The major talking point of the Premier League season so far has not been Liverpool’s unbeaten run, or Manchester City’s slip-ups or the fact that both North London clubs have sacked their managers. It has been the impact of VAR or Video Assistant Referee. Var was supposed to help the referees make the really tight, game changing calls and to get them right. But it has stirred up more controversy than it has prevented with the some of the calls made and the general implementation of the system.
The Premier League developed it’s own method of using the VAR prior to the start of this season and set the bar extremely high for VAR intervention. And on a handful of occasions, the VAR have got decisions wrong. These mainly revolve around penalty calls and a recent handball that went unseen in the build-up to a goal being scored. However, the biggest controversy surrounding VAR is its disruption of the flow of the game and the lack of communication for fans in the stadiums. At the moment, an announcement and a graphic on the giant screens is all that fans get to notify them that a VAR check is going on. To me that is nowhere near enough. I’ve been to a number of games this season where there has been a VAR decision made and even in the Champions League, the communication to the fans in the stadium is awful.
The best way forward in my opinion would be to implement a system similar to the Televsion Match Official (TMO) you see in Rugby Union and League. Once the referee is notified or decides he needs to see an incident again, the match clock is stopped, replays are shown on big screens if the stadiums have them and the conversations between the referee and the TMO can be heard in the stadium. It can be a build up for the fans, not something that halts or stalls the flow of the game. The same can be seen in cricket. When an umpire is unsure or a team decides to review a decision, the replays are shown in the ground and the conversations between the umpire and the third umpire can be heard by everyone in the ground, so spectators know what they are looking for and what the decision made is. The main reason you hear boos ringing around football grounds as VAR checks are conducted is because they have no idea what the officials are looking for and the checks are taking up time on the clock.
We must remember that this is the first season that VAR is being used in the Premier League and when new technology is introduced to sport, there is often a period of teething problems where the bugs are worked out and the system refined. What must also be remembered is that VAR is not there for the enjoyment and spectacle of the game. It is there to make sure that glaring errors are corrected and the right decision is made. Fans need to get used to it and the way it is used in the Premier League needs to be tweaked slightly. For instance, the pitchside monitors have not been used once in the Premier League. Not once. I know VAR supposedly has a high threshold for its use but if they aren’t going to use the monitors, what is the point of having them? Uefa has been using the monitors and the checks have been much quicker as a result. Offside is a different matter, that can be dealt with by the officials at Stockley Park. But VAR should act as an advisor to the referee and notify him if it thinks he may want to have another look. The Premier League is looking to improve communication with fans in the stadium but the changes they’ve decided on are inane and cosemtic only in nature.
It may take a little bit of time, but it’s important for the future of the game that the Premier League gets VAR right; and the most important thing for it to get right is its communication to fans. If the fans know what is happening, they will be far more accepting for it going forward.