VAR: A new digital age in English Football
As the final whistle blew in the 94th minute, bringing the Merseyside Derby to an end on December 10, 2017, a visibly furious Jürgen Klopp was seen running up to the officials in the middle of the park to voice his displeasure.
Liverpool, who were dominant throughout the match, went ahead with a classy Mohamed Salah strike but were pegged back when Dejan Lovren was judged to have pushed Dominic Calvert-Lewin inside the box. TV replays from different angles proved inconclusive on the penalty being given with the most popular voices echoing it to be a "soft" one. A similar but more conclusive incident took place on December 31, 2017, when Arsenal were awarded a penalty in the 89th minute against West Brom.
Referee Mike Dean gave a penalty against Arsenal Calum Chambers, with Baggies taking full advantage of the decision by equalising from the spot. Later Arsenal Manager Arsene Wenger was given a three-match touchline ban for his inappropriate behaviour in the referees' changing room. It was only yesterday, Mike Dean admitted the decision to be a "wrong" according to referees' chief Mike Riley. Such decisions are not rare.
Every week there are mistakes made by the referees, linesmen which get caught through numerous replays and camera angles. But unfair decisions are awarded which cost team points and money.
January 8, 2018, will be considered a very important day for English football. For the first time, Video Assistant Referee will be used for the first time in a competitive club match in the FA Cup third round. In theory, it is supposed to cut out the mistakes of the officials but as anyone who watches cricket or rugby will tell you that the decisions are not always 100% error proof and subject to debates.
The VAR will normally be used to combat four key mistakes in a football match: red cards, goal decisions, penalties and mistaken identity. Furthermore, it will only be used where there is a clear and obvious error made by the referee or his assistants. For example, if the officials give an offside goal, the VAR will contact the referee via an audio link and advise him to reverse that decision as soon as possible. But if an error cannot be completely proved, the original decision will stand. Thus, VAR, in essence, doesn't take the authority of the officials on the field, it only enhances its decision-making process.
Criticisms and weakness of VAR were pointed out by pundits after the Confederations Cup Final in 2017. Video replays delayed the game for more than three minutes, resulted in a yellow card for Chilean defender Gonzalo Jara despite the video showing what was clearly a red card offence. In-spite of the initial apprehensions and drawbacks, VAR is now used in all the top leagues such as Bundesliga and Serie A with a good degree of success.
By the end of October, 18 key decisions were overturned in the Bundesliga. The unanimously agreed success rate without any contention was staggeringly high, 89% (16/18). In Serie A, as ESPN reports out of 309 incidents reviewed using VAR, 288 backed the referee's initial call and 21 decisions were overturned, which is equivalent to 7% till October 31st, 2017. FIFA is set to use VAR in this year's World Cup in Russia. FA is moving ahead to use VAR in the premier league starting next season.
The game is moving faster than it has ever done before. English football is the most lucrative in the business due its size, geography and popularity. With the advent of the readily usable seamless technology, the VAR will only make English football a better league with more fair results.