Late last year, the President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino said that “VAR is helping football, it’s certainly not damaging [it]”. This is despite Aston Villa captain, Jack Grealish, urging for a VAR review, by saying that it is “ruining” football, and Jordan Henderson saying that he’d “rather play without it”.
One poll of 2,100 football fans found that 30 per cent of fans think that it has improved the game, whereas 44 per cent think it has made it worse. Another poll also found that only 4 per cent of fans think that VAR has worked “very well”.
So, there is a clear discrepancy between what the referees and officials think, versus what players, fans and pundits think. But, who is right, and would a VAR review make it better?
FA Need to Persist With VAR
VAR Has Resulted in Fewer Goals
Before VAR’s implementation, pundits believed that it would lead to more goals being awarded. That has simply not been the case. Instead, it has resulted in fewer goals. In the 2019/20 season, VAR altered 27 decisions which resulted in goals being awarded and 56 where they were disallowed. This is a deficit of 29 goals being lost because of VAR.
Sides Have Both Benefitted and Been Victimised By VAR Decisions
In the 2020/21 Premier League season, Everton have received the most positive VAR decisions, with four net decisions going in their favour. This is followed by Burnley and Chelsea, both of whom have received three net decisions go for them. Tottenham, Arsenal, West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool have been worse-affected, with three, four, five, and six net decisions going against each of them respectively. Although a longer-term analysis to see whether VAR is used fairly across the division is needed, the difference between top and bottom place is vast.
For Liverpool, this has meant that six goals have been disallowed, and an additional three goals have been awarded against them because of VAR. Only one goal has been chalked off in Liverpool’s favour.
One of these disallowed goals included Jordan Henderson’s 90th-minute winner versus Everton, which was ruled out for an offside on Sadio Mané in the build-up. On closer inspection, with the help of VAR, the offside is no clearer, but it was still deemed offside.
According to the Official Premier League website, the VAR philosophy is “minimum interference – maximum benefit.” With decisions only being remedied on four criteria: goals; penalty decisions, direct red card incidents and cases of mistaken identity. All of which have the now-infamous quantifier, that the original decision has to be a “clear and obvious” mistake.
Objective decisions, such as on or offside calls, or whether a penalty is in or outside the penalty box, are not subject to this rule, and herein lies one of VAR’s biggest drawbacks.
One of the biggest problems with VAR technology isn’t the officials using it, but instead, the technology itself.
Offside decisions are currently classified as objective decisions. But, when the frame rate cannot determine the point of contact when the ball is played, and the closest frame has to be chosen manually, the objectivity has been removed.
The cameras used by VAR run at 50 frames per second. But what if the point of contact with the ball is found in between these frames? Then VAR cannot make a categorically correct call as to when the ball has been played.
This is what happened last season when Raheem Sterling was judged to be offside despite the incorrect frame being chosen.
Some people, such as Arsene Wenger, have suggested a margin of error so that the attacking line is fatter than the defenders. Alternatively, why not apply the “clear and obvious” rule that was discussed earlier? Is an offside clearly and obviously offside? Has a few centimetres really benefitted the attacker? If it has, raise the flag. A time-limit could also be added, giving the referees ten seconds to try and spot a “clear and obvious” mistake.
In the future, decision-makers will need to decide who football is for. Is it for the enjoyment of fans and players; or, is it for the referees? A VAR review will have to be made.
The Premier League have announced that the aim of VAR is not for 100 per cent correct decisions, but instead to lead to “more correct, and fairer, judgements.” But, how much enjoyment is it taking out of the game? Is the extra per cent accuracy worth the hassle? The FA will need to decide but should ultimately persevere with it. Without fans in stadiums, the resentment towards VAR cannot be audibly heard. In the future, as fans are allowed back into the stadium, this will change, and VAR will be as unpopular with fans as ever.