Written by: Jonathan Lee
So with a short break now until our next game we have a chance to consider everyone’s ‘favourite’ subject – VAR. We are just under halfway through the season and have seen enough action to take a view; although admittedly it is very subjective and everyone has a view, this article being just one. There are two distinct aspects to VAR – how it is applied and, separate to that, the rules of the game.
The Southampton game gave us a perfect illustration of both. A cross from Cresswell saw both Antonio and Haller tumble. Taking off my claret and blue glasses there is absolutely no question that either foul was clearly and unequivocally a penalty – yet VAR deemed no offence. The allegation has been put out, and it has legs, that the elite group of referees are not overly keen on over ruling their refereeing mates and the vast majority of on field decisions have been upheld. There is also a tendency where the on field ref has a clear view of the incident that their decision is upheld as replays are considered to ‘exaggerate’ the incident.
As many have observed, there has not been one single occasion, across all Premier League games, where a pitchside monitor has been used despite every ground having one either in or near the tunnel. They are widely used across Europe but not here, which is just crazy. Apparently there’s a fear of inciting the crowd or time wasting, really ? The offsides that are a fingernail, an armpit or a toe off have to be ended – keep it simple like in cricket, on field decision rules where the video review is not immediately able to verify, simple.
The other side to all of this are the rules – Antonio’s glorious drive into the net disallowed against Southampton was no fault of VAR, nobody can deny it briefly brushed his hand, it’s the silly rule that any contact of any kind whatsoever with the hand or arm and it’s no goal, that simply can’t be right or fair in certain scenarios.
So has VAR been our friend or enemy so far this season?
It was first used at home to Man City where Declan fell foul (rightly) after encroaching at a penalty, although a later City goal was ruled out. At Bournemouth both goals conceded were verified by VAR but a potential game clinching third was (fortuitously for us) ruled out. Palace gained a win with a late VAR review and also had a penalty (rightly) confirmed, while Haller had a stonewall penalty against Norwich bizarrely not given and at Burnley a goal was ruled out for the home team but a corner that wasn’t failed to be overturned (crazily it wasn’t allowed to be reviewed by VAR) – so VAR for us has been pretty mixed in truth, which has been the same for most teams to date.
But now VAR has entered the arena and it is here to stay. It has been successful in many other sports of course – tennis, cricket, rugby union etc and let’s not forget this is its inaugural season in the Premier League and should improve with time – the rules of the game are a different bag and one suspects the governors of the game’s rules will continue to fiddle with various rules to justify their large wages and appear to be ‘doing something’ – but if VAR and the pitchside monitors are used and applied sensibly there is no reason why technology cannot become a vital, and whisper it quietly, exciting, cog of the beautiful game.