitting the net and the VAR check being over is something that should enhance a fans engagement. The introduction of VAR may make a mundane match turn into a rather enthralling watch. The players feeling hard done by should ignite a reaction, leading to an increase in match tempo. Adding a touch of feistiness to the sport should be considered a positive feature as it shows a players love for the sport. While it also starts to build a relationship between player and spectator.
In contrast, VAR has a significant number of critics and due to its recent application, it’s easy too see why. The first issue, that appears to be debated the hottest, is the term ‘clear and obvious’ and what it actually can be defined as. Recently, players such as: Jack Grealish, Teemu Pukki, and Wilfred Zaha have had goals disallowed due to VAR deeming them to be inches offside. Goals that a few years ago would’ve stood; with little to no complaints. The problem is that such a minuscule matter of inches, shouldn’t be seen as a ‘clear and obvious’ error and by cancelling these goals out, you’re beginning to kill the buzz and euphoria that a goal being scored creates.
Earlier, I mentioned how the time it took for the officials to come to a decision through the use of VAR would add suspense and tension. Unfortunately, it has in fact gone the other way with many viewers believing the wait is tedious and unnecessary. Causing fans in the ground to be waiting for an extended amount of time on a decision. With some stadiums not having screens it causes a lot of confusion and time wasted for the paying spectator. A fan has gone for many reasons which could be: to enjoy their beloved team fight for every ball, play free-flowing football, and hopefully give endless entertainment. Not sit and wait for a decision to be made, when the officials on the pitch could make a justifiable decision, in a substantially quicker time.
Overall, the inclusion of VAR this season, so far, has undeniably been an experiment gone wrong. With goals being disallowed due to a couple of millimetres, that the majority of fans would want to see being given. The idea that a speck of a player’s shoulder or a trace of a player’s toe can warrant an offside call seems ridiculous. As well as that, paying fans are having their matches spoiled by the prolonged gap between goal and decision. Making what should be an exhilarating moment into a stressful, unwanted wait that isn’t worth the ‘correct decision’ in the end. It looks as if the Premier League are going to stick with the system and try to iron our any errors it has. But the question is, how do you improve VAR?