Is There Genuinely Big-Club Bias In The Premier League When It Comes To VAR?

Manchester United escaped with all three points at Old Trafford
09:04, 15 Aug 2023

We’ve all seen it. Manchester United, after a tepid performance at home against Wolves, were limping their way to all three Premier League points. Then, a cross came in, Andre Onana failed to claim it and instead clattered into Sasa Kalajdzic, knocking him to the ground. 

It was one of the most clear and obvious penalty decisions you will ever see and yet referee Simon Hooper didn’t point to the spot. The watching public all had the same thought at the same moment. ‘Never mind, the referee has refused to make a big decision at Old Trafford, at least we have VAR to correct these sorts of mistakes.’

VAR? HELLO? The line goes dead. 


The VAR officials did check the incident, which if anything makes it worse that they came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a penalty. Gary O’Neil was justifiably left furious on the touchline, and was booked when he thought Hooper was coming over to check the monitor. 

What followed was tragically predictable. In his interview afterwards the new Wolves boss said he’d received an apology from Jon Moss and the elite referees manager had said he “couldn’t believe” his side weren’t given a penalty. That apology won’t help Wolves’ survival bid like a point at Old Trafford would have. That apology won’t alter Manchester United’s points total when they could be in the running for the Premier League title this season. 

It all points to a bigger issue. One that VAR was meant to completely eradicate. Big-club bias when it comes to decision making. Had that foul been committed by Burnley’s James Trafford at Molineux, there’s no doubt it would have been given as a penalty. 

It has been a theory shared by fans and players alike.  “I think there is still big-club bias when it comes to VAR,” Troy Deeney said back in 2020. “Why? Because you’ve still got the human element of the referees there. They’re operating it.”


The pressure of a home crowd for one of the big clubs is always going to influence the on-field decisions of the referee, that’s completely natural. They are only human. But this is where VAR has to step in. 

Michael Owen argued that he thought it was a penalty, but it wasn’t a big enough mistake for VAR to correct Hooper’s original decision. That’s probably why the penalty wasn’t given, but to not allow the referee to have another look is not only bizarre, it’s negligent. 

Last season Liverpool gained more points thanks to VAR’s intervention than any other club in the division. The Reds benefitted from the lack of sufficient camera angles against Wolves in the FA Cup, as the visitors were robbed of a completely legitimate last minute winner.

When these sorts of incidents happen, they always seem to land on the side of the big club. That may simply be a coincidence, but it feels like clear bias is being shown, even if it is unconsciously done by the officials as they oversee a match. Yes, bigger clubs with more dominant periods of possession and/or territory are going to create more potential penalty incidents, but it still feels exaggerated too often.

Hopefully, darker forces are not at play. It’s better for the Premier League if the big clubs are competing at the top of the table. Them winning games makes for a better product, but not a fairer one. It’s an uncomfortable reality, and given this will all be forgotten about by May, who cares if Manchester United are given a helping hand?

Wolves are the example of the smaller club in this case. They have been on the wrong end of several VAR calls in 2023 alone. The technology is not simplifying the game, nor making it any fairer. Twenty years ago Manchester United were being given unfair refereeing decisions at Old Trafford. Even with VAR, nothing has changed. 

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