One of the main talking points for the last couple weeks in football has been Video Assistant Referee (VAR). It of course gave Manchester United the penalty from which they scored to complete their turnaround against Paris Saint Germain, Victor Lindelof having a red card overturned into a yellow, and then of course the lack of VAR available at Swansea and Milwall and the decisions that might have been overturned or different had it been available.
Now, off the bat here, I am all in favour of VAR. If it means even one more decision is correctly made, I’m all for it. It takes football refereeing in the right direction, by using all available technology to help the man in the middle make the correct decision, as did goal line technology, that is an accepted part of the game now and no one gainsays it. It will hopefully be the same with VAR.
The only problem I can see with VAR is that for something like awarding a penalty, like we saw in Paris and would have seen in Swansea, it is still down to the referees in the VAR centre to look at the incident and advise the on pitch referee that he might want to have a look again on the pitch side monitor. So, it’s still down to personal opinions of a human being. There’s no definitive ‘yes’ or no, did he break the laws of the game?’ The governing bodies and rule makers of football are trying to help and define it in more concrete terms, where if in an attempt to make your body look bigger beyond your natural silhouette, the ball strikes your arm, that will be given as a penalty even when jumping. That is something that worries me.
What worries me more is the haphazard way it has been introduced to the English game. While the Premier League clubs have voted to introduce it from next season, it has already been available in the League Cup and FA Cup at Premier League club grounds for the last two seasons. This just leads to a double standard. Where something like an obvious handball is missed at the New Den in the game between Milwall and Everton, while Victor Lindelof is able to have red card reviewed and (rightly) overturned and be issued a yellow instead. Either it’s in use across the competition or it’s not used at all. There has to be a level playing field, otherwise the technology might as well not exist. I thought it was a little strange for the Champions League and Europa League to introduce it halfway through the competitions but at least there was a clear introduction, whereby all games in the competitions would have the technology available to use at the start of the knockout phase, where every call can be absolutely critical.
In the moment, if a decision goes against your team, you’re always going to appeal or disagree. And any appeal to the referee to use VAR should be, to my mind, a warning and then a yellow card. It’s not the player’s decision to make and any attempt to sway the match officials should be punished.
For me, the main thing is to make sure that every club that is going to be competing in the League Cup and maybe from the third round of the FA Cup has to invest in making sure they have the facilities to use VAR, to make it a level playing field for everyone involved.