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VAR in the Premier League: Have Fans Finally Lost Patience?


VAR in the Premier League: Have Fans Finally Lost Patience?

The introduction of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) in 2019 was supposed to help on-pitch officials and eliminate any clear and obvious errors. However, four years later, there are more negative discussions than ever regarding the standard of refereeing in the Premier League.

Clubs are beginning to make complaints and strongly worded statements, whilst the PGMOL are issuing apologies for mistakes which should not be happening with the technology. Fans, players and coaches are beginning to lose patience, so here we take a look at why.

Latest Controversies

In what has been the biggest controversy surrounding VAR ever since it was introduced, Liverpool had a goal disallowed away at Tottenham after VAR had given the all-clear after an offside check, only to realise that they had, in fact, relayed the wrong message once play had restarted.

Luis Diaz saw his strike incorrectly ruled out as the VAR official, Darren England, failed to overrule the on-field decision, a decision which PGMOL later called a ‘significant human error’. England had thought that the on-pitch referee had awarded a goal so believed he had confirmed the decision, but the goal was originally given as offside. The laws state that once play has restarted, VAR is unable to reverse a decision. Liverpool ultimately ended the game with nine men and lost 2-1 to a last-minute own goal from Joel Matip.

The latest discussion surrounding the use of VAR came during last weekend’s fixture between Newcastle and Arsenal, an extremely important match in the battle for top four and potentially the title.

The Geordies won the game 1-0, with the winning goal the centre of all the discussion. It was scored by Anthony Gordon, but a lengthy VAR check followed, which included three separate incidents being reviewed. The first check was to see if the ball had gone out of play, but there was no conclusive evidence to confirm it did. The second incident surrounded a push in the back on Gabriel from Joelinton which was also cleared. Finally, the VAR had to determine whether or not Gordon was offside after Joelinton headed the ball across to him. Again, there was no angle which could say for certain that the goalscorer was in an offside position. Arsenal strongly felt that at least one of these decisions was incorrect.

What do the Managers Have to say?

Whilst numerous managers have signalled their discontent with VAR, no one has been quite as clear and vocal as Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta. Following the conclusion of the Gunners’ defeat St James’ Park, Arteta has risked the wrath of the FA and Premier League by calling out the referees and calling the system ‘embarrassing’ and a ‘disgrace’. He was backed by his club who released a statement in which they claimed ‘the Premier League deserve better.’

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was not as scathing in his review of the referees after his side were denied a clear goal against Tottenham, but the German did suggest that the game should be replayed. The German said, ‘I can say immediately, and some people won’t want me to say, not as a manager of Liverpool, more as a football person, the only outcome should be a replay. That’s how it is.’ He did however acknowledge that the situation is unprecedented and that it could begin a theme of other clubs asking for the same solution every time they feel aggrieved by a decision.

Impact on Fans

First and foremost, the most important thing in football is the fans. A fans’ survey published in the summer found that 63.3% of supporters were against VAR, a figure that almost certainly will not have decreased following the latest controversies. A previous survey by the Football Supporters’ Association prior to the implementation of VAR in 2017 showed that 74.6% of fans were actually in favour of the technology. The vast contrast in opinions in the six years since has revealed a clear failure of the Premier League to utilise it in a way that not only would satisfy the fans but also improve the standard of refereeing.

Aside from the contentious decisions by VAR officials, there are other aspects which have reduced the overall fan enjoyment at games. For example, the amount of time it can take for officials to come to a decision hurts the quality and flow of the game, and is frustrating for fans in the stadium who are unaware of what is going on throughout the process. In the Newcastle vs Arsenal match, the VAR review which looked at three separate incidents took a total of four minutes and six seconds.

Although, following the incident at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium at the end of September, perhaps referees could be forgiven for taking their time in order to avoid any more terrible mishaps in the future. In fact, the PGMOL have confirmed that they have altered their communication methods to ensure this does not happen again.

The review into protocols provided key learnings:

  • Guidance to video match officials has always emphasised the need for efficiency, but never at the expense of accuracy.
  • A new VAR communication protocol will be developed to enhance the clarity of communication between the referee and VAR team.

Whilst PGMOL have committed to releasing audios from the VAR officials for the public to hear, many feel that this would be much more useful if supporters could hear it in real time, to get a full understanding of the thought process behind the decisions, similarly to how the commentary teams can hear them. This could be a way in which the Premier League can improve the general attitude towards VAR, but until we see a clear improvement in the decision-making of referees, the officials and technology will remain under constant scrutiny.