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'VAR vows to cut out mistakes but has it actually improved football?'

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'VAR vows to cut out mistakes but has it actually improved football?'

VAR in football has been subject to criticism all throughout its tenure and recently, especially in the Premier League, it feels as if the anger towards VAR has reached boiling point.

There has been much controversy surrounding VAR since it was first implemented into football matches in March 2018. When it was introduced, its purpose was to provide assistance and advice to referees, who were on the pitch, by using video footage to help remove any errors which the on-field referee may have made in the heat of the moment. The concept of the video assistant referee (VAR) seemed fine and given the successes of similar technology, such as Hawkeye in tennis and cricket and the TMO (Television Match Official) in rugby, you would have hoped this success would have been transferrable to football. However, VAR has unfortunately been embroiled in controversy ever since 2018, which prompts the question; is it still needed in the modern game?

In the 2023/24 season alone, the Premier League has seen numerous controversial errors from VAR, which have significantly influenced the outcome of many of the games- the most recent in Spurs’ 2-1 victory over Liverpool. Luiz Diaz’s goal was ruled out for offside by the on-field referee which was then upheld by those on VAR for the day, Darren England and Dan Cook, despite the goal clearly being onside, as evidenced with lines drawn on the replay. Spurs then went onto win the game 2-1, meaning Liverpool came away with 0 points due to a human error.

Errors are to be expected from referees- they’re only human, however given the significant technology available to those in VAR, it would be assumed that this would mean that they can reverse any errors in judgement and make the game as fair as possible. However, as shown in multiple games this season, this is not the case.

Premier League managers have been certain to vent their frustrations towards VAR this campaign. Liverpool Manager, Jurgen Klopp, in reaction to the controversy surrounding Luiz Diaz’s goal, stated; “It was an obvious mistake and I think there would have been solutions for it afterwards.” Klopp subsequently demanded a replay following his team’s defeat, amongst the VAR controversy. Fulham manager Marco Silva was sure to make his feelings known towards the video assistant referees as Nathan Ake’s goal stood, despite Manuel Akanji being in a clear offside position whilst interfering with play and impacting the goalkeeper. Silva stated, “For the linesman I believe that it can be difficult but, for the VAR, it is impossible not to disallow that goal. It is a clear offside.” Sheffield United manager, Paul Heckingbottom vented his frustrations towards VAR following a late defeat to Manchester City; “Is there any point of having VAR if the same decisions are not being given every week? I don’t know where we’re going with it all.”

In April 2023, Brighton were the subject of more controversy with VAR in a crucial game, which could have been integral regarding which clubs gained European status in the coming year. The Seagulls received an official apology from Chief Refereeing Officer Howard Webb after they were denied a penalty in their away trip to Tottenham which they eventually lost 2-1.

Following these mistakes, the PGMOL ( Professional Game Match Officials Ltd) continues to issue apologies to these clubs, as seen in the Spurs vs Brighton game, however the apologies will not attribute to more points or a different result from games which have been played- the apologies will mean nothing to fans or those involved with a club at the end of the day.

Although, amongst all these mistakes, it must be noted that VAR has helped to rectify the majority of wrong decisions made on the pitch, which has improved the fairness of the game. VAR, most of the time, has helped to remove offside goals, which may have been given previously or overturn clear and obvious errors. The technology is fine: those in charge of VAR and the inconsistency in decisions may be the problem.

Unlike the Premier League, the lower divisions in the English Pyramid, such as the Championship, League One, League Two and the National League, do not have VAR for use during games. Instead, referees are expected to make decisions without the support of a video assistant referee. Some football fans could argue this is a positive thing as it enables fans to celebrate goals without the fear of a VAR check ruling the goal out, whilst others would say that there is still a plethora of errors from referees, which can cost teams precious points, thus evidencing the need for support from VAR.

Whether the Championship and the other lower leagues are better or worse off without VAR is subject to opinion, however the lack of interference from technology means that fans and players can accept decisions which may go against them due to the respective mistake being human error.

What cannot be accepted is the failure to reverse incorrect decisions given the incredible amount of replays and camera angles available to the video assistant referee’s- this is VAR’s biggest problem. The technology in isolation is potentially revolutionary and could help elevate football to the next level, if used correctly. The VAR may not be as big an issue as made out to be by some pundits and media outlets. Football fans, pundits and clubs should demand for more consistency and the removal of errors from the game.

VAR must do this before they continue to cost teams points in significant games and damage the beautiful game of football.

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