In the Premier League, VAR has reached its tipping point. The technology brought in to correct major refereeing errors is now not only causing more bother than it is worth, but ruining the spectacle and damaging the entertainment product that is the Premier League.
It’s a fact that is still being ignored by those in charge of the game. Football was better without VAR. It still is, as we have seen in the Football League and National League this season. Just this Monday, Wrexham and Notts County played out a title-deciding 3-2 thriller, and not at any point were there any cries for technology to interfere with the referee’s decisions.
But while football in the lower leagues is flourishing without the overbearing eyes of VAR, the Premier League has lost all sense of what the technology was brought in for: to correct major refereeing blunders and provide a sense of fairness that on-field officials couldn’t provide.
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As we saw in Tottenham v Brighton last weekend, this is now not the case. Premier League football was far fairer when VAR was not involved. Sure, some decisions will have been wrongly given against your team but at least there was an understanding of the human error involved in officiating. Now that human error has been transferred to those in charge of the technology and the on-field referees are no longer officiating in the same manner.
Take Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s foul on Kaoru Mitoma last weekend. It was a clear trip that Stuart Attwell didn’t award, but was he just playing it safe by not giving the penalty, aware that VAR would correct his decision if it was wrong? Under normal circumstances without VAR, he is likely to have awarded that penalty, given his view point.
The officials will always state they try and ref games in the same spirit but that simply isn’t possible when somebody is watching your every move, ready to overrule you when needed. VAR was never meant to re-referee matches, simply used to correct massive blunders.
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Brighton supporters, and football fans in general, are far more understanding of errors without the high bar that VAR claims to set. When a referee misses a decision like the Mitoma one, it is understandable. When the VAR officials miss it as well, it is both enraging and inexplicable. The sense of injustice is ten-fold when officials have the chance to look at things twice, and should come to the correct conclusion.
However, too often, VAR is not coming to the correct conclusion. Worse still, it is ruling out goals that should stand, such as Elliot Anderson’s goal against Nottingham Forest. The issues arise as football is a sport packed full of subjective incidents. The rules are set in black and white, but there is still a large amount of individual subjectivity on some issues. Which players are interfering with play? Is there intent to play the ball?
It was better off without this unnecessary and overbearing system. But there is no way elite level football can turn its back on VAR. It’s in too deep. We’ve seen in the World Cup and Champions League that it can work in a smoother manner, but even so there were and are consistent errors throughout both tournaments.
We seem to have gone past the point of no return, but there is one sensible option to consider before we fully submit to technology. Try just one season back to how it was before, without VAR. Fans will get to celebrate goals when the ball hits the net rather than when the referee points to the centre circle and people can discuss referring errors like they used to. Then let the people decide which they prefer.
A return to the old ways would be beneficial for all.