Prior to the suspension of the EPL, it seemed that every week, the headlines were somehow or another dominated by VAR. Fans, players and coaches alike were all baffled by some of the decisions and the way VAR has been implemented in the EPL. However, it did seem as though everyone was starting to accept this version of VAR just a little bit more every week, with decisions starting to be less controversial as well.
A lot of the confusion and unhappiness with VAR in the EPL has stemmed from the way it has been implemented. Unlike the World Cup and every other European competition utilising the system, the EPL has done away with pitch-side monitors. With the other competitions, if an incident were to have occurred, an official would radio the referee to review the incident and he will then do so by consulting the pitch-side monitor.
However, the EPL has decided to do something substantially different. Although both versions of the system have officials reviewing the footage from an office, the EPL has the ultimate decision made by the officials in the office rather than the on-pitch referee.
There has been plenty of gripe with this system, one of which is taking away the authority of the referee. The referee has always had the final say on decisions in games barring appeals on red cards. However, the referee is now a passenger as well when VAR kicks into gear. Does it not look bad on the ref if there is some unknown person overturning his decisions? Could that not point to players and fans that a ref is more prone to making mistakes? It will always look better when someone is able to right his own wrongs rather than have someone overturn his decisions at every given opportunity.
Another issue has been the lack of communication to fans and players. Even though refs are not consulting the monitors, it has still led to long delays where everyone is left in limbo and unsure whether they should be celebrating a goal or not. With only fans at home able to watch the decisions unfold, the excitement in the stadium takes a severe hit with some fans already unfurling banners talking about how VAR is killing the game (or at least this version of it).
But the biggest issue of them all has been the decisions themselves. With the referee not making the decision, it is extremely difficult to explain to fans and clubs alike why a decision was made in a certain way. Even though refs are not allowed to give statements as to why they made a decision a certain way, they were at least present to be questioned by the managers and players to vent their frustration.
One would think that the introduction of VAR would eliminate the need for any such questions but unfortunately that is not the case. Who can forget the armpit offside call of Firmino against Aston Villa? Unfortunately, that has not been the only case of ridiculous body parts to be used to call an offside. Although technically an offside, is this not taking things too far?
The chief of the PGMO Mike Riley (who designed this system) has come out to say that VAR has gotten 4 decisions wrong. There was also the admission from Stockley Park (the HQ of VAR) that they had gotten the decision not to award a red card to Giovani Lo Celso against Chelsea wrong. But how can that be possible?
The most obvious answer would be that the officials utilising VAR are not properly trained. Former EPL referee Mark Halsey believes that the buck stops with Mike Riley and that former referees should be utilised for VAR. Even though they are unable to officiate matches anymore, their knowledge and experience will come in extremely handy in the VAR room together with ex-players.
More than two-thirds of fans believe that VAR has taken the fun out of football but only 15% want it scrapped, with the others looking towards modifications according to a survey by YouGov.
We then come to the ultimate question; Should VAR be scrapped next season? (It definitely will not be for the remainder of this season if it does carry on)
The answer should be a resounding no.
We agree that VAR has killed some of the fun out of football this season but this is a necessary phase to get through. The dislike was similar to that experience at the World Cup but by the end of the tournament, fans were starting to feel more appreciative of the system.
Fans, pundits, managers and players have long been calling for technology to come to the aid of football knowing that it has been implemented extremely well in other sports like tennis and rugby. Mike Riley has pleaded with everyone to be patient with the system, citing that “everyone in the game has to go through that learning curve together”. To scrap it altogether next season will be a step backward, something that the EPL should not be doing especially with the brand that it has.
VAR should be modified to be more in line with how the rest of the leagues have implemented it rather than attempt something new for the sake of it. It is obvious that the EPL version does not utilise less time than the others and decisions made seem to be more controversial with human errors obvious amongst the decisions.
As stated at the beginning, everyone seemed to be accepting VAR just a little bit more every week. However, it is only a matter of time before human error pops up again to rear the ugly head of VAR.