Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is subject to immense scrutiny from nearly every football fan under the sun. From the inconsistency, the long stoppages of play and to the controversy, VAR’s toddler years have not been an improvement on its infancy. But, despite all the misgivings of VAR, weathering the storm of its early years will prove to benefit the entire sport.
Why Sticking With VAR is for the Better
A Realistic Scenario
Picture this: 40,000 fans decked out in blue scarves and kits are chanting with all their might. Goodison Park rocks to the point where the roof would have flown off if it had one to start with. The score is 1-1. The Merseyside Derby is in its final minute of play. A point will more than do for the Toffees, who very recently equalised.
The scoreboard reads ’93:40.’ That is when Mohamed Salah picks the ball up on the wing. Roberto Firmino is waving his arms in the box, waiting to be picked out. Michael Keane looks over his shoulder and knows not to worry about the Brazilian as he sees half of Firmino’s chest offsides.
Salah delivers the ball anyway. Keane leaps to head the cross away from danger, but the ball brushes past the top of his hair. Firmino’s head meets the ball, and the top right-hand corner of the net bulges less than a second later. Keane glances at the linesman. So does everyone else in the stadium, Liverpool players included, expecting to see the goal disallowed.
The flag stays down. The away support is in euphoria as Jurgen Klopp rushes onto the pitch to celebrate with his players. Carlo Ancelotti, alongside the Everton players and faithful, seethes at the officiating decision. The initial decision of the referee and linesman is final. Replays from every angle show Firmino was offside, but the die had been cast.
This indeed is an extreme example of the type of controversy and heartache not having VAR can have. However, such situations, sometimes in equally dramatic circumstances, happen all too frequently in leagues without VAR. Last month, EFL Championship managers unanimously demanded to have a meeting because of how poor officiating (without VAR) has been this season.
The Problems Are in the Writing
The problems regarding VAR are not actually the fault of the Video Assistant Refereeing system. Rather, the issues revolve around the strict wording of the rules it has to enforce, as well as the officials’ interpretation of those rules. VAR was introduced to overturn “clear and obvious errors.” When a decision made is “clearly and obviously” wrong, then VAR has been able to pretty consistently right the misjudgment of the official. When an official is objectively wrong, VAR is there to overturn it.
The issues come when the idea of “clear and obvious” is blatantly disregarded. No one, in a match of football, should have to wait over one minute to find out whether a call has been overturned or not. If the referee made a decision that was “clearly and obviously” incorrect, then reviewing it would not take more than one minute. The concept of VAR is not at fault for the time the officials decide to take to review a play.
VAR is also not to blame when the referees try to overturn a subjective call. For instance, whether a player used excessive force in a challenge is not a choice where VAR should be meticulously used. “Excessive” is objectively a subjective term. Now, whether a challenge was a textbook red card, such as the studs making contact with the shin while no part of the ball is touched, is indeed worthy of review and a sending off if necessary.
A “clear goal-scoring opportunity” is a subjective interpretation. There is no definitive definition of what “clear” means. So, when the officials use VAR for subjective decisions, which goes against its intended purpose, then how can VAR itself be blamed?
VAR is Here to Stay and We’re Sticking With it
The reality is football is better with VAR. For now, it feels much less natural. Such is true with any rule change in any sport. When instant replay reviews were introduced to American football in the 1980s, many people opposed it. Now, no one even considers the possibility of the sport being without it.
When the players are able to focus more on the match and worry less about being erroneously penalised or sent off, the beautiful game will be purer. Players will play more freely without having such preoccupations. The team that emerges victorious will not do so because of unruly officiating controversy.
For now, VAR might feel strange and be heavily detested at times. But, change and improvement cannot always be as fast as people like. VAR is not to blame for the problems video review has caused thus far. Football right now might feel better without VAR, but in the long run, the sport will be much better with it. Talent and tenacity should always decide the result – never officiating blunders.