For the first half of the World Cup, and for the 2nd half of the Premier League before it, in almost every Match of the Day and the majority of newspapers almost on the daily have castrated the Video Assisted Referee (VAR) for not doing its job or making the game more confusing that it needs to be. The idea that a massive revolution on how football games are refereed would instantly work like clockwork is an absolute nonsense, but still the likes of Alan Shearer and Phil Neville continue to criticise it likes it’s the death of football.
For those who don’t understand VAR is simply the use of a video referee who is able to tell a refereeing team if they have made an obvious error or if there is something that they have missed in action. What aims to do is put football referring more in line to how very well video referring is used in sports like Rugby Union & League, American Football and Tennis among others and to decrease the amount of mistakes in a football match, which mostly negatively affect lower teams when a disproportionate amount of decisions go against them.
At first, its implementation has been far from perfect, most notably it led to a penalty decision being overturned in an FA Cup game after the penalty had been taken and in a Bundesliga match between Mainz and Freiburg led to a penalty being rewarded during the half time interval. In total in Serie A it was estimated VAR created 16-18 errors in the 2nd half of the season. Although none of this is good, it is no surprise that I brand new system brought in half way through the season didn’t have teething issues. When you don’t allow a preseason to train referees how to use the system correctly, the confusion how to use it has been an issue, and the fact some referees clearly didn’t want to use it and didn’t consult the video referee and got the decision wrong certainly didn’t help. And there is always the issue that some players will be able to use the technology to con referees, especially in early implementation. So with a midseason implementation there were always going to be teething issues, but even before the World Cup there were signs of it beginning to work. For example in Leicester’s game against Fleetwood a goal which was originally thought to be ruled offside was then ruled onside after the video referee had spotted a clear referring error. Of the date of publication, my only first hand witnessing of VAR was at a Bundesliga game between FC Köln and Bayer Leverkusen, where Leverkusen’s striker Lucas Alerio was rightly sent off after a VAR review had revealed that he had elbowed a FC Köln defender off the ball.
Going on to the World Cup, it is clear that all the referees had a better understanding of how to use VAR and the system of implementation has been much more clear, yet still the likes of Shearer and other pundits have continued to express their dislike for VAR and have taken every wrong decision to suggest its ruining the game. In particular, in one game where VAR got at least 3 decisions wrong (Portugal vs Iran) Shearer and co were acting like it was the end of the world. The fact is that referee in particular had an official complaint made against him after his first match and that the fact 3 poor decisions came in as well as farcical use of VAR was more down to the referee in question than the technology.
The only other clear errors I can think of is Australia’s penalty against Denmark, the goings on at the end of Portugal vs Morocco and of course the two non penalties not given against England against Tunisia, the majority of these being near the beginning of the tournament.
After the England game, where the English coaching game lodged a complaint calling out that referees and VAR had missed the blatant foul, grappling in the box has been looked at, and since then VAR has been impeccable in spotting such fouls, including two for England against Panama. In fact officials have been opened that since the start of the tournament VAR has been ‘fine tuned’ and FIFA have described referring to “close to perfection” because of VAR. Although close to perfection is an overstatement, as Neymar’s lack of booking for his pathetic behaviour during the Brazil/Mexico game proves, VAR has certainly improved referring decisions, and even added a bit of extra drama, yet it is still criticised by some like it’s a net negative on football.
My theory is so many journalists and in particular lazy TV pundits criticise VAR so much because they make half their money by lamenting referring decisions. If VAR succeeds, hopefully it will mean certain TV pundits won’t be able to get away with such lazy analysis and give more Monday Night Football-esque coverage that the viewing public deserve. As for VAR, its improvement throughout the World Cup shows it is certainly the way to go in the future and the Premier League must use it for every game next season.