Are Premier League referees scared to make decisions?

Premier League referees being called into question is nothing new in English football, in fact it’s something we used to talk about so much the FA decided to bring in a fifth official to help out on game-days – the virtual assistant referee. It’s safe to say the hope that VAR would reduce controversy hasn’t worked, but recently we have seen a number of people calling out referees for… not making decisions?

40 minutes free of controversy

So just how long did the Premier League manage to hold out before drama and controversy told hold during a game? 42 minutes.

The first game back following the PL’s temporary suspension was originally supposed to be played back in February – Aston Villa hosting Sheffield United at Villa Park. A run of the mill fixture, fans got almost exactly what you would expect through the first 41 minutes, it wasn’t until Oliver Norwood delivered a deep free kick into the Villa area that things really got lairy.

Villa keeper Orjan Nyland somehow manage to fumble what should’ve been a fairly routine catch, stumbling backwards as he attempted to gather the ball. Once it appeared he finally had the situation somewhat under control, he was essentially pushed into his own net by one of his teammates.

It definitely looked as though the ball crossed the line in the moment, with Sheffield United players protesting to referee Michael Oliver before being turned away – his watch hadn’t vibrated, it wasn’t a goal.

Are Premier League referees too placid?

Former Premier League referee Mark Halsey appeared on talkSPORT this morning to discuss the debacle we witnessed last night. Calling into question why the referee and his assistants didn’t act, despite appearing to think the ball crossed the line. Adding fuel to a fire that has been raging since VAR was introduced in the PL – are referees afraid to make decisions?

In this instance, I find it hard to blame Michael Oliver for going with the technology rather than attempting to overrule it and make his own decision. While he does have the capability to do so, in the 7 seasons that GDS has been operational in the Premier League – it has never once got a decision wrong. In fact, last night was the first time that GDS has made an error in over 9,000 matches.

While Oliver could and potentially should have looked to override the decision, he may have deferred to his virtual assistant – something which would have made sense in the moment. Instead of making a rash snap call to give a goal, he may have instead decided to let the booth review the incident and call the game back while still within the phase of play rules. So the real question here shouldn’t be ‘are Premier League referees to blame – it should be ‘why didn’t VAR give the goal?’

VAR strikes again?

This isn’t the only Sheffield United VAR drama this season, however this time it would be a decision going against them incorrectly rather than the rules being upheld – or was it?

Something that has been discussed at length since VAR was introduced by the Premier League is when and where it intervenes. Sometimes it feels as though the virtual assistant referees get involved in the game far too often – outside of their remit – however on the flip side it can sometimes seem as though they leave decisions which they should be making. While this specific incident wasn’t nailed down in what they should or shouldn’t do – surely common sense dictates that they should intervene and award what was very obviously a goal, as seen on replay?

It is this robotic nature, following the rules and guidelines they have been set down to the very letter is what seems to be causing so many issues with the system. I don’t think anyone would have complained if they had stepped in to award the goal when it was so obvious to the naked eye. How many times have we seen goals given or ruled out this season because a player was offside by roughly half of an atom? Yet this couldn’t be awarded?

The Bundesliga has been back in Germany for over a month at the time of writing and there have been how many VAR dramas? None. Keiner. Because their system works efficiently and correctly. There need to be some serious reviews on this current system between now and the beginning of the 2020/21 season, as in it’s present state VAR is doing more harm to the English game than good.

Are Premier League referees growing worried of making decisions and leaving more down to the VAR system? Yes. In some instances this is definitely the correct thing to do, as could be argued in the case of Michael Oliver last night, however there seem to be times that referees would rather leave the decision to be made elsewhere to absolve themselves of any blame – an issue caused by VAR.

Looking for more Premier League content? Why not check out our sister site The Blog on the Tyne.

Adam Nisbet
Living on the emotional rollercoaster that comes with being a Newcastle United fan, Adam also keeps a keen eye on the NBA, UFC and Formula One.

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