VAR – A monster ruining the game or the scapegoat for poor refereeing?

VAR has one problem, and it isn’t VAR. For all the hate that the system has been getting for apparently removing the passion from the game, all it has done is work perfectly. It has become a scapegoat. The problem with the VAR decisions is the same problems as has always been in football, human error. 

We have all seen moments ruined by VAR, the Sterling ‘winner’ against Spurs being the main one, but it’s never been the fault of the system, but the users.

VAR – The saviour of the game?

VAR was originally brought in with the best intentions. To remove the mistakes from the game, which can have huge implications not only financially for modern teams, but also on the quality and the entertainment value in the best league in the World. Everything from handball in the build up to a goal, to a blatant offside it was going to be the miracle cure to mis-justice in the same way that goal line technology had improved the game. But the fluidity is currently not there. It isn’t a subtle alert to the ref. It is a constant system double checking all decisions almost leaving the referee with a sense of complacency, as if no matter what they say VAR will fix the issue. This is where the biggest issue with the entire system collapses. The referee.

“The referee must decide as if the technology didn’t exist”, a statement from Pierluigi Collina, probably the best referee the game has ever seen. A statement that we all need to pay attention to in order to understand the role that VAR should play in the modern game. It should be a reserve chute and not a partnership in the running of the game. The over reliance on the technology is only going to make the standards of refereeing worse. Which will make the reliance on VAR more important. Which will make the referees more reliant on VAR and well, you see where I’m going with this.

What’s the fix?

The way to resolve the issue is pretty obvious, and is only made more infuriating by the fact that it hasn’t been put into place yet. I am well aware that this season is it’s maiden voyage. It needs to have the changes soon, before it finds itself at the point of no return for its reputation to help the game, not hinder it. There needs to be a change in the way that the referee uses VAR and also a change in the rules that VAR is supposed to be enforcing.

All the power of decision making needs to be back with the referee. Stockley Park can still exist but it needs to exist in the same way that it does for rugby. If there is not enough evidence to overturn then the decision on the field stands. There needs to be the use of the pitch side monitors to make the final decision on any referral from Stockley Park.

Bring the power back to the stadium

One of the biggest problems is that the referee is at the heart of the game, so he alone understands the intensity, the nature of the tackles flying in, not someone sat in an office potentially hundreds of miles away. There is no accountability. Football fans can accept human error. It’s been in the game for as long as there has been a game. The accountability and phantom VAR behind all the controversial decision making is what is allowing it to leave such a horrible taste in peoples mouths.

The ever changing laws are the other thing that is making it impossible for VAR to ever be seen as effective. Hitting a hand in the box, or the use of a hand in the build up to a goal. Can be checked fairly easily and means any injustices, *cough* looking at you Henry *cough* would be stamped out and quickly dealt with from within the Stadium. Everyone’s happy. The upgrading or downgrading of cards. The referee sees the original decision, he makes the call, he can go and check the monitor on the side of the pitch if he wants to take no time at all and make sure that the correct decision is made, again accountable and everyone would be happy. 

Now for the big one, Offside. Something has to change, goals are being disallowed on the back of armpits and fractions of a centimeter ruling things out. This is taking away the reason we all watch football. Goals. The benefit of the doubt was always given to the attacker. Were they off by a couple of inches? Yes, now let’s grumble in the Pub about it. I for one don’t want my sport tainted by decisions that can take up to 2 minutes just to decide that Vardy’s shoulder ruled him offside by a fraction of an inch.

For this there are two choices, if any part of the attacker is on-side then he is onside, or maybe the more enforceable ‘daylight rule’. If there is daylight between the attacker and defender, then he is offside. Simple. This season VAR has overturned 28 goals for offside, most of these by fractions, and it is killing the game.

Give the power back to the referee in the stadium, they need all the support they can get but should not be replaced. The final decision needs to be made by the person on the pitch in the game. VAR needs to take its place as a safety net, not as a replacement.

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