Liverpool And Luis Diaz Lose Out, But Fans Are The Real Victims of VAR

The forward's goal against Tottenham was disallowed
10:04, 02 Oct 2023

Another week, another tiresome VAR debate. The troubled technology seemingly makes headlines every week. But the fallout from Luis Diaz’s disallowed goal in Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday is more widespread than usual. So much so that the PGMOL, the refereeing body, has admitted “significant human error” prevented the awarding of a goal.

Diaz appeared to be played onside by Cristian Romero as he met Mohamed Salah’s pass before scoring. The on-pitch officials, led by referee Darren England, ruled offside. The PGMOL concedes “This was a clear and obvious factual error and should have resulted in the goal being awarded through VAR intervention, however, the VAR failed to intervene.”


The advent of the VAR era was supposed to rule out all doubt. “Human error” was going to be eliminated, we were assured. No more week-long debates over offsides, handballs and penalty awards. It was the logical next step from goal line technology, which has to its credit largely become part of the fabric of the game in a quiet and effective manner.

No longer would the social media cesspit howl with the cries of goals not given, of penalties incorrectly doled out, of hands not being in a “natural position”. But this rise of the machines was less Terminator and more Pacific Rim. Humans would be in charge of interpreting this technology and where there are people there are mistakes. Human nature stood between us and the promised mechanised eutopia.

Instead of removing the debate from these match-altering decisions, it simply put them under the microscope. Now, with lines drawn for offsides and countless VAR-aided replays broadcast during the match, we have all become referees. While before there were errors, they were almost always down to blink-of-an-eye assessments of the action. Now, as the referees pore over the evidence, so do we. An army of armchair Darren Englands.


Rather than quieting the dull discourse around officiating, VAR has plugged it into a Marshall stack and amplified it to ear-splitting levels. Arguments that lasted an afternoon now lost a week. Incidents like the Diaz goal will be immortalised further, as much as any incident from the pre-VAR era. Expect to see Saturday’s debacle sit alongside Reading's ‘ghost goal’ at Vicarage Road and Frank Lampard’s World Cup 2010 injustice against Germany in any lists of the poorest refereeing decisions. 

VAR hasn’t wiped out human error. It simply puts those mistakes on a bigger and more toxic platform. There are other issues around the technology too. The worst of which is the fact that the cathartic joy and celebration of a goal is now tempered. You can see it in the players when they score. No more unfettered delirium, instead conscious of looking silly. Shooting furtive glances at the officials, awaiting the outcome of the VAR check. Football has lost a part of its soul while gaining little in return.

This won’t be the last time that a VAR call is the most prevalent story of a Premier League weekend. It is a crying shame that it has come to this. The truncated, timid goal celebrations. The screenshots of lines touching, or not touching, boots. The deathly-dull debates on natural limb position. Football is a game. By definition it is supposed to be fun. It’s about time we stopped treating it like a county court parking fine dispute and started embracing it for what it is. After all, it really is a beautiful game.

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