VAR is a passion-vacuum that is ruining football - it must be scrapped before it causes further harm
Football is a sport based on romanticism and impulse. The feeling of your team scoring a goal compares to little else if you are an avid disciple of the beautiful game - so to be stripped of that feeling seems as though it should be illegal in some way. That may sound dramatic, and in many ways it is, but when you think about it, we are currently witnessing football as we know being completely destroyed so really, it’s not dramatic at all. Not one bit.
The whole point of introducing a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in football was so that we could finally achieve complete consistency; on the face of it, it seemed like a fantastic addition which would massively benefit the sport moving forward. With the aid of an external team of qualified officials, all closely analysing each and every decision made by the on-field referee, it felt as though transparency would finally be installed throughout top-flight football in England. Everyone could now get off of the referees’ back and nobody would have any scope for complaints - the game was evolving and total precision was being introduced, exciting times ensued.
Fast-forward half-a-year and everything we thought would happen with regards to VAR this season - all of its proposed benefits and all of the excitement that had previously surrounded it - has now been well and truly flushed down the metaphorical toilet. The new-found, ultra-slick technology has been an ocean of disappointment throughout the past six months, and fans of football nationwide understandably cannot wait to see the back of it.
Let’s get one thing clear, the concept of VAR is brilliant. For years we have yearned for complete accuracy in football and, in its truest form, that is exactly what the technology gives us. However what we all failed to acknowledge prior to its full integration to the Premier League last summer, were all of the surrounding factors and potential issues that would be born from it. Lengthy waiting times between a decision being given and then either overturned or confirmed by the referee is completely sucking the passion and impulse out of the game.
The rather pathetic precision of the offside rule - where dotted lines now determine that a footballer’s fingertip has somehow given him a clear goalscoring advantage in the build-up to a goal - is injecting such an unnecessary level of monotonous science into the sport; it is all so embarrassingly nerdy and painstakingly unwelcome. The problem is, fans are now having to second-guess themselves whenever a goal goes in because they are so frequently ruled out after minutes of elation; that simply isn’t right, is it? Football has changed this season, and it has certainly not been for the better. So far this term, a total of 38 goals have been ruled out because of VAR, with that number likely to almost double by the time the season finishes in early-May.
Now, that is not to say that all of those goals should have been awarded, because in some of those cases the correct decision was made and a goal which clearly should not have stood, was rightly chalked off. This is where VAR is used to good effect and where the debate becomes a lot foggier. VAR is not all bad, of course it’s not, but the main question which has to be asked by those in power is: does the positives it bring convincingly outweigh the negatives? The answer is no, not even close, therefore it needs to be abolished.
The main reason VAR was introduced was to provide complete clarity, but when referees are still getting decisions substantially wrong - even with the aid of the technology and assistance hiding away at Stockley Park - what is the point of it all? It has just added confusion, controversy and grief to the sport for everyone involved. In truth, the only people who actually benefit from it are sub-standard television pundits with absolutely nothing else to fill the obscene amount of time dedicated to pre and post-match analysis with.
Even when you look at events from the previous fortnight, it shows VAR’s astonishing neglect with regards to consistency. Danny Ings was blatantly tripped in the penalty area against Liverpool at Anfield last weekend while the scoreline stood at 0-0. Kevin Friend did not deem it to be a foul and as such did not award a penalty to the visiting side - perhaps understandable when you factor in his positioning and the speed in which the passage of play occured.
But, even after scrutinising the incident for minutes on end, with the help of several different camera angles and the use of ultra-slow motion, the Video Assistant Referee also came to the conclusion that it was in fact not a foul. It takes just one look at the replay to see that was quite clearly the wrong decision. Liverpool then broke at the other end and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored the Reds’ opener, with the game ending 4-0 in the hosts’ favour.
Now, I am in no way saying that Liverpool would not have won that match if a penalty had been awarded to Southampton prior to the first goal being scored, but you cannot disagree that it would have changed the entire dynamic of the game, can you? Just days later, during Saints’ FA Cup fourth-round replay against Tottenham, Son Heun-min rounds Angus Gunn in the dying stages of the game with the scoreline evenly poised at 2-2.
The South Korean goes to ground despite no substantial contact being made by Gunn, a penalty is instantly awarded and the Spurs forward duly converts it to put his side ahead and win the encounter. The referee’s decision is understandable - on the face of it, in real time, it did look to be a penalty, nobody is denying that - and had VAR not been in place, Southampton fans would have felt aggrieved but would have quickly gotten over the decision.
The fact that VAR was in place, however, and analysed the decision closely before coming to the conclusion that substantial contact was made by Gunn and therefore a penalty was the correct call, is a complete travesty, to put it bluntly. A situation like the one which occurred on Wednesday night in north London is the exact reason why this technology was introduced in the first place, and it still got it so horrendously wrong - it is not for the first time, either. There have been countless situations similar to the Son penalty this term - too many to name, in truth - so why is there any debate about it remaining in place beyond the end of this season?
In January 2018, director of referees Mike Riley released figures showing that match officials called 96% worth of decisions correctly. Sure, there may have been narrow room for improvement but most industries pine for such a high efficiency rate and certainly would not seek to revolutionise their methods in the face of such numbers. But, such is the nature of football, we quite simply couldn’t cope with everything not being completely and utterly perfect 100% of the time so made a drastic change to the entire sport.
In hindsight, we should have all been content with the level of officiating in the Premier League - referees are human, afterall; they are going to occasionally make mistakes and sometimes it will work for your team and sometimes against, but overall it will probably balance itself out. It has taken such a huge change in football to highlight all of this, but now it has been brought to light, the vast majority of fans nationwide are now in agreement that everything should go back to the way it was before. There will always be advocates of it, of course, but they are substantially outnumbered when it comes to this particular topic of conversation.
In many ways, this short-but-bitter experience with VAR has probably done football a favour. It has shown that regardless of the amount of cameras and off-field officials, we will never, ever be able to achieve complete accuracy and consistency while keeping everyone totally happy at the same time, that’s just football, that’s just the way it goes. If it is discarded next season, then nobody will have anything to moan about in the future because: “we tried that, remember”. VAR has been a torrid nightmare that football can benefit from in the long-term, but only if it is stopped in its tracks before causing more harm. Let’s all just get back to the good old days of 96% efficiency, and pretend that none of this ever happened, shall we?