VAR is not fit for purpose

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in its current form does not fulfil the purpose that fans and referees need it to, and will not work until it does.

I don’t know about you, but 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 for a decision to be overturned by VAR.

This is my main issue with VAR, which for the record I am in favour of. Before its introduction, we were constantly told how much help referees required in making the decisions which weretoo tight to call. So how did the Premier League solve this? They introduced technology which could only help in reversing clear and obvious errors. Genius.

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, treading on the Spaniard’s foot in the process. 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 is surely what VAR was designed to assist referees on. It wasn’t an easy decision for 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 with, 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 this is inevitable. VAR should deal with four circumstances in a game: Red cards, yellow cards leading to reds, fouls in the penalty area, and offside decisions which lead to goals. But that doesn’t mean it should only deal with obvious mistakes within these four circumstances. For all technology can take away from our game at times, it must give us more. In only focusing on clear and obvious errors, it is set up to fail in doing this.

And if it isn’t bad enough to only reverse clear and obvious errors, the technology often doesn’t even do this. On the 5th October,Liverpool were awarded a last-minute penalty by referee Chris Kavanagh against Leicester when Sadio Mane was supposedly fouled by Marc Albrighton. The reality is that Mane dived after feeling contact from Albrighton. There wasn’t even close to enough contact to bring him down. There was a considerable gap in time between contact being made and the winger going down.

Brendan Rodgers’s Leicester side would have been the first team to take points from Liverpool since Everton on March 3rd.

VAR checked the decision, and unsurprisingly, failed to overturn it. Despite this, nearly everyone in the game (excluding an emotional Jurgen Klopp), believed it to be the wrong decision. Alan Shearer later claimed on Match of The Day: “It’s a contact sport. Mane takes a touch against Albrighton and then decides to go down”. Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers said himself in his post-match interview that once the penalty was given, there was little chance of VAR overturning it.

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 there wouldn’t be bumps along the road, it would be stupid to see a successful future for technology in our league if the authorities are not brave enough to tackle the real issues at play.

I don’t expect VAR to fix everything however, nor could it. It also came under scrutiny on matchday two, when Man City hosted Tottenham 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, this was technically the right decision. But anyone with half a brain could’ve told you it wasn’t 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.

Assistant technology is a tool which can improve our game, but we must know how to use it effectively, and understand its limits.

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