Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has been a point of major controversy and speculation since the day it was announced. From the time it takes to come to a decision, the repeated stoppages in play and the confusion it causes for those in the ground, there’s been plenty of reasons to dislike the technology.
Meanwhile, as we’ve seen more and more technology enter the game, the standard of refereeing at the top of the game seems to have gone off a cliff. From blatant red card challenges not even resulting in a yellow, all the way to cases of mistaken identity, the officiating standard is at an alarmingly low level.
VAR made it’s big stage debut at the 2017 Confederations Cup out in Russia. The tournament is generally perceived as the test event to the World Cup which is held in the same country a year later. It didn’t exactly run smoothly with multiple controversies making headlines over the course of the tournament.
Most notably, the referee in the game between Chile and Germany failed to upgrade Gonzalo Jara’s yellow card to a straight red for what seemed to be a clear elbow on Timo Werner. After pressure from the Germans, he did eventually go to VAR but bizarrely decided not to send the Chilean off.
Despite the hitches at the Confederations Cup, FIFA decided it would be implemented at the World Cup in Russia last summer. With Harry Kane being pulled all over in the box in England’s match against Tunisia as well as a controversial penalty in the World Cup final as just two examples – there was plenty of controversy.
Despite that, FIFA deemed VAR at the World Cup to have been a success and Football Association’s around the world have started to implement it into their domestic game. Premier League clubs last season voted against having it this year, but have opted to bring it in to play from next season. However, it has been trialled repeatedly in League Cup and FA Cup games – once more, there’s been plenty of controversy.
In the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg tie between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium back in January, VAR took centre stage once more. Harry Kane found himself running clean through on goal before being taken out by Chelsea goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga. Referee Michael Oliver pointed straight to the spot, but the blues were adamant Kane had been in an offside position when he received the ball.
The officials went to VAR and determined he was onside and gave the penalty – which Harry Kane calmly dispatched. That seemed to be that until after the game when the Chelsea coaching staff came out with a different camera angle which seemingly showed Kane in an offside position – thus igniting the debate once more.
As well as domestic competition, UEFA decided to bring VAR into the Champions League. It was originally supposed to wait until next season but the clubs voted to bring it in for the current knockout rounds instead. As you would expect, it’s already brought plenty of uproar – and we’ve only had one round of ties.
Manchester City faced German outfit Schalke in the round of 16 and in the first leg they conceded two very contentious penalties. Both penalties were checked via VAR and both were still given, despite many people’s opinions that neither should have been. As well as that, Real Madrid played Ajax – a tie which saw VAR controversy in both legs of the tie goals were incorrectly given – regardless of the fact they were checked by VAR.
There’s been plenty of dodgy refereeing decisions this season in the Premier League alone. It seems like every single week we’re talking about another major decision that the officials have got wrong.
To start with, Southampton hosted Watford just before Christmas in a game that the Saints really needed to win. Things were going well, they were 1-0 up and cruising when Charlie Austin looked to have doubled their lead. However, the joy was short lived as the officials called the play back and disallowed the goal for an infringement by the offside Maya Yoshida, despite the fact he didn’t even touch the ball.
That would have made the score 2-0 and effectively sealed the three points for Southampton, but as it was the score remained 1-0. To add insult to injury, Jose Holebas ended up equalising for Watford and the Hornets held their hosts to a draw. This lead to one of the most passionate rants you’re likely to see from Charlie Austin. Check it out below:
Now to one of the more ridiculous decisions you’re likely to see. It comes from Manchester United’s home game against Newcastle back at the start of the season – a game which would see Mourinho’s men overcome a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2.
Newcastle were two goals to the good and flying high in Manchester when they got a free kick just to the left of the box. Jonjo Shelvey smashed the free-kick straight at the wall where it cannoned off the outstretched arm of Ashley Young and wide of the post. Not only did the referee fail to give a penalty or a card, he also failed to see any deflection at all and gave Manchester United a goal kick.
Last year, the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) and it’s member teams opted against bringing in VAR for the 2018 season. Although no official reason was given as to why, a few of the clubs said they voted against it due to the cost. The CBF wanted the clubs to pay for the technology at a cost of around R$1,000,000 (around £200,000) each for the entirety of the competition.
If VAR did what it is supposed to do and what it was designed to do by clearing up all controversial incidents in football, the high expense would truly be worth it. However, when you consider how often officials are getting decisions wrong, even with the aid of the virtual assistant, it really seems like a waste.
In my opinion, due to the fact we are seeing a massively distressing decrease in competence from officials, especially in England, I think we would be significantly better served putting that money elsewhere. Perhaps it would be worth spending the money on improving the education of referees and other officials from an earlier age. Spend money on getting younger folk interested in refereeing and the facilities in which they can learn the trade.
In the long run, we would be far better served as a sport by funding education than we will be by continuously wasting money on technology that clearly doesn’t work as intended. The fact of the matter is that the laws of football are massively open to interpretation and no technology is going to change that. Having better educated referees with better fitness levels would be the best way to make sure we get most decisions correct without impacting the game.
VAR was an experiment, and it was an experiment that has failed.