Even taking into consideration all that has happened during the current Premier League season – Liverpool’s unbeaten run at the top of the table, Tottenham firing Mauricio Pochettino and replacing him with Jose Mourinho, Sheffield United’s shocking rise up the ranks – the most notable thing about 2019-20 has to be the use of the VAR system.
Every week of fixtures seems to have some kind of VAR controversy, whether it’s a bizarre offside call, a disallowed goal for a contentious handball or a questionable red card, and while fans of certain clubs might cry foul more than others, it seems that all of the Premier League’s sides have suffered due to it at some point.
So should the English top flight simply scrap the experiment and do away with VAR for the 2020-21 season? Well, no. In fact, there are plenty of reasons for the Premier League to persist with the system – and here are 3 of them.
#1 The problems are due to the implementation, not the system itself
It’s interesting to note that football fans have been yelling for years that the game ought to make more use of video technology, and yet now the Premier League has introduced VAR, nobody seems happy. So what’s the deal? Well, the truth is that the VAR system itself isn’t the problem – it’s the way that the Premier League’s referees have implemented it that has caused the issues.
In the 2018 World Cup, for instance, VAR was used and yet the system felt completely different to the one that’s been imposed on the Premier League; in the World Cup – and in other leagues around Europe – officials using VAR are encouraged to make use of the pitchside monitors in order to come to a decision on an incident.
In the Premier League, on the other hand, the monitors aren’t used, and instead, the official needs to rely on another referee – watching the game from miles away in Stockley Park – to give them advice on which call to make.
That’s meant that often, it feels like the Premier League’s officials are more than willing to take a backseat to the VAR man, which in turn gives the fans the impression that the referee on the pitch is simply not fully in charge of the game anymore – particularly when fans in attendance aren’t treated to the myriad of replays that TV viewers are in an attempt to find a decision.
Throw in the controversial way in which offsides are being dealt with – pedantic is probably the best term for it – and you’ve got a system which should theoretically help football and yet seems to be causing more problems than it solves.
That isn’t on VAR, though – it’s on the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) and their head, Mike Riley. And so if Riley and his men can get to grips with the system – copying the rest of Europe would be a simple starting place – then there’s no reason why it can’t work in the Premier League.
#2 The players need to be familiar with it for European and international competitions
Many fans would probably be pleased if the Premier League announced the scrapping of VAR for the 2020-21 season, but the biggest problem with making that kind of decision would be that it wouldn’t have an effect on the use of VAR elsewhere.
If it were a Premier League-only system then it might make sense, but the fact is that the Premier League’s stars will still have to deal with VAR elsewhere – in international and European matches – even if English football were to get rid of it.
What kind of problems could that introduce? Well, imagine a group of players completely unused to VAR – the England national team, in this instance – playing in a World Cup with the system in place; they could easily fall foul of something like VAR’s red card review system, or a questionable handball only picked up by the VAR cameras.
Would that be fair? Almost certainly not. We’ve seen teams from the past completely implode due to an inability to adjust to rule changes – Leeds United in the inaugural Premier League season following the introduction of the back-pass rule come to mind – and for the Premier League to risk their players falling foul in a similar way would simply be reckless.
That means that for as long as VAR is a part of worldwide football, the English top flight needs to stick with it and find a way to make it work, if nothing else than to ensure that the players who ply their trade there aren’t negatively affected when they come across it elsewhere.
#3 Things weren’t perfect before VAR
With the way that fans have complained about VAR this season, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Premier League’s officials rarely made mistakes prior to the implementation of the new system, and that it’s purely on the head of VAR that things are going wrong. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
For as long as the Premier League has been around, fans have complained about refereeing decisions, and every past season we’ve seen officials make some seriously shocking calls, be it controversial penalties, questionable offsides or bizarre red cards.
Match officials should largely be background players in football, and yet names like Andre Marriner and Kevin Friend are as well-known amongst fans of the Premier League as those of its star players. And unfortunately, that renown often hasn’t come from their stellar refereeing performances.
Essentially then, while VAR has caused plenty of needless controversy thus far in 2019-20, it’s not really added anything new. And in fact, one of the most bizarre calls of the season thus far – the call by Friend to disallow a goal for Aston Villa in their September match against Crystal Palace for a supposed “dive” by Jack Grealish – when the midfielder actually slipped over while making a pass – didn’t even involve the VAR system.
Has VAR really helped to improve the state of Premier League officiating? Well, definitely not – but it’s also hard to argue that it’s made things that much worse. In all honesty, the state of Premier League officiating has been poor for some time – and it’s that which needs to improve before any talk of scrapping VAR begins.Published 28 Feb 2020, 04:15 IST