By Anthony Kachikwu
In recent times the English Premier League has put a sour taste in my mouth. Not just me, other fans have been grumbling as well. Some even anticipating that the use of VAR in the English Premier League might be scrapped. Having gone almost halfway in 2019/2020 season, there have been a number of questionable decisions that have led to some managers expressing dissatisfaction in VAR outcomes. While others like Pep Guardiola, Unai Emery, and Sean Dyche have refrained from public criticism against the Video Assistant Referee decisions for fear of being penalized by the FA.
For instance Maurizio Sarri and Mauricio Pochettino both had heavy words to say after Tottenham defeated Chelsea in last season’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg. The system played its part in deciding the outcome thanks to Harry Kane’s 26th minute penalty.
After the game, unsurprisingly Sarri was not happy with the technology and said “A few minutes ago I watched the video from our camera. It was offside. Our camera was in line with Harry Kane. Offside with his head, the knee. Offside. It was really important the linesman carried on running, he had a big impact on our defenders. I do not think English referees are able to use the system. If you are not sure with the system, you have to follow the ball and at the end of the action decide. But he stopped and did not follow the ball. For our defenders it was offside” [sic].
The opposite Manager, Pochettino also came out against VAR despite the fact it helped Spurs claimed a potentially crucial edge in the tie and said; “I do not like the VAR. Today we got the benefit of it but after watching the World Cup and another league like La Liga I see that nobody is happy from day one that they started to use it. To get the benefit is nice, but I am unhappy to win the game like this. I prefer the technology but in a different way”.
“I am pro-technology because you cannot stop evolution, but we are waiting so long, it is not clear what are the rules. We all have to agree, the players, the coaching staff, I watch every week La Liga and nobody is happy, the big clubs and the small clubs”[sic].
The VAR technology is supervised by match officials who assist the referee by pointing out inaccurate calls on pitch, with the use of replay(s) of incidents like fouls, offsides, goals and penalty kicks, they aid by communicating what they can see from the monitors to the referee. The objective is to minimize human error in the beautiful game.
VAR was first written into the laws of the game by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) on Friday 1 June 2018, two weeks before the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Section 4 of The Refereeing Law on the IFAB site states that during a game, the referee may be assisted by a video assistant referee (VAR) only in the event of a ‘clear and obvious error’ or serious missed incident’ in relation to
direct red card (not second caution)
mistaken identity when the referee cautions or sends off the wrong player of the offending team.
Other possible VAR scenarios are when the referee reverses a decision on advice of VAR, when an on-field review is requested by the referee for clarification, or when the referee chooses to ignore a VAR tech’s recommendation based on his own opinion. All these points prove that the referee has the final say.
With minimal interference, the VAR technician can call the attention of the Referee to a decision via the ComCom headset the referee wears. When the call is not conclusive, the referee can also takes a look at the pitch-side screen to ascertain the best decision.
VAR techs are situated in a Video Operation Rooms (VOR) where they monitor different camera angles, view plays in slow-motion, rewind and zoom in, all in order to be the extra eyes of referee.
While the VAR was only used in England during the Emirate and Carabao Cup ties in the 2018/2019 season, it had already been accepted in the main Italian and German leagues of the same year, as well as at the 2018 World Cup. The English Premier League finally introduced VAR into club matches in the 2019/2020 season.
But, in the Fifteen games played in the English Premier League so far, the English Premier League has ignored the advantage of VAR especially in area of On-field review.
For example, when Liverpool hosted Manchester City at Anfield on10th November, Trent Alexander-Arnold had appeared to handled the ball inside the penalty area as Sergio Aguero attempted to squeeze a ball through Raheem Sterling, though Bernardo Silva may already have hand-balled earlier in the move. Also Mohamed Salah doubled the lead soon after, with his goal also subject to brief review for offside.
I would have expected the referee to make use of the pitch-side screen and override some of the questionable VAR recommendations in this instance and in several other matches.
I totally agree with Arsene Wenger, (the chief of global football development at world governing body FIFA) who said “That to me is the most important worry. At the moment I feel like the referee needs to have a monitor to check if he was right or wrong. You should give the referee the possibility to do it. Then after to explain the decision on the screen”
“Let’s not forget that it’s video assistance for the referee. They are not the ones who help make the decision, but the ones who help the referee to make the right decision”.
“Of course everything is not perfect and the adjustments will come, you have to educate as well the people in VAR to get the experience and to educate them – to intervene at the right moment.