Future of VAR in the Premier League decided after Man Utd and Mike Dean controversies
THE BIG DEBATE: The use of technology in football is back under the microscope after more contentious decisions and the bombshell admissions by former ref Mike Dean
Another weekend, another batch of VAR controversies.
Despite the new season still being in its infancy, officials are already under pressure after a string of high-profile and contentious calls. Nottingham Forest are considering lodging an official complaint following their dramatic 3-2 defeat at Manchester United, with divisive calls on a red card and a penalty both going against the visitors.
Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom, who watched his Blades side lose 2-1 to Manchester City, suggested VAR should be reserved for offside decisions only. He was speaking after City were awarded a first-half penalty for handball.
And all of this comes fresh off the back of Mike Dean’s explosive revelations regarding the use of technology in the top flight. He stated that he didn’t order Anthony Taylor to check the pitchside monitor during Chelsea vs Tottenham last season, in order to protect his mate from further scrutiny.
So we’re asking our team of Mirror Football writers how VAR could be improved…or whether it should be removed altogether.
Without wishing to sound like a broken record, my preferred solution for VAR remains unchanged: Bin it.
Find the deepest landfill quarry near Stockley Park, tip the infernal technology into it, add a few gallons of petrol just to make sure it catches fire, and hey presto!
Mike Dean's throwaway comment about trying to spare his "mate" Anthony Taylor unsolicited "grief" over a routine case of hair-pulling in the playground let the cat out of the bag: VAR is not fit for purpose when it merely becomes a vehicle for referees to cover each other's backs.
And it is completely useless - to the point of conspiracy theories about decisions mainly favouring the big clubs - when officials sitting behind the screens can't even reach the RIGHT decisions when they have a chance to look at incidents in detail, unlike referees who only get one look at everything in real time.
If we must have this blight on a perfectly watchable sport, let's go down the cricket route: if managers and coaches on the sidelines feel aggrieved about goals, penalties, red cards or second bookings leading to a dismissal, they have the right of appeal - sounded by a klaxon from the technical area - to review contentious decisions.
That's when referees would go to look at evidence on pitchside monitors - and if necessary, they can consult the fourth official to help them reach the correct decision.
If any coach loses his or her appeal... bad luck. That will restrict reviews to only blatant cases of injustice.
We are only stuck with VAR if we choose to do nothing about it.
VAR has proven more controversial than I think anyone could have imagined when it was brought in. It was meant to alleviate not just major refereeing errors on the pitch, but also the post-match discourse off it. Instead, the failings, not of the system but of those using it, has merely just elevated the focus on both.
Mike Dean’s comments last week - not to mention his attempts to row back on it over the weekend - certainly haven’t helped. Heckingbottom’s comments are no doubt interesting as offside is the only guaranteed black and white issue… but for all it’s issues, the Premier League has to continue using it.
Yes the officials and the PGMOL need to do better with it, but the technology isn’t the problem. Those using it need to be better, more transparent, they need to own their mistakes and explain why certain decisions are or aren’t made. Post-game interviews would help.
And let’s give officials the opportunity to go to the screen and NOT be told ‘you’re coming because you’ve got this wrong.’ Let them be told ‘it’s 50-50, you may want another look’ but that they have the option to stick with their initial decision. Get rid of this ‘high bar’ rubbish for overturns, give them a second viewing and let them justify themselves if they still think they’re right.
And after all that, it would be a good step if the PGMOL every Monday came out and explained how that weekend’s final decisions were reached also, whether via some sort of written statement or Howard Webb himself doing it in video form… and if something is wrong, then say that, don’t just back blindly.
VAR is here to stay and football fans will endlessly be complaining not only about decisions, but the manner in which they are reached. We plead for ‘common sense’ while also asking for ‘consistency’, yet as fans, we then complain when one of the two is chosen.
Apologies to clubs may be well-intentioned but opens the door to constant apologies to clubs who will not benefit, while ramping up expectations of officials and fuelling nonsense conspiracy theorists.
Football fans must learn to mature and accept that officials make mistakes, sometimes very bad mistakes – just as players do. Those operating the VAR safety net also make mistakes.
Yet equally, Mike Dean’s comments on how he overlooked applying the laws of the game in the hope of not embarrassing his friend Anthony Taylor – which, if anything, has actually had the opposite impact – speak of a worrying culture in which officials are letting personal preferences impact the outcome of big decisions.
There is a culture across football of placing too much weight on officiating decisions, a process which VAR has accelerated. The system has to stop being used as an excuse: whether it’s from a club after blowing a two-goal lead to lose, or an official helping out a colleague out of self-interest.
Like it or not - and I don’t - VAR is here to stay. Pandora’s Box has now been opened and the possibility of closing it again is fanciful at best.
What needs to happen is an added layer of transparency. Howard Webb is the smiling PR wing of the PGMOL, but he needs more than pleasant soundbites to keep his growing list of critics at bay.
The solution is fairly simple on paper: officials need to make better decisions. Having the technology is useless, if those using it are incapable of reaching the correct decision.
One introduction I would like to see is the removal of slow-motion replays when rechecking an incident. Along with that, a timer should also be introduced - if a decision takes five minutes it isn’t one that should be changed. That should be clear and obvious.
Communication. I think the majority of people were pleasantly surprised with the insights that were shared during Howard Webb's cameo appearance on Monday Night Football last season, and hearing the deliberations that go on behind the scenes would, at the very least, provide some much needed clarity over several big calls which have already divided opinion this season.
VAR in its current guise simply isn't working for anyone. We're not even a month into the season and there have already been a number of glaringly obvious errors made - both on the pitch and at Stockley Park. Mike Dean's comments have done little to endear the current protocols to us, either.
It feels like the public approval for VAR is at an all-time low right now. And if solutions can't be found - and fast - then I'm pretty sure I won't be alone in saying that I'd rather just go back to how things were.
There is nothing wrong with the technology involved in VAR, but its failings come from the way it is used. Its implementation for black-and-white decisions such as offside cannot be debated.
It would certainly be tricky to argue that the technology has not improved those sorts of decisions - despite the unnecessarily long delays that it takes to come to a decision. However, it then becomes slightly tricky when it comes to subjective decisions such as handball, fouls and the like.
Despite suggestions for those calls to be left with the referee, that invariably leaves more room for mistakes when there is just one individual responsible. Referees should potentially be encouraged to ignore calls for a VAR review if they believe that their original decision is correct upon second viewing.
That would take encouragement from up high for referees to follow that advice, whilst there also potentially needs to be clearer laws when it comes to come of the debated decisions throughout the season so far.
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VAR has been nothing short of a shambles since it's introduction - failing to live up to its promises of more correct decisions and a lot less controversy. But it's not the technology itself to be blamed, it's those charged with using it. Those who are meant to be overseeing the integrity of the game - but also don't want to 'shame their mates' by sending them to a pitchside monitor so they can see what they missed.
It takes away the most fundamental moment for fans, that moment when the ball hits the back of the net and there's a ripple of unbridled joy that rings around the stadium. Now there's a pause for fear that VAR could overturn the decision. Some players even hold back on celebrations for fear of looking silly celebrating something that never was. For that more than anything, VAR has changed the game for the worse.
Unfortunately, the Premier League are unlikely to admit where it's gone wrong and persist with an increasingly flawed system. Beyond replacing the officials, they should more clearly define the rules for what does and does not warrant a check. And those checks should be more clearly communicated within the stadium to ease some of the unrest.
Sorry Paul Heckingbottom and co, but the horse has bolted.
Now that technology is in use for incidents beyond whether the ball has crossed the line or not, it’s inconceivable to think that we will ever again return to a situation in the Premier League whereby referees reassume full control.
But of course, to say that the current VAR system could be improved upon would represent a ludicrous understatement. We have seemingly gone from one extreme to the other, a notion that initially appeared too fussy and long-winded is now being criticised for ignoring obvious errors.
Tweaks need to be made. The regulation that VAR cannot review a yellow card is a ridiculous one, given it leaves open the possibility of unjust cautions and dismissals. And whilst no one wants to see penalty kicks dished out for nothing, we cannot have situations like Man Utd v Wolves when Andre Onana was allowed to get away with his kamikaze challenge.
There is nothing wrong with the concept of only overturning clear errors. But more care is now needed to dictate what constitutes a clear error and what does not.
Fans don’t want constant delays. Players apparently don’t want excess injury time. But avoiding big decisions, or even just double checking a critical referee call, just to escape a delay or two is not the way to go.
The problem is not the VAR technology, it is the lack of consistency in decisions made by the officials using it and I fail to see how scrapping the system for everything but offsides like Heckingbottom proposed would solve that problem.
Like it or not, it seems VAR is here to stay and if the standard of refereeing was better I think there would be far less issues with it. That is the most pressing problem PGMOL chief Howard Webb needs to address.
If there was no VAR, Wolves would still have been denied a blatant penalty against Manchester United in the opening round of Premier League fixtures. That the referee and the VAR failed to award one is not the fault of the current system, it is simply an issue of poor officiating and no changes to VAR will improve that.
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