Ever since its introduction in the Premier League in the 2019-20 season, VAR has been embroiled in controversy and mystery with a whole host of decisions not making any sense to supporters watching on television or, most importantly, in the stadiums.
On Monday night, we were given our first insight into the modern officiating of the beautiful game. Professional Game Match Officials Limited chief, Howard Webb, appeared on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football to give fans a look behind the curtain at just how much detail goes into VAR checks before a decision has been made.
For the past few years people have been quick to conjure up conspiracy theories surrounding the technology if they feel that their team has been aggrieved. They have also been left frustrated at the time it takes for a decision to be made, usually when there is a goal scored or when there is a penalty incident.
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Appearing alongside Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, Webb shared audio between match officials and those in the VAR rooms at Stockley Park to be heard in the studio and at home for several different decisions that had left fans perplexed.
Of the clips featured, one was the recent penalty retraction between Newcastle United and Arsenal for a handball by Gunners defender Jakub Kiwior which was shown after review to have actually been a contact against his thigh. By hearing the dialogue communicated between the referee and assistants on the field, as well as those operating at Stockley Park, you got a better understanding of why it takes a while for the VAR to check incidents.
For fans who have been crying out for some insight into the world of VAR, this certainly helped to answer the initial questions regarding the way it is operated. Meanwhile, the final clip that was shown on Monday evening showed an incident in which Webb admits that VAR got it wrong, with Brentford awarded a penalty against AFC Bournemouth despite Bees striker Ivan Toney having committed the first foul.
Howard Webb explains that Ivan Toney's penalty for Brentford should have been overturned for a foul by the forward in the build-up 📺
Since Webb returned to English football just before Christmas, he has stated that his aim is to increase transparency surrounding VAR. Last night’s segment on Monday Night Football was a big step forward, even if Webb said it was small, and most importantly it was educational.
A lot more can still be done and Webb knows this. In a groundbreaking appearance on MNF he said that they are looking to release the audio as much as possible moving forward to help with his transparency mission. The next huge step would be to have the communications heard by fans and viewers alike in real time as they are happening during a game, but there are current stumbling blocks which you feel can be easily moved.
Fifa and the International Football Association Board have blocked such conversations being shared in real time supported by bodycam footage on the referee. It has proven to be a success in competitions such as rugby league’s Betfred Super League, and while Webb reiterated there is still a lot of subjectivity regarding decisions in football, the game would still benefit from officials being mic’d up and fans hearing how exactly they come to a decision.
Not only would it help to put to bed all the conspiracy theories that are blowing up Twitter at full-time but it would also help tackle the widespread abuse which officials receive on a weekly basis from supporters in the stands and the players on the pitch.