VAR: Why it isn’t working

By only tackling clear and obvious errors, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is set up to fail. This needs to be changed if fans and referees are to benefit from technology in our game.

In the last two months, I have heard “clear and obvious error” enough times to last me a lifetime. This, of course, is the benchmark set by the powers that be at Stockley Park, VAR’s headquarters, for a decision to be overturned.

This is the chink in the armour of VAR, which in theory should only improve our game. Referees clearly need help, that much cannot be denied. The question, however, should not be whether they need help, but what they need help with.

In the stress-free, harmonic pre-VAR world we lived in a couple of months back, we were constantly told how much referees required help in making the decisions which were too tight to call. So how did the Premier League solve this? They introduced technology which can only help reverse clear and obvious errors. Genius. Am I the only one who sees the oxymoronic nature of this?

The setup of VAR is quite simply flawed. Referees need help with tight calls that are difficult to see with the naked eye. Very rarely do they need help with decisions that are clear and obvious.

On the 25th August, Bournemouth hosted Manchester City at the Vitality Stadium. In the second half, Man City midfielder David Silva was brought down by Jefferson Lerma in the box, who trod on the Spaniard’s foot. It was a foul. No penalty given. Why? One presumes because it wasn’t *all together now* “a clear and obvious error.”

With VAR three weeks into its debut season, this incident led to discussion on the likes of Match of The Day and Sky Sports News. This was surely what VAR was designed to assist referees on. It wasn’t an easy decision for referee Andre Marriner to make. With bodies in the box and the precise, delicate dribbling of the maestro Silva, one can understand how he may have missed the foul. And that is what VAR should be for. To reverse wrong decisions that referees struggle to see, which could have a big impact on games.

Manchester City maestro David Silva (left) was denied what seemed a clear penalty V Bournemouth earlier in the season

Don’t get me wrong, I understand a desperation to maintain the tempo of our game, which is why VAR shouldn’t be used for every trivial mistake. In a game of so many variables, refereeing mistakes are inevitable. VAR should deal with red cards, yellow cards leading to reds, fouls in the penalty area, and incidents leading up to goals. When looking back at incidents leading to goals, the same principles should be applied as are for offside rulings. That is, if the offside player (in this case incident leading to a goal) had a part to play in the ball ending up in the net, the goal should be ruled out.

But just because the technology should be used for specific circumstances, that doesn’t mean it should only correct a certain degree of error. Why not correct ALL errors? For all technology can take away from our game at times, it must give back more. In only focusing on clear and obvious errors, it is set up to fail. Referees have even come under scrutiny for correcting errors that are not clear and obvious, but who can blame them? If they see an error has been made, why stick to this insane benchmark, when they can simply make the right call and alter the original decision?

When asked after the Bournemouth game if he had been briefed about potential VAR issues before the season started, Man City manager Pep Guardiola said: “Ask (that question) to the VAR people, don’t ask to me.”

So, under two months into VAR’s introduction, has faith already been lost in its ability to improve our game? While it would be naïve to think that there wouldn’t be bumps along the road, it would be similarly starry-eyed to see a successful future for technology in our league if the authorities are not brave enough to tackle the real issues at play.

City manager Guardiola appeared less than impressed with VAR, despite his side’s win over Bournemouth

VAR won’t fix everything, however, nor could it. It also came under scrutiny on matchday two, when Man City hosted Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium. With seconds remaining, Man City forward Gabriel Jesus thought he had made it 3-2 to his side, only for VAR to rule the goal out, due to an apparent handball in the build-up from Aymeric Laporte. Under the new rules introduced, “any goal scored or created with the use of the hand or arm will be disallowed, even if it is accidental,” according to the Premier League.

Anyone with half a brain could have told you it was not a handball. Laporte’s arm was not in an unnatural position, nor could he have done anything to move out of the way of the ball. But the rules, which were wrongly introduced, spoiled the end to a typically entertaining Premier League encounter. Not VAR.

Assistant technology is a tool which can improve our game, but we must know how to use it effectively, and understand its limits. First, let’s get our own house in order.

Images sourced from: (C-records and FC Miner) and Flickr (Brad Tutterow)

Quotes found from and BBC Sport

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